Last year when database giant Oracle acquired the small Finnish software maker Innobase, which provides the InnobasDB storage engine used by MySQL, there were doubts that the open source firm would be able to continue to negotiate favourable terms for renewing its Innobase licence.
Even though it has managed to do that - MySQL chief executive Marten Mickos says Oracle has "played very nicely with
InnoDB. They fix bugs and develop the product just as before" - MySQL is now hedging its bets by providing other options. The fact that Oracle late last year started selling GNU/Linux on its own may well have accelerated the development of options.
Says Mickos: "...with our Pluggable Storage Engine Architecture we provide choice for customers who may not want to use InnoDB or who may have slightly different needs. Solid was first with the SolidDB engine for MySQL. Our own Falcon project will soon be out as alpha. We have announced two new storage engine partnerships: Nitro Security and Infobright. And Paul McCullagh developed the PrimeBase XT transactional storage engine all on his own."
The Falcon project alpha code was released a few days ago. For Mickos, "...this shows the self-healing effect on open source. Take something away, or raise the possibility that something might be taken away, and the ecosystem and the community creates alternatives and replacements."
The release of the Falcon code is a step in a different direction for MySQL which did not exactly endear itself to the FOSS community last year by negotiating a tie-up with Microsoft to become a part of Redmond's Visual Studio Industry Partner Program and moving to delay production of binaries of its enterprise product for Debian GNU/Linux. In 2005, MySQL made a boob of sorts when it cut a deal with the SCO Group to support its database on some versions of SCO's Unixware operating system.
Mickos reduces the SCO deal to dollars and cents. "As for the deal with SCO, there is a simple reason why we don't talk
about the details: SCO is our customer and like in most of our agreements, there is a clause stating that the terms are confidential. Briefly, SCO came to us and wanted to pay us for supporting their operating system. We think that end-users should have the best database no matter what operating system they run on, so we did the deal."
Asked why MySQL dropped support for the same Unixware operating system in 2004, Mickos says, "There wasn't enough demand for it in the market."
And he adds: "We condemn SCO for their lawsuit, but we also believe that the judges in that matter are a) the courts and b) their own customers. We always try to be the doctor rather than the judge."
Mickos is no doubt aware that companies which have made a name dealing in free and open source software are always under scrutiny when they make any move that takes them away from the core of their ethos. And the last thing he wants is to squander the goodwill that MySQL has in the community.
While the move with the storage engines is a forward-looking one, Mickos prefers to cross the licensing bridge when he comes to it. "We have not made a decision regarding GPL3 for MySQL yet. That decision will be made when the licence is ready and when we see the reception of it in the community and the market," he says when asked if MySQL will be moving to the new version of the General Public License, version 3, which is scheduled to be released in March.
He is also acutely aware of the need for a good image. "As you may know, we are actively engaged in the work around GPL3. GPL3 will have a number of important improvements to the licence text, for instance being designed from the start for global use and for fitting better into the various national legislations. GPL3 also deals with software patents in a new way, and you may know that MySQL AB is an active supporter of the www.NoSoftwarePatents.com campaign in EU."
As the year progresses, more and more companies which have made their name and money (at least enough to keep food on the table) from FOSS, will have to devise different business models to cope with moves made proprietary software vendors. Mickos appears to be pragmatic and also a polished diplomat. MySQL has, for some time, been the most widely used open source database, even on Windows. He clearly intends to keep it in that position.