Opinion: MySQL Open Source
Opinions: MySQL as Model for Open Source

Executive Overview:
One of the liveliest debates in the IT community is whether Open Source with it 'free' software and source code can be a viable model for commercial software development. Microsoft, threatened by Open Source in major markets contends that Open Source vendors cannot possibly be as responsive to demands of customers in the market. Well twice the Christmas holidays got a mini-test of commercial versus Open Source software responsiveness and lo and behold Microsoft got failing marks while Open Source vendor, MySQL passsed with flying colors. But of course two incidents do not make a full case but it does shine a spotlight on the issues.

MySQL - A Model for Open Source ?

Over the late holiday season 2003, IT shops and developers got a small parable, a little lesson in how responsive the Numero Uno Commercial Software vendor versus the Open Source vendor's could be. Microsoft issued a notice to the public that there would be no more software patches to Windows until the new year. Then several IT Security firms and agencies issued warning about 4-5 newly discovered vulnerabilities in Windows and services that required urgent attention. Microsoft by default announced no action about these defects. Contrast this market responsiveness with MySQL response to a notice that there were more than 16 defects in its recently released MySQL 4.0.16 version of its database software. Within 8 days, MySQL had issued a 4.0.17 release with all the defects fixed plus a few new added goodies. Talk about contrast between responsiveness of commercial versus Open Source software to critical needs. This same Christmas scenario was repeated again in 2006 this time Windows security fixes were not updated until customers complained of the vulnerable position they were being put into. In the roughly the same time frame MySQL quietly made some small security fixes almost immediately upon notice.

Microoft has been running a website supposedly dispelling the myth that Linux and other Open Source software is more reliable, secure or has lower TCO. Microsoft has been sponsoring some "studies" (quotes are appropraite because Microsoft determines the scope and many of the measures of the work) which apparently corraborate their position that Windows is better given the Redmond determined circumstances. Then in this repeated and telling example, Microsoft once again underlines the value of some very good Open Source providers.

The MySQL Open Source Model

Some commercial software vendors complain that there is wide variation in the Open Source model - that is for every Open Source supplier or "vendor" there is another "model". They cite the different practices and licensing between Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP, the so called LAMP powerhouses of web server side fame. They also complain that, MySQL like Trolltech, taking a dual licensing approach contaminates the pure Open Source. In addition to a standard Open Source license, MySQL allows companies to buy a commercial license to MySQL so that their confidential and proprietary changes to MySQL do not have to be returned to the community. Critics also cite the disruptive influence of so many forks - particularly in the Linux OS space. In this case, MySQL has not had any significant forks (but PostgresSQL has had a couple); so forking in Open Source is not inevitable. Now lets take a look at those licensing models in more detail.

What is Attractive About the MySQL Model ?

There are a number of things that has to be attractive developers in the MySQL Model:
  1)it finds a means to pay developers for their work on a project;
  2)yet the source remains open for emergency fixes;
  3)the use of runtime code also remains free for developers and small scale users;
  4)but large scale users who derive the most benefits have to pay to get support;
  5)resellers who want to add their own distinctive features can do so; but the prior
   art base of code they start from and their developers are rewarded by fees paid. Also
  MySQL encourages developers to create their own engines and then drop them into the overall
  syntax and parsing environ that is MySQL. Several vendors have done just that ;
  6)the current, restrictive nature of many commercial software EULA agreements may be
   bypassed by a 3rd party reseller guaranteeing support time, service fees, uptime;
  7)third party add-on and component developers who use all or part of the MySQL
   software base have a viable choice to go Open Source or pay for the code. This
   allows specialists to come in and give back to the community as they can afford.

This model also has two other "invisible" benefits. One of the reasons that JavaScript has balkanized is because there is no center, no group of developers leading the charge on new developments in JavaScript. There can be no question of that in the case of MySQL or JBoss or PHP. Likewise, in the enforcement of MySQL standards, MySQL AB has many more remedies at its disposal than say W3C when Microsoft blithely leaves unimplemented many W3C standards and at the same time has its development programs auto-generate much proprietary HTML, DOM, XML, CSS and other code. In contrast, at the next important build, commercial licensees have to come up to speed with the current state of the MySQL art.

One reason corporates and large organizations have shied away from Open Source is because they are afraid that any one Open Source "vendor" could just sputter out; all but dissolve sometime in the future because key players would lose interest or go on to other things. The MySQL model does not remove that fear - but it certainly allays its considerably. It is by no means perfect; but it gives IT organizations plus VARs and ISVs for that matter, some better choices.


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