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Is MySQL's Community Eating the Company? 223

mjasay writes "Craigslist's Jeremy Zawodny reviews the progress of MySQL as a project, and discovers that through third-party forks and enhancements like Drizzle and OurDelta 'you can get a "better" MySQL than the one Sun/MySQL gives you today. For free.' Is this a good thing? On one hand it demonstrates the strong community around MySQL, but on the other, it could make it harder for Sun to fund core development on MySQL by diverting potential revenue from the core database project. Is this the fate of successful open-source companies? To become so successful as a community that they can't eke out a return as a company? If so, could anyone blame MySQL/Sun for creating its own proprietary fork in order to afford further core development?"
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Is MySQL's Community Eating the Company?

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  • Monty has been blogging some about the need to be a more inclusive project. Its one thing to be open source, but to be an open source community project thats still owned by a company takes real effort on the part of the company. Perhaps this would encourage some of these enhancements to be rolled into the main branch.

  • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:28AM (#26120151)

    For paying that much money for a company that gives its core product away for free!? MySQL made a bit of money through support contracts, but now they have a lot more zeros to account for when they pay the bills.

    This isn't MySQL's fault. If someone wanted to pay me 3million for my piece of crap car, I would sell it for half that, so they thought they were getting a bargain, but how could Sun justify paying that much?

  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:40AM (#26120259) Journal

    "If so, could anyone blame MySQL/Sun for creating its own proprietary fork in order to afford further core development?"

    Wait - what good would it do for MySQL/Sun to create it's own fork if, by the poster's own declaration, community supported forks are *already* better?

    I think, maybe, part of the problem is companies (not just Sun/MySQL, but other companies I've seen this with too) not really treating open source projects *as* open source. They release the software under GPL, or whatever free license, but because they want to maintain 'copyright purity' (that is, the code they distribute is 100% owned by them, because that is the only thing that will allow them to potentially make the codebase proprietary for selling 'enhanced' versions; if they accepted other contributors' code under the GPL, they would then have to accept the code to be GPL forever, for all versions), so they won't/can't integrate other contributors' code into the main distribution (unless they can work out some seperate licensing agreement with the third-party developer).

    Whenever you have a situation like that, as a company, you are giving other developers the benefit of Free Software while *denying* it from your own customers (well, sorta, until they stop being your customers and start using the other forks), and yourselves.

    I don't know what the 'best' business model is for open source companies, but if you really want to leverage open source/free software, you have to give up on directly charging for 'enhanced' versions of the software, because the only way to play that game is to force this situation where you cannot benefit from the enhancements of the community. If you are successful, like MySQL, then eventually the community grows to the point where the community's developer resources are greater than your own as the company, and you find yourself in a situation where you can't really keep up with the community.

  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:44AM (#26120299) Homepage

    One of the keys to a successful open-source project is to take the improvements being made in forks and bring them back into the main project. One of the reasons forks are created is that users have a need that's not being met by the project. If you bring their solutions back into the mainline project, the fork will tend to die because it's no longer needed.

    This is, BTW, one of the reasons to use a GPL-like license. If you do, you're guaranteed that you can bring improvements from forks back into your mainline codebase. If you go with a license that allows you to create a fork with things that aren't available to others, it simultaneously allows others to create forks that aren't available to you. Then you end up in Sun's situation with no way to resolve it except by creating the same improvements yourself. And there's more of your competitors than there are of you, which means they will win this particular race to create improvements. If you go with a license that forces improvements to be available to you but not anybody else, many people who might have created an improvement you could use will simply not contribute to your project. It's a perception issue: GPL-like terms lead contributors to think in terms of their contributions helping everybody and you just happen to be one of that "everybody", while "owner gets everything, everybody else gets what the owner gives them" terms tend to lead contributors to think you want them to work solely for your benefit without you giving them anything in return. That turns a lot of people off.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:46AM (#26120325)
    So what does that mean to costs like .. umm .. I don't know ... "salary"???
  • by Anthony_Cargile ( 1336739 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:50AM (#26120371) Homepage
    Nevermind Sun's recent layoffs. I'm just waiting for them to start asking for a bailout (since we're on the topic of cars here).

    As far as Sun's proprietary MySQL goes, I'm sure it will be just as popular in comparison to the open MySQL as their StarOffice is to OpenOffice, another community product eating away at the company. The only distro I'm aware of that comes stock with StarOffice is Solaris, which is losing whatever popularity it had to OpenSolaris, another community-driven product quickly gaining popularity.

    I'm lost as far as a solution to this goes, but Sun needs to do something before this gets out of hand and they start losing their company.
  • by Perl-Pusher ( 555592 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:56AM (#26120439)

    The good news (for them) is that you provided them a getting-started point with all your work so they didn't have to put all that time (and money, since time is money) into getting it off the ground.

    SUN didn't do any work creating MySQL. It purchased it. It was already open source and MySQL wouldn't be worth a dime without all the improvements made by the community. SUN knew what it was purchasing. Major companies want support from a company they trust. There is value in that. And SUN can always roll the communities code into its version. Without cost I might add. So what's the beef?

