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Sun may shut off high-end MySQL features

Pay-to-play fires up grassroots hoots

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Less than two months into Sun Microsystems' MySQL acquisition, Sun has succeeded in upsetting the grassroots types with plans to close off features to the community.

It's emerged Sun may release extra data back-up features in the Enterprise Edition of the next version of MySQL, due in Q4, to paying enterprise subscribers only.

The news slipped out at a partner meeting during the MySQL Conference in Santa Clara, California, and was flagged on former MySQL employee Jeremy Cole's blog. There'd been no hint of the change during earlier conference sessions on the MySQL roadmap.

The disclosure fired up a storm of criticism from grassroots users and developers here and here.

Marten Mickos, vice president of Sun's database group and former MySQL chief executive, was quick to man the defenses. Responding to criticism, Mickos said the plan is to continue to release standard back-up features under the GPL.

However, additional "high-end add-ons such as encryption and native storage engine-specific drivers" could be released under a different license regime. Mickos added the final decision had not been taken but a commercial license is one of the options.

The move is seen by some as a betrayal of MySQL's open source roots and, by others, as part of an evil master plan by Sun to commercialize open source development. Mickos strongly denied both accusations and claimed the decision was made before the Sun takeover.

"The business decision on this was made by MySQL AB (by me as the then CEO) prior to the acquisition by Sun, so this has nothing to do with Sun. On the contrary, Sun is more likely to influence this decision the other way," Mickos said.

Another concern voiced by open source supporters is that the extra features could suffer from not being subject to the community review process that open source software usually undergoes. The argument runs that enterprises will, in effect, pay for software, that is only at beta-test level.

The heated debate serves to illustrate the difficulties that commercial developers face as open source software evolves. In a lengthy response on Slashdot, Mickos admitted that the move to "produce non-open software" was by way of an experiment to see how Sun can develop a viable business model around open source while remaining true to the original spirit.

Some 90 per cent of MySQL customers do not pay for the product.

The strategy, though, would fit nicely with Sun's current thinking on monetization of open source. That is to give away code, but charge for support of products like Solaris.

"As we experiment with open source business models (as there aren't really any role models bigger than ourselves that we could learn from) - we remain fully committed to producing the core database server always under the GPL (or some other approved FOSS licence)," Mickos said.

The negative impact of open source development on software vendors' revenues has been highlighted in a report by analysts at The Standish Group.

According to Standish: "Open Source software is raising havoc throughout the software market. It is the ultimate in disruptive technology, and while it is only 6 per cent of estimated trillion dollars IT budgeted annually, it represents a real loss of $60bn in annual revenues to software companies."®

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