A highly credible source has revealed today that Oracle made not one, not two, but at least three separate offers for MySQL. The first was apparently in the range of $300 million. The second? $500 million. The last one was in the range of $850 million.
But Sun got the prize. What happened? It has a lot less to do with cash than it does with character. There's a lesson in this.
First off, it's important to remember InnoDB. What many of us suspected is apparently true: Oracle acquired InnoDB in an effort to crush MySQL's valuation by removing one of its primary storage engines. Oracle then used this weakening of its competitor as a lever to try to pick up MySQL on the cheap.
MySQL in the background worked on developing a home-grown replacement for InnoDB. It's not clear how far along MySQL got with these efforts.
On each of the occasions Marten took the Oracle offer back to the board, but nothing came of it. Perhaps there was no appetite to see an acquisition buried in the bowels of a proprietary software company, especially one that would likely have real difficulty integrating a competitive product. This wouldn't be the case of adding Siebel and PeopleSoft. MySQL is a game changer. Selling to Oracle would potentially stop the game.
Meanwhile, the open question was if not to Oracle, who would buy MySQL (though the push continued for an IPO). MySQL seemed to have figured out how to grow more quickly (MySQL Enterprise, for example), but it wasn't clear how the public markets would react to the company...including because of moves like InnoDB that showed potential cracks in the MySQL armor (and of any open-source company that relies heavily on third-party technology, open source or otherwise).
Jonathan Schwartz, who had been talking acquisition with Marten Mickos for years, heard that talks had started and stalled with Oracle, and pounced. This is the reason it went so fast. It's the reason it started at all. MySQL hadn't been actively shopping itself around, but once Oracle had opened the door...Sun decided to close it.
Sun put a heck of a lot of cash on the table. It won over Marten and the MySQL board by committing significant resources to elevate and improve MySQL, not merely buy it and bury it. This is a testament to the strength of Marten's character and the board's commitment to MySQL. If you're an open-source company, you want a board like this...and a CEO like this. It's about more than cash. It's about character.