  • by Ilgaz ( 86384 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @11:57AM (#26120445) Homepage

    If Sun actually cared for the "long term unix community" you speak of, you wouldn't have that "unix like" OS in hand.

    Thank God both them and various companies are wise to ignore such long term communities so they keep doing favours.

  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:07PM (#26120555)

    People need incentives to buy products, and open source software doesn't give people that incentive outside of the enterprise realm where paid support is a big money maker. Let's get closer to regular users here. What incentive do home users have to buy StarOffice when OpenOffice is more than good enough? How about pay anything for WordPress when it's free and easily installed by CPanel? I can't see any, aside from altruism, and only economically-clueless nerds tend to put much stock in altruism as a source of revenue (this also explains why so many think that bands will still sell large amounts of recorded music, even though most of it can be downloaded for free on a P2P network).

    In the case of MySQL, a big part of their problem is that Sun isn't dumping a lot of R&D money into them to make MySQL 6 really competitive on an enterprise level with PostgreSQL. A pure open source approach isn't going to allow Sun to make good money on their R&D investment, but if they were to dramatically improve MySQL and provide high quality tools at reasonable prices, that sort of hybrid approach would work. Companies that want to make their core software open source are going to have to make compelling products that interact with them if they want to be able to sell more than consulting and support services.

    Open source advocates need to be realistic. If you do work outside of the enterprise realm, chances are you will end up doing it for free and never seeing a dime from it unless your users are feeling overly generous. That's just because most users outside of the enterprise realm have no incentive to buy anything you might be selling related to your open source product.

  • by jcnnghm ( 538570 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:13PM (#26120601)

    how could Sun justify paying that much?

    About 38% of Sun's income, ~$5.26 billion, is derived from services. If MySQL represents just $100M of that $5.26B, the purchase price was probably fair, given that their support sector generally operates quite profitably.

  • Bull! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:21PM (#26120659)

    Sun is the worlds largest open source company both in terms of size and contribution.

    Open Solaris

    are all wholly Sun projects but they also contribute to numerous other open source projects [].

    Sun may not be perfect but, there are none better at the moment.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:22PM (#26120673) Homepage Journal

    If it's all OSS, then why isn't MySQL picking up the best 3rd party pieces and rolling them back into the official distribution?

    Because they wouldn't be able to include those parts in the proprietary version?

  • by Rahga ( 13479 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:27PM (#26120707) Journal

    I've done my share of programming under the GPL... and I've never liked it. I never implied that proprietary was better, rather I prefer software that is free in every way. If you have a BSD-licensed app and you want to use an awesome code snippet from a GPL piece of software, you can't. (At least, not without going back to the contributor and working out some sort of deal.)

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:27PM (#26120715) Homepage

    There's no need to put the blame on the corporate body. Developers have mortgages too.

    "So, Developer Danny, I notice that 8 out of your last 10 commits have had someone else's name on them. Can you explain to us what value you bring to SUN, and why we shouldn't just hire or reward the 3rd party contributors directly?"

  • Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bjourne ( 1034822 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:28PM (#26120721) Homepage Journal
    I've been in contact with a dozen companies that all use the community version of MySQL. Without paying any support because none is needed when you have a semi-competent DBA around. If MySQL wasn't there, then it would have been PostgreSQL instead. If there was no MySQL, PostgreSQL nor any other high quality free RDBMS, they would have to use a commercial system instead. There are thousands of companies out there in the same situation and I don't think that MySQL has gained as much money as the commercial vendors has lost thanks to MySQL:s freeness.
  • by unity100 ( 970058 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:33PM (#26120777) Homepage Journal
    thats what ibm and others are doing, and its working well. sell your customers COMPLETE solutions. do not put stuff out separately.

    think it like this - imagine you are going to offer a webserver solution. hey, the database server development is already handled by the open source community, cutting many of your development, bugfix, testing costs.

    AND you will sell support. no, really. no business can go to an open source forum, post their problem and wait for a useful answer in a busy workday. they will want to have someone to call and get support fast. AND that will be the company who sold the solution to them. charge reasonably for support.

    do NOT try to go into the ancient 'hey we did something, we are gonna sell it and make money'. in our days and times, support, service are constant revenue streams. whilst you buy a server every few years. which you would want to bank on ?
  • by StringBlade ( 557322 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:44PM (#26120861) Journal

    I referred to MySQL as Sun/MySQL because the company by the same name as the project is now owned by Sun. As such, I'm really accusing Sun of failing the community.

    It's näive to think that Sun would have purchased MySQL if it weren't for its community base of users and developers and indeed, MySQL would not have been much of anything without said same user and developer base. So to suggest that "the community" is owed nothing for their efforts (developing, testing, debugging, suggesting improvements, etc) is also näive.

    MySQL is as popular as it is because of its environment as well as its code base. If you take away either component it will fail, and Sun doesn't seem to get that by taking away the community participation it's killing the project/product it just bought.

