MySQL: Back to Its Roots via Sun

PORTLAND, Ore. — When Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA) acquired open source database vendor MySQL for $1 billion, MySQL’s community held its breath over how the new ownership might impact their community.

During an on-stage discussion at OSCON, the Open Source Convention by technology publisher O’Reilly, Monty Widenius, founder of MySQL AB, and Brian Aker, the director of technology for MySQL, set the record straight.

“My first reaction when we got acquired was — thank god we didn’t go public,” Widenius said. Prior to the acquisition, MySQL had been on a path toward an initial public offering that Widenius thought would have bad for MySQL in the long run, as the company might have corrupted its ideals in order to show profits to shareholders.

Though its parent company Sun is a public company, MySQL claims that, as a division of Sun, it is insulated from the direct pressures of the public marketplace.

There were also internal tensions at the beginning between Sun’s method of open source and how MySQL produces open source software. MySQL’s crew wondered and hoped Sun would show “good table manners.”

It’s been more than that. “Our pushing of how open source should work has created a revolution in Sun,” Aker said. “It has been amazing to see how Sun uses our open source DNA to rethink how it works with open source.”

Sun over the last several years has been steadily moving all of its software including the Java programming language and the Solaris operating system to open source under the direction of CEO Jonathan Schwartz.

While MySQL is helping Sun to better understand the broader open source community approach, a side effect is that it is actually been beneficial to MySQL’s development as well.

“MySQL has been management driven and not development driven for the last four years, ” Widenius said. “Sun is getting us back to our roots with more of a community focused. The area that we have totally failed in the last four years is our community.”

Widenius noted that in the past several years MySQL has been slow to react to patch requests coming from the community. Development overall has also been slower than it should have been. The MySQL 5.1 release was recently announced and followed the 5.0 release by two and a half years.

“Sun is going to ensure that will change,” Widenius said.

Widenius’s comments are in stark contrast with the firestorm that erupted earlier this year when there were fears that Sun would end up taking some of MySQL’s code closed source.

In fact, Sun is also now supportive of a new effort that Aker is leading that is essentially a new fork of MySQL. The new project is called Drizzle and it’s key focus is to provide a more optimized slimmed down version of MySQL.

“There is a core set of environments where certain feature aren’t valuable and end up making it more vulnerable to bugs,” Aker said.

Acker said that when he told management at Sun about his new effort they understood the was trying to go after a different market niche and were generally supportive.

Fundamentally it’s about time and the ability that sun is affording MySQL developers to choose their path somewhat.

“Sun is giving us the time to do what we want,” Widenius said.

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