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Global CIO: IBM Supports Oracle But Microsoft Kisses EU Ring

IBM exec Steve Mills says MySQL doesn't compete with Oracle, but Microsoft obsequiously awaits its chance to kiss the EU's ring by demonizing Larry Ellison's company.

Bob Evans

December 9, 2009

6 Min Read

Saying that MySQL "comes in at the bottom" of the database market and is "not used for sophisticated" tasks, IBM software chief Steve Mills says MySQL presents no competitive threat to database products from IBM and Oracle and should not be a dealbreaker with the EU. How does the line go? "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer . . . ."

With testimony from friends and enemies of Oracle expected to come tomorrow and Friday at EU hearings in Brussels, Mills made his comments yesterday in a Financial Times article:

Critics claim MySQL is an important rival to Oracle's own core database business. But the IBM software chief said MySQL posed little direct challenge to database products from groups such as IBM and Oracle.

"It's certainly not the most sophisticated database in the marketplace," Mr Mills said. "It's not used for sophisticated query and analysis things."

This is both remarkable and, then again, quite sensible: remarkable because, since Oracle and IBM compete aggressively and sometimes viciously in the high-end database market, we might expect IBM to join the rotten-tomato throwers in the managed-economy side of the house that the EU seeks to establish as the norm.

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But it's also quite sensible in a more sophisticated way because if IBM were to join Microsoft and SAP in their silly and short-sighted support for the EU's fool's errand, then the result would be even more influence and power accruing to the EU in its desire to hold sway over how businesses operate, what businesses can and can't do, and how competition is defined.

And the crazy thing is, IBM does indeed have a dog in this fight because it battles Oracle day in and day out on multiple fronts around the world. On top of that, Larry Ellison has said very publicly and very specifically that Oracle's goal is to compete with and beat IBM software, hardware, and systems.

So if anybody's got a reason to want to try to slow down the Oracle-Sun deal, it's IBM—but Mills is having none of that. In fact, Mills is saying very specifically that there is no anticompetitive threat—that such fantasies are baseless—that MySQL, as Oracle has said all along, is a totally different animal serving totally different masters than Oracle's databases.

Look at IBM's track record of acquisitions in the software business: in the past several years, it has acquired more than 20 companies in the BI field alone. And it surely is not done buying companies, especially in its high-growth areas of software and services, and it surely intends to leverage the companies and products it buys across the globe.

That means in Europe. That means the EU. And that means that for some deals down the road, IBM could well be in the spot Oracle's in right now, which I define as a political trap in which the only way out is for Oracle to prove a negative: it has to prove that it doesn't and won't stifle competition with MySQL.

If the EU succeeds in having its way with Oracle, then the already plumped-up popinjays of Brussels will feel that nothing is beyond their reach, that no move is too intrusive, and that businesses exist to answer to them.

That might be the world that SAP and Microsoft would prefer, as evidenced by their intentions to testify on how much damage the free market would suffer if Oracle would be allowed to acquire Sun, but IBM appears to have no desire to try to operate and innovate and grow and evolve in a global marketplace where it has to kneel and kiss the EU's ring each time it wants to do a deal.

Look at Mills' comments in the FT about the competitive reality: MySQL has been most widely used in the high-volume but relatively simple task of running websites, rather than as a replacement for the more complex corporate databases. Mr Mills suggested that there were plenty of alternatives to the free software.

"MySQL comes in at the bottom of the market. There is a lot of 'freeware' out there today."

And in case you think I'm overblowing the way the EU sees itself and its increasingly bloated role, or that I'm overblowing the threat that such unchecked, unaccountable, and unashamedly arrogant bureaucratic power-grabbing presents, let me share with you some recent comments from the EU grandee most directly responsible for this travesty: Neelie Kroes, until very recently the head of the EU's competition commission (known to some as the "Managed Economy Commissariat").

In a display of close-minded arrogance that stands out even by her own standards and that of the insular EU, here's what Kroes had to say about a letter sent to the EU by 59 members of the United States Senate in support of Oracle's acquisition bid, as reported by the AP:

Kroes slammed the senators for "interfering in someone else's decisions rather than taking the most important decision that you have control over: improving health care."

"Is this really more important than fixing your own health care system?" she asked in a speech, adding that the senators needed to get their priorities straight.

How's that for open-mindedness? How's that for considering all the facts and all the evidence? How's that for fairness and big-picture views and impartiality?

Now, I've got my own issues with the United States Senate—if there's a rival anywhere in this world for the EU's leadership position in vacuous gasbaggery and detachment from reality, it is the United States Senate—but I'm not charged with adjudicating a process that has already cost thousands of Sun Microsystems' employees their jobs,and threatens those of thousands more. Could Kroes not even consider the input from a somewhat-parallel governing authority without utterly dismissing it?

SAP is based in Germany, so perhaps it feels its best self-interest is served by supporting its EU homeys. I think it's a huge mistake, but I can almost, in an un-global way, understand that. But Microsoft's attempt to use the EU as a shield in its own fight against Oracle is disgraceful, and it's one more reason why Microsoft has become, as I wrote earlier today, a slow-moving follower rather than a daring and hard-charging global leader.

You'll live to regret this, Microsoft, because next time you try to acquire somebody, the EU will lustily do to you exactly what it's doing to Oracle.

Steve Mills and IBM: well done!

Larry Ellison and Oracle: give 'em hell, Larry!

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About the Author(s)

Bob Evans


Bob Evans is senior VP, communications, for Oracle Corp. He is a former InformationWeek editor.

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