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In case you missed it, MySQL held its first user conference just before Easter, writes Phil Howard, of Bloor Research. MySQL is, of course, the developer of the eponymous Open Source relational database.

How significant is MySQL? Well, it depends how you read the figures. According to the company, 29,000 copies of the database are downloaded every day and there are 4 million installations worldwide. However, most of these will be just "suck it and see" users.

More useful would be a figure for the number of users paying support fees. Not that MySQL is limited to the traditional Open Source model of free downloads and support charging: it also sells the software directly to other software vendors. Hyperion, for example, uses the product as an embedded database.

So, the jury is still out on the significance of MySQL. One reasons for this was made apparent at the user conference, where the company announced that a "pre-alpha" (whatever that is) version of its next release (5.0) ia now available for download. However, it was the features of the new release that stood out: the product will now support foreign keys, stored procedures and database alerts.

The fact that these features will be in the next release explains why I have not previously taken more than a passing interest in the product: with the omission of these capabilities it simply was not suitable for use at the enterprise level, though their inclusion does not prove its suitability either. In any case I will be taking a more detailed look at the product in the next couple of months.

One thing that MySQL will not be including is XML support. In an interview with InfoWorld, Marten Mickos, the company's CEO, is reported as saying that "if XML in the database becomes mainstream, we will do it. My personal view is that the relational model is about as complicated as it can get before it gets too complicated".

I agree. In fact I would go further: I think the relational model has been extended beyond its natural limits. The corollary to this is that from a technical perspective it makes much more sense to use, say, Software AG's Tamino as an XML database that sits side by side with your relational database, than it does to try and cram this quart into a relational pint pot.

However, the market doesn't work that way. The market works on the basis of perception and it listens to the stories that the 800lb gorillas tell. And the stories these vendors are telling is that you can implement XML in the database, that the overhead of mapping between XML structures and relational tables can be minimised if not totally reduced, and we have even got relational database vendors implementing hierarchical structures for XML indexing.

My God, hierarchies! This has been anathema in the rdbms market since it finally overcame the forces of darkness (that is, hierarchical and navigational databases) more than a decade ago. That is a measure of just how important XML is to the relational vendors.

The bottom line is that I think Marten has got this one wrong, even if he is right.

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