MySQL Founder Monty Widenius On What to Expect Next

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 02, 2010

MySQL founder Monty Widenius, who left Sun Microsystems early last year, remained very  vocal throughout the long machinations leading up to Oracle's acquisition of Sun, even mounting a letter writing campaign.  With the Sun acquisition going forward, we reached out to Monty for an interview and he was kind enough to share his thoughts with us. In this two-part interview he speaks candidly about MySQL and Sun, and we will run the second half of the long interview tomorrow.

OStatic: Now that the acquisition is going through, what do you think the future of MySQL is going to be?

It's clear that Oracle is in the game for the profit and it's in their interest to get out as much money from MySQL as they can over the long term.  There will be less development of the Community version of MySQL. MySQL Enterprise will over time be only available as closed source and with a different feature set than the Community version.  By keeping the price very low in the beginning for MySQL Enterprise, they will have a high conversation rate as it will be much easier to move to this than to another database.

This will create an efficient lock-in and make it very hard for a MySQL 'fork' to survive or get traction, as it's almost impossible to keep things compatible. When Oracle finally raises prices, most users just have to pay.

Oracle is also likely to market MySQL as something that is only usable for testing or 'low end' usage, and if one needs a 'real' database, then one should use Oracle's other commercial offerings.  You should also expect to have a hard time finding salespeople that will sell you a MySQL database offering, especially when they could instead sell  you a Oracle high end database.

My company, Monty Program Ab, will continue to work actively on our MySQL branch, MariaDB. We will do what we can to ensure that there is always a free choice for those that can use MariaDB under GPL, in other words inhouse use and by the open source community.

When it comes to development, there is very likely to be very little development done on the MySQL storage engine side, as no storage engine vendor can long term expect to make any profit on this. There is also not going to be a fork of MySQL cluster, as I don't see anyone in the community willing or able to take care of this.

OStatic: Do you think Oracle might devise ways to extend the MySQL business so that MySQL users can convert to its databases--kind of an on-ramp strategy based on open source?

What we can expect is a lot of tools and marketing to get people to convert from MySQL to Oracle's higher end products. Oracle is, however, now in such a dominant position that it doesn't really need the MySQL business to get people to turn to Oracle for their database needs.

OStatic: What role do you think MySQL should play vis-a-vis Oracle's database products?

Oracle will probably keep around MySQL for a couple of reasons: 1) as a limited free (not necessarily open source) entry level database for people to use until they have to upgrade to a commercial offering; and 2) to stop anyone other (open or closed source) database from growing market share; For this they don't need to do a lot of development on the community version. Just keeping it around at the current level should be more than enough for a long time.

Oracle could also position MySQL enterprise (the closed source version) as their offering for the web space (but not much more).

OStatic: Some people say it doesn't matter in the long run what Oracle does with MySQL. It's open source, so it will just succeed in forked versions if Oracle does nothing with it or kills it? Are they right?

No, a fork is not likely to save MySQL long term. I have outlined the reasons in detail in my blog.

In short, the GPL only guarantees that the code will be available, not  that it will be developed. If things are not developed fast enough (according to the needs if its users), it will very rapidly be uninteresting for the masses and slowly die.

A good example of this is RaiserFS, which at one time was one of the most popular file systems for Linux, but when the author was not able to work on it anymore, its usage died very rapidly.

What makes MySQL so hard to fork is that it's, from the closed source users aspect, a GPL library. These users, who traditionally are paying for open source development (like they do for Linux), can't use MySQL under GPL and are thus not willing to participate in development of a fork. So whatever happens, a fork of MySQL will never be able to satisfy all users. As it's these users that bring money into development, there are many problems.

I don't know of a single successfully forked GPL library (in reality, there are very few GPL libraries, just because GPL is not a very good license for a library).

What is needed to keep a fork of MySQL alive is that a lot of vendors  that benefit from the MySQL infrastructure (but don't need commercial licenses) should come together and put a lot of money (we are talking about many millions of dollars per year) into some entity that develops a fork, and should do this without getting any direct revenue for this.  I am doing my share in this, but I can't continue to do that forever.

OStatic: What advice would you give the folks at Oracle, now that they have MySQL in their control?

If Oracle is truly sincere about keeping and developing MySQL as an open source product, it should make some public, iron-clad promises (that hold in a court of law), about their intentions.  If Oracle would do this, they would be able to deal with a lot of the mistrust in the community and in the market about the future of MySQL.

Oracle did have a chance at doing this when they negotiated with the Department of Justice and the European Commission about the merger, but then the company decided to prolong the deal instead of giving any binding promises for MySQL. I sincerely hope that Oracle will reconsider it's position, to gain the trust of all MySQL users.

See the rest of this interview tomorrow.