Are you afraid of SomeCo buying Firebird?

This is a reply from Ann Harrison posted in Firebird-Support list:

Michael Fisher wrote:
Could the situation that happened to MySQL happen to Firebird? Could a company like Oracle start buying up aspects of Firebird? An overview of the situation with Firebird would be very helpful.

There are a number of differences between Firebird and MySQL (understatement of the week). Those difference would make it difficult or impossible for a company to buy part or all of Firebird.

One is that the copyright to each module of Firebird’s code rests with the developer who created it – the Initial Developer of the Initial Developers Public License. MySQL and InnoDB required that developers sign over all rights to a corporation, giving an acquirer a single target.

To attack Firebird, Oracle would have to buy rights from many individuals.

Another difference is that Firebird operates under a single open source license. MySQL is dual licensed GPL and commercial, as is InnoDB. Oracle’s purchase of InnoDB doesn’t affect MySQL’s GPL business, but does put Oracle in the position to set terms for the commercial side of MySQL’s use of InnoDB.

If Oracle were to buy the rights to all code created by Roman Rokytskyy, JayBird would still be available under a license that allows its use with Firebird in all situations that are currently allowed.

Yet another difference is that Firebird’s code base is integral – MySQL has a more modular approach, using backend plug-ins. That lead to serious specialization. Many people on the Firebird project are familiar with most aspects of the code – the loss of one individual would not leave large sections of Firebird indecipherable.

If Oracle were to buy Roman’s code and hire Roman, others would pick up the existing code for Jaybird and continue to maintain and enhance it. Oracle would be under no obligation to share changes it made to Jaybird in the future – that obligation falls on subsequent contributors but not on the original contributor, but we would continue with a fork.

Basically, Oracle’s buying InnoDB and SleepyCat is a problem for MySQL – to the extent that it is a problem – because of their dual GPL / commercial license. EnterpriseDB and the other commercializations of PostgreSQL exist because of the very open license that PostgreSQL uses – there is no obligation to publish changes to the code, so they can produces “better” versions using their own “secret ingredients.”

Firebird’s license is between those two. We can’t make money selling commercial licenses, but we can’t be attacked by a third party restricting our right to make commercial use of code they acquire. We require that anyone who distributes changes to the code publish the changes, so no one can create a special secret “turboFirebird.”

There’s a risk that someone will decide that all our developers are wonderfully talented people and hire them away, but every software development organization faces that risk, and Firebird has a good record of bringing on and integrating new developers.

Hope this is moderately clear ….



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One comment

  • This is what PostgreSQL people think about recent Oracle moves:

    “It is interesting that they are purchasing companies that almost fully
    control the software but give it away free as open source: Sleepycat, JBoss, and Zend. Oracle’s purchase months ago of InnoDB used by MySQL was a similar move.

    What they are _not_ getting involved in is software that is community controlled, like PostgreSQL or Linux, because it much harder to see how a purchase would allow tight control of the software, resulting in revenue.”

    Just to add one more point to Ann’s reply. I consider us close to PostgreSQL in this aspect.

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