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Speedy MySQL 5.6 takes aim at NoSQL, MariaDB

The downside? It's still owned by Oracle

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Open sourcers say yes to MySQL, but no to Oracle

Despite all the improvements, however, many current MySQL users say they have no plans to upgrade to version 5.6, or indeed to any future version of the database offered by Oracle. Instead, they intend to migrate to one of several forks of the MySQL code base that serve as drop-in replacements for MySQL – most notably MariaDB, a spinoff managed by MySQL co-creator Monty Widenius.

Widenius has been one of the more vocal critics of Oracle's management of MySQL, going as far as to accuse the database giant of reneging on promises it made to EU antitrust regulators as a condition of its $8.5bn acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2009.

Since taking control of MySQL, Oracle has jacked up its support prices and switched to an "open core" model, in which the basic version of the database is available for free, but extensions aimed at enterprise customers are proprietary, closed source, and cost a pretty penny.

Even more worrying to some – Widenius included – is that Oracle releases bug fixes and security patches for MySQL less often than Sun used to, and when it does, it doesn't disclose as much information as Sun did. Most notably, Oracle has not released test cases for any of its recent fixes, which Widenius says makes MySQL "as opaque to external developers as any piece of closed source software."

Little wonder, then, that the open source community has taken notice. Two of the most prominent community-maintained Linux distributions – Fedora and OpenSuse – have both voted to switch to MariaDB as their default MySQL-compatible database in their next major releases, meaning users of those distros will have to install MySQL themselves if they want to use Oracle's version.

Oracle's Andrew Rist argued on public mailing lists that Fedora should use MySQL 5.6 instead, claiming that "switching to MariaDB would be going backwards." But the Fedora Engineering Steering Committee didn't buy it, and on January 30, it voted 7–0 in favor of the switch.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia – a high-traffic website, to say the least – has already begun migrating its MySQL servers to MariaDB, having described Widenius's spinoff as "the best route to ensuring a truly open and well supported future for MySQL derived database technology."

MySQL and MariaDB: The schism widens

If more MySQL customers follow suit, it could be bad news for Oracle, as the MySQL and MariaDB code bases show signs of diverging in ways that could make them incompatible over time.

Although MariaDB is based on the MySQL source code, the latest version of MariaDB is derived from MySQL 5.5, rather than 5.6. According to MariaDB's Rasmus Johansson, that's because with the 5.6 release, Oracle inexplicably changed the file structure of the MySQL code base – enough so that merging all of the existing MariaDB code with the MySQL 5.6 file tree would be "a very time consuming job."

To Johansson, that effort wasn't worth it. "MariaDB is not only about being an alternative to MySQL. MariaDB is largely about innovating and improving MySQL technology. MySQL 5.6 was not a suitable base for innovation," he wrote.

For now, the plan is for MariaDB to eventually include all of the features of MySQL 5.6, either by merging Oracle's code into MariaDB or by re-implementing the features from scratch. But MariaDB also plans to introduce features that aren't available in MySQL. As Johansson points out, "Without innovation MariaDB isn't a product of its own."

That leaves customers with a clear choice to make. MySQL 5.6 offers significant new features and enhancements, but so does MariaDB. Which way customers will swing largely comes down to how comfortable they are with MySQL's future under Oracle – and on that score, many have already begun to vote with their feet. ®

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