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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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December 3, 2007 4:21 PM

More from MySQL: An open-source Microsoft?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Microsoft wasn't the focus of my conversation with MySQL Chief Executive Marten Mickos and Brian Aker, the company's Seattle-based technology director.

But they had some interesting thoughts on their big competitor and sort-of partner in Redmond. (They work together a bit on tools, for instance: MySQL builds a plug-in for Microsoft's Visual Studio).

Both speculated that Microsoft would be an open-source company if it were started today. Here's how Mickos brought it up:

"The way I look at it, when Microsoft was founded ... there was no real open source movement then. But if Microsoft was established today it would be an open-source company. Because I think smart people create businesses in what is the hot topic of the day. At that point it was building an operating system, having a closed source model, proprietary model. It was natural. I don't think they really contemplated it; they just did it. In the same sense, we grew up in open source. Did we contemplate it much? No, it was the obvious choice for reaching out to the smartest programmers in the world."

But what about the famous story of the young Bill Gates chastising programming hobbyists who "open sourced" his early Altair BASIC code?

Aker said Gates was trying to figure out how to build a software business.

"When Gates did that there was no real concept of how to make money from open source at all. Engineers at the time ... were trying to come up with any model -- because at the time who was making money? The hardware vendors were the only ones making money. Software was something that came along for free. If you look today the model has shifted and open source has been one of the models in that."

They also mentioned that Microsoft downloads a "staggering volume" of MySQL's free database.

I tried to get a response from Microsoft's Bill Hilf last week but we didn't connect. I finally heard back from a Microsoft spokeswoman this morning. She said the "lion's share" of the downloads are probably because of work done by Microsoft's open-source lab and because there's "some technical collaboration" between the companies.

The column also mentioned a Business Week story about anticipation surrounding the MySQL IPO; here's a link if you're interested.

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