  • by fruey ( 563914 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @12:54PM (#26120995) Homepage Journal

    Much of the article & threads here seem to be supposition, and niche arguments. MySQL has the mindshare because, back when RedHat was all the rage on production servers, MySQL + Apache was just an RPM away, and LAMP started to really kick in (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). PHP has big mindshare too, and the MySQL functions *are* the DB functions for a lot of coders out there.

    So even if you fork, add third party patches, or whatever... the fact is that the basic MySQL dominates the low to mid range server DB market in Open Source, and that's that. Of course there are better alternatives available, but hiring staff that know those alternatives isn't as easy.

    So I reckon Sun won't be affected too much, their product does what most people need already. Those who need something else can pay Oracle, MS or work with PostgreSQL, which kinda got to the party late. Yes, it is more powerful. But it's LAMP and not LAPP, and the tutorials for PHP/MySQL outnumber PHP/Postgres by a large factor.

  • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @01:04PM (#26121125)

    If all Sun wanted to do was run a support business for MySQL, why did they even worry about buying it? Why not just hang out a shingle and say, "I will install MySQL for you for $99.99"? Why bother trying to "own" the community instead of joining the community? Try to own, get powned.

    Because those who control the budgets that make support contracts profitable want someone to "own" the problem. Now that MySQL AB is a subsidiary of Sun, Sun has a claim to MySQL that nobody else can have. Sure - there are plenty of other outfits out there that are entirely capable of supporting MySQL. But none of them ARE MySQL.

  • by Dare nMc ( 468959 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @01:30PM (#26121449)

    So what does that mean to costs like .. umm .. I don't know ... "salary"???

    that's the question. Those whose job was to re-invent the wheel, and re-write from scratch a new application to compete with a existing one, their pay should be driven to 0.
    Those who's job is to use whats out their to be as productive as possible should be way more productive, thus more valuable, and thus their pay can be much higher, while still making their parent company more profitable.
    So the computing, support, and customization jobs in general, pay should expand. The create stuff from scratch jobs should go away. Does that result in fewer jobs, probably not, but a slower growth of jobs.

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:12PM (#26122035) Journal

    Seriously. What is the business case where one may justify using MySQL and paying for it?

    Whenever the issue of MySQL vs other RDBMS is raised on Slashdot, its niche is typically defined as cheap hosting and other low-budget solutions where reliability and data consistency are simply not as important. Nothing wrong with that, but isn't it precisely the segment that's not going to pay so long as they can get the same for free? Support - I doubt many people actually care much about that, especially for MySQL. And any Web solution, no matter how big, doesn't have to care about the license of the DB backend.

    This leaves commercial apps who don't like GPL - but they can avoid it much easier by using one of the many viable alternatives, from SQlite or Firebird on the embedded side, to Postgres and again Firebird on the full-fledged database side; and for $$$, if one is willing to spare some, why not just pay a little bit more to get Oracle or even MSSQL?

    So it seems to me that the target audience to which MySQL caters is precisely the one that's less likely to pay for any "enterprisey" features, and stick to the base F/OSS version, with "good enough" community patches. Or am I missing something?

  • by dedazo ( 737510 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @02:20PM (#26122169) Journal

    the fact is that the basic MySQL dominates the low to mid range server DB market in Open Source

    A market which has little to no profit attached to it, and is dominated mostly by way of inertia.

    If there was a profit to turn there (other than mindshare), MySQL wouldn't have been so intent to compete in the enterprise space along with Oracle, Sybase, MSSQL and DB2/x86. They'd be happy with the enormous profits they get from hosting providers and the like.

  • by localman ( 111171 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @03:06PM (#26122765) Homepage

    I don't hate MS either, but I don't think the reason people hate MS is because they make money. It's because they've often been assholes about it. People generally love a good success story as long as the recipient of the success seems to have done it in a fair way. Witness Warren Buffet. Or Google... as long as they shy away from evil. Apple is loved for now, but they're evil enough to get themselves thoroughly hated down the road.

    But the point is: making money is not evil, but if you make money while being evil, people will hate you. And that's as it should be, really. Nobody likes to see assholes get ahead.


  • Making money is great. Making money through rampant corporate skulduggery isn't.
  • by DeepHurtn! ( 773713 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @04:44PM (#26124091)
    Y'know, I'm with you in general, but pointing at the Xbox division as the epitome of capitalism is, I think, misguided. They've lost billions upon billions of dollars and have no chance of being profitable (as a whole) this generation, and certainly weren't profitable last generation. Xbox is an example of a company trying to leverage a monopoly to fund expansion into a new market at a huge loss, with only vague plans on *ever* making a profit. That isn't exactly the ideal entrepreneurial spirit.
  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:00PM (#26124417) Journal

    Google is an advertising company. People don't hate them simply because they're a *good* advertising company, carefully controlling their corporate image. Google makes money by putting ads in front of you - hardly somehting to love them for.

  • by eean ( 177028 ) <<slashdot> <at> <>> on Monday December 15, 2008 @05:24PM (#26124839) Homepage

    The X-Box 360 was put out before their production line was ready to make it. More like capitalism at its worst.

"The way of the world is to praise dead saints and prosecute live ones." -- Nathaniel Howe