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Nearly three years ago, when open source hacker Brian Aker created a fork of MySQL it did not look like anything that was much needed - at the time Sun owned MySQL and the popular database software looked to have a bright future.


But last month, when Aker announced the general availability of his fork, Drizzle, it looked like the decision he made in 2008 was nothing short of brilliant, given that MySQL has now ended up in the clutches of Oracle, a company that does not seem overly friendly to free and open source software.

Forks of free and open source software can sometimes become better known and more widely used than the original branch. More often, they die away or are taken up only by niche markets.

Hence, one figured that it would be interesting to ask Aker something about what looks being a fortuitous occurrence.

Sadly, the man himself was not contactable but senior Drizzle developer Stewart Smith (pic below), a former president of Linux Australia, and a longtime FOSS hacker, was more than willing to speak for the project. Smith currently works for Rackspace and was formerly an employee of MySQL and then Sun.

iTWire: When did the fork from MySQL take place?

Stewart Smith: Brian started a tree around June 2008, although ideas had been floating around for a while beforehand (we typically say this traces back to the 2005 MySQL Customer Advisory Board meeting).

The first commit to the source tree was 2008-06-24, aptly with the commit message "clean slate". It was a couple of days later, on the 29th that my first set of patches were merged into the tree.

At first it was just a few of us, working on it after hours, until the public announcement at OSCON.
Stewart Smith
Why did the fork happen?

A number of reasons. We saw a couple of problems: 1) the new features in MySQL 5.0 weren't really applicable to large scale websites, a traditional stronghold and 2) the code base was aging and in desperate need of large scale refactoring.

It boils down to a number of people thinking that we could build a better database for large scale web and cloud applications than what we currently had.

With hindsight, it looks like a very wise decision. How did it look at the time?

I thought it was a great idea at the time too. Forking the project is not always met with a positive reaction, it was certainly a different and bold step to take. To their immense credit, Sun saw the potential that Drizzle had and provided a great place for a number of us to work on it.

Aker gave a talk about Drizzle at the LCA in 2009. At what stage was the project at that time?

It was at a less mature state than it is now. We still had features to implement and bugs to find and fix. We now have a stable release. I'll never use the phrase "production ready" as the only way you can prove that is by having *other* people running it in production for a decent time and loudly saying so.

That being said, there have been people deploying Drizzle into production environments pretty much since the start.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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