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MySQL has defended a decision to end free community access to the latest source code for its popular database in an attempt to snag paying customers.

Chief executive Marten Mickos said MySQL remains in full compliance with the principles of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), adding the company's decision will help build a "well-funded business model" capable of producing yet more GPL software.

Mickos' comments accompanied those of vice president of community relations Kaj Arno who insisted it was business as usual for MySQL Community and Enterprise Servers, saying both will continue to benefit from the other and denying they will grow apart and split the user base.

"Our intention is for MySQL Community Server to be very good, and for MySQL Enterprise Server to provide further value on top of that," Arno blogged.

The executives spoke up after a decision that's left some in its usually supportive and loyal ecosystem voicing concerns MySQL is taking another step away from the community that helped it build market share (50 per cent among developers) and to become synonymous with Web 2.0 and the LAMP stack.

Some have even voiced concern the Community Server will be dropped by MySQL, as the company focuses on commercial activities.

The main issue stems from MySQL's decision to remove source code tarballs - bundles - from its public ftp.mysql.com site and place them on the enterprise.mysql.com site with tarballs made available only to paying subscribers. Non-tarballed code will continue to be available through the MySQL BitKeeper repository under the GPL.

The decision to keep code back - or at least well hidden - from the community has led some to question whether MySQL is, in fact, going closed source.

MySQL developer and community member Mike Kruckenberg blogged: "It doesn't seem to fit with the spirit of open source. When I think open source I think freely available source, not source I can get once I've paid for a license."

There is concern that restricted access to source will harm the quality of the final product while leaving the community straddled with a second-class database that slips out of touch with MySQL's development cycles.

It's believed keeping code back will deter the kind of grand-scale testing by the community that's helped maintain quality by finding bugs missed by the company, as source in the BitKeeper library is "not relevant" for rigorous testing.

Jeremy Cole, formerly with MySQL and now running Proven Scaling, warned these latest changes would do "absolutely nothing" to address quality control issues on bugs and delays that crept in with the release in late 2006 of Community Server. As part of the new regime, MySQL has promised at least four mature, scheduled source code builds each year.

Cole claimed there are infrequent releases of Community Server with "very little vetting, and there's not a real feedback loop with the users, due to the delay in seeing actual fixes implemented."

One community member has pledged to pick up the slack by providing on-going access to MySQL code. Organizers of the Dorsal Source initiative - which provides builds of MySQL for Linux and Windows - have promised to deliver those source releases being taken from the public site along with binary builds and historical releases. Dorsal Source is backed by Cole's Proven Scaling.

The decision to keep source back for paying customers seems part of a program by MySQL to convince customers there's more value in paying for subscriptions, as they actually get something that's not available to users of the free Community Server.

Mickos has made it increasingly clear MySQL has faced problems in converting free users into paying consumers. That's a problem for a company that - with an IPO in the wings - will be under pressure to assure investors it's got plenty of growth ahead as a public company. MySQL has clearly embarked on what it believes to be a strategy analogous with Red Hat's Fedora.

Responding to one blogger, Mickos agreed with the Fedora analogy and drew on MySQL Cluster as a good example of a taking a closed-source product from a well-funded organization (Ericsson) and building a thriving business by releasing it under GPL. "That's in my mind the win-win for FOSS," Mickos said.

While few doubt MySQL's need to make cash, skeptics are questioning the wisdom of following the Red Hat model and apparently putting a wall between itself and the community to "get more customers"

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