The European Commission is to launch an "in-depth investigation" into the deal for Oracle to buy Sun Microsystems. Its concern, which will slow down the combination for about three months, is not over Java, as might reasonably be supposed, but Sun's ownership of the MySQL database franchise.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said this:
"The Commission has to examine very carefully the effects on competition in Europe when the world's leading proprietary database company proposes to take over the world's leading open source database company. In particular, the Commission has an obligation to ensure that customers would not face reduced choice or higher prices as a result of this takeover. Databases are a key element of company IT systems. In the current economic context, all companies are looking for cost-effective IT solutions, and systems based on open-source software are increasingly emerging as viable alternatives to proprietary solutions. The Commission has to ensure that such alternatives would continue to be available."
So, a victory for open source? Maybe, if you buy the line that Oracle would trash MySQL to protect its own golden egg (the way it hasn't with PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, BEA or other companies it acquired). And that there is not a long list of swap-out OSS database alternatives from others.
A win for good governance and the level playing field? Maybe, if it weren't pretty clear that Sun is already losing customer faith while the closing of the deal plods on.
A red-letter day for Ms Kroes, Europe's fearless combatant of US tech firms? Maybe, if you think that the Microsoft probe was handled well.
Of a piece with the fundamental requirement to keep big business honest? Definitely, but...
The fact, and the big problem, is that both European and US regulators move at glacial speed, utterly out of keeping with an industry that moves faster than any other of comparable size. Even Oracle-PeopleSoft was held up, despite the fact that SAP dwarfed the combined concern.
What's badly needed is a regulatory body that can think and act quickly on key points so as not to slow down the needs of customers but also of the businesses themselves. Blocking a sizeable deal beacuse of a small component part like MySQL seems an unwieldy way of operating that does little for customers but potentitally quite a lot for the putative Oracle-Sun combination's rivals such as IBM, Microsoft, HP and Dell.