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LibrePlanet 2010: Eben Moglen and the future of Oracle in free software

By Selena Deckelmann · March 23, 2010

Tags: conference, open-source, postgres

I just got back from Libre Planet 2010, a conference for free software activists put on by the Free Software Foundation. I imagine most readers of this blog are familiar with the language debate over free software vs. open source. Much of the business and software community has settled into using open source as the term of choice, but Libre Planet is certainly a place where saying "free software" is the norm.

I presented two talks - one on how to give good talks by connecting with your audience, and a second about non-coding roles in free software communities. The first talk is built on my work with user groups and giving presentations at primarily free software conferences over the last five years. The second was built off of the great work of Josh Berkus, for a talk that he first gave at a mini-conference I arranged the day before OSCON 2007 for Postgres.

One talk I attended surprised me with an important discussion of the future of the open source database market.

Eben Moglen spoke about the future of the Free Software Foundation and the new challenges that software freedom faces in a world increasingly dominated by network services - social networking, collaboration tools and other software where ownership of data is largely shared, and no single person or entity can be legitimately claimed to be sole owner of the data or structure that emerges.

Eben Moglen said, "We are at a point of inflection in our long campaign." He talked at length about the work the Software Freedom Law Center has done, collaborating with organizations whose goals were not necessarily software freedom, nor directly aligned with the FSF. He specifically brought up patent pools, and work that the SFLC has done to bring non-free companies in the fight against abusive patents.

Eben then turned his attention to the issue of the Oracle/Sun acquisition. He commented we haven't really looked to Oracle for pro-software freedom activity in the past. And then that "every technically competent 15-year old in the world uses MySQL." While this isn't music to the ears of Postgres users and developers, with applications like Wordpress, I'd say that Eben isn't too far off.

What was interesting to me was Eben's conjecture that MySQL is now essentially a tool that's now being sharpened to stab deeply into the heart of Microsoft's SQL Server market. He pointed out that Oracle has about 375,000 customers, and claimed that there's no where you can learn Oracle for free (to which several people have pointed out -- you can download crippled versions of Oracle for free to learn basics.. but I claim that's not the same thing as being able to download and install full server versions of something like MySQL or PostgreSQL).

Regardless of the details, this play by Oracle would be an interesting use of open source software to disrupt a market.

I suggest to the Postgres community that SQL Server to Postgres migrations are a real business opportunity our consultants, and an area in which we as a community should pursue documenting and assisting with transitions as much as possible.