Open Source Acquisitions

If the likes of MySQL can be “bought” by the likes of Sun. What keeps an Apache or any other really popular open source movement from being similarly snapped up? In the end I think this is a really healthy trend. I’m more interested in the mechanics of the deal.

And, who does that check get written to? Who are the beneficiaries/stakeholders in an open source acquisition? The managers of the OS initiative? The developers? A little bit of both? Something else entirely?

For instance, let’s say WebKit gets bought out. How does a business deal like that work!? Or, how about Apache… Hmm? Before you say “That couldn’t happen.” I’ll give you that you may be right. But, also keep in mind, MySQL wasn’t for sale… Until it was.

Makes me wonder if the whole LAMP stack might one day be pwnd.

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4 Comments on “Open Source Acquisitions”

  1. niq Says:

    MySQL could be bought because it’s a commercial company and owns a valuable piece of software.

    In the case of Apache, Sun (not to mention other interested parties like IBM or Google – or even Oracle or Microsoft) know very well they can’t buy it. What they can do is buy into it, by hiring key developers. And indeed, they’ve recently done exactly that:
    http://bahumbug.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/servant-to-a-new-master/


  2. @niq – Excellent [inside] observations. Appreciate the unique point of view you bring to the discussion!

    Let’s then turn our attention to some of the projects within the Apache umbrella then… Lucene… How would an acquisition of that nature go down. Or, again, since it’s not a commercial venture (or is it?) does it get a pass?

    Perhaps I’m muddying the ‘open source’ component with the complimentary ‘business’ aspect of the open source (in this case MySQL).

    Thanks!

  3. John Greeley Says:

    Apache Software Foundation is a 501(c) non-profit organization incorporated in Delaware. All the code in all projects under the apache umbrella is copyrighted to the Apache Software Foundation. (http://apache.org/foundation/faq.html)

    MySQL AB was a commercial for-profit company (incorporated in Sweden) that also owned the copyright to the code in its projects. (N.B. this is not necessarily true of all the MySQL storage engines, i.e. the copyright of the InnoDB code is now held by Oracle – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Innodb).

    The key is not to confuse copyrights, patents, and licenses as at all similar. A company ‘acquires’ a piece of open source software only if they can purchase the rights to the copyrighted code. By holding the copyright they are free to license it in any way they see fit (but they cannot retroactively re-license code that was already distributed under a previous license).

  4. Dennis Byron Says:

    Gerald, THE major Apache project, the HTTP server circa 1996, was almost immediately commercialized by IBM when IBM put the Apache HTTP server into the orginal Websphere AS, making a decision not to go with an internal CORBA-based development. Oracle quickly followed suit replacing a CORBA-based underpinning in its then applications server product with Apache and some other acquired technology and calling it the next revision of its Oracle Application Server.

    Although Apache is a non-profit (see the ebizQ web site for a podcast with this year’s president Jim Jagielski), other major Apache projects have been “commercialized” by Covalent (recently bought by Springsource), wso2 (I think; check their web site), LogicBlaze (later acquired by Iona), some of Winston Damarillo’s companies (also see podcast on ebizQ), and so forth.

    And the good news is that it works the other way: all of these companies, including IBM and Oracle, give back to the Apache community both by working on the projects and by actually donating code around which new communities can be built.

    So no one could (or would want to) acquire Apache (or the Linux Foundation, FSF, Mozilla Founation, etc.), their activity is tightly integrated with the commercial activity needed to support them.

    Dennis


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