May 6, 2009 / By Sheeri Cabral
So, I was pointed to a post by Dean Ellis saying that MySQL needs a mothership which was written in response to another post by Baron Schwartz saying a mothership might not be the best thing for MySQL. Selena Decklemann recently posted about the issue of not having a company behind the software in the Postgres world.
Baron’s first post was spurned by someone saying:
you know, you guys really need Sun/MySQL, because without the mother ship, things will fall apart and your own business will fail.
Dean thinks this may be have been a conversation he had, and states:
What I actually said was: I believe that a successful commercial enterprise called “MySQL” is necessary in order to create the types of opportunities that exist in the “MySQL Ecosystem” today.
So, what does having a company behind MySQL provide? To be more clear, I am specifically answering “What has MySQL and/or Sun been able to provide to the MySQL Ecosystem that was not there before?”
I would like to note that I am not making a value judgment on having a company behind MySQL.
Dean’s post tackles the generic case of “a company behind open source software” — he makes the unfortunate statement that a web server does simple tasks, thus Apache does not need a company behind it. It is plain to see that Apache has survived for over 10 years without being principally owned by a company. But all of the reasons Dean gives for MySQL needing a “mothership” are true of Apache. I could argue that databases do simple tasks too — store, process and retrieve information (hey, just like a webserver).
But that’s not my point. Having a company behind MySQL allowed MySQL to:
have a centralized place for MySQL knowledge
write good documentation
However, having a company behind MySQL has caused problems. As I see it, there are two problems. The first is difficulty in accepting contributions back from the community. That was not because of a decision from a business person. That was, and is, because the software is full of code that does not (literally) meet up to its own standards. There is legacy code that is decades old. There is new code that has been hacked together. Legacy code and hacks were *enabled* by having a centralized place for development.
When the time came that folks wanted to decentralize, it was not easy to do so.
The second problem is that in trying to monetize MySQL, certain things were irrevocably changed.
I want to address the original statement: without the mother ship, things will fall apart and your own business will fail. Pythian offers MySQL DBA services — ongoing and emergency — and that business will not fail if there is no “mother ship”.
So, what if the company behind MySQL dissolved? A few hundred people, including some of my friends, would be out of a job. The User Conference would cease to exist, replaced by smaller conferences such as the Postgres community already has. MySQL development would have to be picked up by other people/companies. This last part has already started happening.
Would Fortune 500 companies stop using MySQL because there was no company behind it? No. There are still ways to prove due diligence from a compliance standpoint.
As things have stood for the past 2 years, “things falling apart” has been both decelerated and accelerated by having a company behind MySQL and being acquired.
The fact is that MySQL is the world’s most popular open source database. I *believe* that having a company behind it helped it gain that status, but I do not believe it is currently necessary to have a company behind it right now. Trying to monetize an open source product can hurt it, a lot; trying to monetize MySQL has done a lot of damage.
Right now, I see development happening inside the company and outside the company. There are now three active release series (5.0, 5.1, 5.4) — will MySQL be able to handle the engineering, QA and support workload that comes along with it? Percona, RedHat and Debian have released binaries for MySQL, with the former company actually making significant changes. The Monty Program offers non-recurring engineering of MySQL (ie, bugfixes, patches, features). 42sql.com and OpenQuery offer training.
The company behind MySQL offers development, support, training, documentation, marketing, QA, binary packaging, forums, lists, and more. Most of the company’s offerings are already being done by others on a smaller scale; what is not is superfluous. In fact, the real value of the company seems to be documentation and QA.
To finish off this post, I would like to reiterate that I am not making a value judgment on having a company behind MySQL. I do not think a company will make MySQL fail, nor do do not think a company is necessary for MySQL’s success. All I am saying is that it is not NECESSARY to have a company behind MySQL.
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