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Thursday, 20 June 2013 18:13

Oracle doesn't understand open source: Monty Featured


MariaDB founder Ulf Michael "Monty" Widenius says that Oracle has failed to make a success of MySQL because the company doesn't understand open source. "It's not in their blood," Widenius, one of the three co-founders of MySQL, told iTWire in an interview.

"It's not in their DNA," Monty (pictured above) added. "They are trying to run open source development the same way as they run closed source development and that is a big mistake."

Recently, Red Hat, the Linux distribution most widely used by businesses, announced it would be replacing MySQL in its forthcoming 7.0 release and replacing it with MariaDB, a fork of MySQL maintained by Monty and his firm, Monty Program. Monty's company has merged with SkySQL, where another MySQL co-founder David Axmark is the CTO. The third MySQL co-founder, Allan Larsson, is also working with Monty by providing help and advice when needed.

Monty said the main reason people had started looking for alternatives to MySQL was probably because Oracle had proved it did not want to play well with the open source community.

The company had done this "by making MySQL open core, removing test cases from the source code (mainly to make things harder for external MySQL and MariaDB developers) and not making it possible for anyone in the community to develop MySQL on similar terms as Oracle is doing," he said.

"Another reason is that MariaDB is more advanced (faster, more secure and with more features) than MySQL while still being a 100 per cent drop-in replacement for MySQL. Why use MySQL when you have something that is compatible, fully open source, that is faster and better and you don't lose anything?"

Monty said he saw no logical reason for Oracle to continue developing MySQL. "They don't make any money on MySQL (in Oracle terms). Their salespeople don't want to sell MySQL as the commissions are so much smaller," he said. "For every MySQL sale, they lose a potentially much bigger sale of Oracle's main database.

"From Oracle's point of view, the best possible option would be that MySQL would cease to exist. I think that Oracle still want to keep some kind of grip of MySQL, just to keep one competitor out. They are likely to continue to move MySQL to be an even more closed model over time and that way force more of their customers to use Oracle's MySQL instead of the competition.

"They are also increasing prices for MySQL so much that in some cases the Oracle main database offerings are cheaper than MySQL."

Oracle acquired MySQL when it bought Sun Microsystems in 2009. Sun had bought MySQL a year earlier.

Recently, Monty proposed an idea that he called business source, whereby businesses could sell open source products but have a restriction in the licence so that recipients would not be allowed to distribute the source until a fixed period of time elapsed.

But he said this model was never intended for the MariaDB server. "From where did you get the impression that business source was any way connected to MariaDB? It's impossible to use for MariaDB as MariaDB is GPL and we don't own the source," he said.

"Business source is an idea that software companies can use when they would like to be open source, but would not be able to make enough money with an open source licence to drive their business.

"I get a lot of questions from software companies on how to create a sustainable business model that would attract investors. For an investor, in most case it's not advisable to invest in a software company that only gets revenue from services; such a company is very unlikely to grow big enough to provide a reasonable return on investment. In addition, the profit margins on services are not enough to be able to pay for a development organisation."

Monty said that to be able to grow, a software company needed some kind of licence revenue or other recurring revenue.

"In the past, the normal options have been closed source licence revenue;  open core licence/service revenue; and dual licenses on GPL (like MySQL)," he said. "One big problem for people who like the open source development model is that open core is, for other developers, practically the same thing as closed source. Dual licences only work for a certain kind of products (infrastructure products that can be embedded in other products).

"Business source, in contrast to dual licences, works for any kind of software. For the end user and developers, it's much better than open core as they get access to all source and have the full right to modify it any way they want."

Asked why he could not fund MariaDB from the big payout he got when Sun bought MySQL, Monty replied: "It's true that I got some money from the sale of MySQL to Sun. However, I don't think it's reasonable to assume that I should have to pay for all future development of MariaDB from my own pocket.

"Any new business that one creates around an software product, in my case MariaDB, should strive to be profitable so that it can pay the salaries for its developers. Without that it's impossible to do serious development to be able to compete with software vendors. Doing paid for development and some services around an open source database is not enough to create a profitable development company!

"To solve this, we created the MariaDB foundation to make it easier for other companies to donate money and resources to the project. We also merged Monty Program Ab with SkySQL to create a bigger company that can do full services around MariaDB, extended with some product strategies. All this together is enough to create a profitable company that is interesting for investors and can at the same ensure that MariaDB will be free for the foreseeable future."

Asked if it wasn't enough to sell services and support around a GPL-licensed product, he said: "No, it's almost impossible to create a profitable open source development company that can successfully compete with closed source vendors by just doing support and services. We were not able to do that with MariaDB alone. We had to merge with SkySQL to be able to
turn things around.  (SkySQL is not a pure development company, it does a lot more thing than just developing MariaDB)."

Monty's two projects, MySQL and MariaDB, have both been named after his daughters. Asked what gift he had given them, he said, jocularly, making them well-known was at least something. "All my children have also got options in the software companies I have created that have used their names," he added. "I think they are compensated quite good for me using their names..."

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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