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Monday, 22 August 2016 10:15

MariaDB open-source credentials take a hit

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The open-source credentials of MariaDB, the database company that was born as a fork from MySQL, have taken a hit after it announced that it would be releasing the new version of its MaxScale database proxy software under a proprietary licence.

MaxScale is vital to monetising the MariaDB software as it enables the deployment of MariaDB databases at scale. Its new version, 2.0, is now available under what the man behind MariaDB, Michael "Monty" Widenius, calls a Business Source Licence. This will switch to the GNU General Public Licence in 2019.

The licence terms state: "Usage of the software is free when your application uses the software with a total of less than three database server instances for production purposes."

Though there is now a fork of MaxScale, it is from the old version from which this was possible. None of the fixes that are in version 2.0 are present.

MariaDB was forked from MySQL at a time when Oracle's acquisition of Sun Microsystems was under scrutiny by the European Union. At the time, Monty launched a campaign to prevent the EU approving the deal, asking people to "save MySQL from Oracle's clutches" by writing to the European Commission and "help secure the future development of the product MySQL as an open source project."

However, on 19 August, Monty listed the specification of the BSL, lauding it as a licence "designed to harmonise producing open source software and running a successful software company".

"The intent of BSL is to increase the overall freedom and innovation in the software industry, for customers, developers, user and vendors," he wrote.

In an op-ed, well-known open source personality Simon Phipps said: "The whole change of licence shows little sign of community planning and treats all community members who are not customers as parasites."

What has happened at MariaDB should not surprise those who know the history of MySQL.

Monty is one of the three original founders of MySQL, the others being David Axmark and Allan Larsson. MySQL opened its doors for business in 1995 and grew in popularity after the use of Linux for Web hosting boomed. MySQL was then used along with Linux, Apache and Perl/PHP/Python, which gave rise to the popular LAMP acronym.

But until the year 200, MySQL, despite being known as an open-source database, did not qualify as such. The licensing was not open.

As Monty himself said: "...back then we were not sure if you could use GPL from the start, and we needed some money to be sure that we could concentrate on working only on the product that we believed in.

"So we had a commercial licence. It was kind of open source but this was before open source. The licence basically said you could use it freely, but if you made money on it directly, then you needed to pay a small licence fee back."

By 2000, the licence was changed to the GPL – because, as Monty explained, by then the company was financially sound enough to afford it.

Many licences have been created to take advantage of the buzz around open source and the BSL is one more attempt to do the same. But in the case of MariaDB, given the outcry from Monty when the Oracle deal was under EU scrutiny, it seems a bit hypocritical for the company to go down this path now.

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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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