In my local supermarket, you can find two brands of garbage bags: There are the “A-brand” garbage bags, and there are the “house-brand” garbage bags. Both come in rolls of 20, each bag holds 60 liters, and both come with the same convenient closing strips. There is only one difference: each roll of A-brand garbage bags costs 40 eurocents more.
Garbage bag (*)
How could this situation exist? Why on earth would you pay anything more than the cheapest possible? They’re just garbage bags, for crying out loud! They’re probably even made in the same factory.
But for some reason, be it superior marketing, brand recognition, or some persistent belief that the more expensive bags really do hold garbage in a superior fashion, there are enough yuppies who dump the expensive brand in their trolleys without thinking twice.
But at the same time, my local supermarket would be foolish to abandon the cheap brand. There are plenty of cheapskate customers who do pay attention to price, and who are really not embarrassed to be seen with a no-brand garbage bag, every Tuesday when they put the trash out, in front the whole onlooking neighborhood.
In marketing terms this is called segmentation: by catering to each market segment (cheapskates and yuppies), the supermarket can make more total profit than if they had carried either only the cheap or only the expensive brand. As always, Joel explains it best
I’m sure this is also something the marketing geniuses of Oracle know. Oracle, well known producer of the enterprise level database product of the same name, is a marketing force to be reckoned with. You can’t just go to MediaMarkt and buy a box of Oracle. No, if you want Oracle, you have to call them. They’ll send a salesrep, who will drive to your office, show slick spreadsheets during expensive lunch while back at headquarters they calculate exactly how much you’re worth, and how much you can be squeezed for site-wide Oracle licenses.
In complete contrast, Sun is not a “marketing” company. Sun is a technology company. They’re the geeks behind the scenes, who have produced a long list of innovative server technology that you never heard about, but nonetheless powers an important fraction of the internet infrastructure. The list goes on: Java, OpenOffice, OpenSolaris, ZFS, Virtualbox and interestingly, also a database product named MySQL.
In the open source community, Sun is widely recognized as a company that really “gets” it. Indeed, all of the products just mentioned are open source in different degrees (and some, like Java, to the highest degree possible: full GPL v3).
It’s the suits versus the beards all over again. And they’re up in arms, because Oracle recently acquired Sun. What a shock: in one corner, Oracle, the most closed, most expensive, commercial database system imaginable, used by all the Fortune 500, and in the other corner MySQL, the cost-free, open-source upstart that powers small shops, blogs (including the one you’re reading) and WikiPathways, and now they’re both in the hands of a single company? Somebody check the temperature in hell!
A friend asked if I would sign a petition to stop Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, and thus also MySQL. I’m not in the habit of signing e-petitions, and I won’t sign this one either. First of all because I don’t think it will make a bit of difference, but also because I think it’s premature. This acquisition does not have to be the disaster that some make it out to be.
Just as there will remain plenty of brand-susceptible bioinformatics professors who will keep claiming, Oracle is way better than MySQL, no matter what the application, or how much we have to spend, there will also remain plenty of low-budget shops that won’t be able to pay Oracle licenses, but will happily settle for MySQL’s smaller feature set.
It’s market segmentation all over again, I don’t see why Oracle won’t be able to keep MySQL open and still have a nice profitable business model. All Oracle has to do is to make the upgrade path from MySQL to Oracle a little bit easier. MySQL could be branded as entry-level Oracle, a gateway drug for newcomers in the enterprise database world.
Of course they could also easily fuck it up, but it’s not like there aren’t any competitors: there is PostgreSQL, mSQL, and of course there is always the possibility of forking MySQL itself (which many groups are doing right now). Because once the source is open, it stays that way forever.
No, I’m not worried at all. Happy New Year!
* Image licensed cc-by-sa-2.5 by M. Minderhoud. Technorati Claim code: FXEQMSTQ5VPE