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Will Oracle Turn MySQL Into ‘Crippleware?’

Since Oracle obtained MySQL in the Sun takeover, many FOSS folks have been wary of Oracle’s plans for the open source database, a wariness that wasn’t eased by Oracle’s handling of the OpenOffice/LibreOffice split. When a couple of weeks ago we learned that Oracle has added three commercial extensions to MySQL, many figured that was the beginning of the end of MySQL as a free and open project.

According to The Register, the commercial extensions offer “…thread pool scalability, a pluggable API for PAM and Windows authentication, and additions to Oracle VM and Windows Server failover clustering support within MySQL Enterprise.”

From the moment this story was published, Oracle’s been working to spin this as “good for FOSS.” The Register article mentioned above quotes Giuseppe Maxia, former MySQL community team member, who predicts the negative response from the FOSS community, which he then pooh-poohed:

“’They probably want to see only this one feature in the commercial arena, dismissing the dozens of new features released to the general public under Oracle stewardship. I refuse to enroll in the chorus of critics who judge Oracle on prejudice. I am so far satisfied with what Oracle has done with MySQL.’

“He explained that in order for open source development on MySQL to continue, money needed to be raised from somewhere, and this was as good a way as any. The open source MySQL community should continue to get updates before paying customers, so it can test and patch code before commercial deployment, but these commercial extensions could be developed and sold without the open source team.”

Three days later, on the 19, Brian Proffitt opined on IT World that Oracle’s actions will not hurt the FOSS version of MySQL while calling for the FOSS community to “get a grip”:

“So now, two companies later, the concept of for-pay features are the differentiator, and Oracle’s going to catch all sorts of heck about it from the open source community, which fears that in order to pump more revenue into MySQL, Oracle would just abandon open source MySQL development altogether.

“No offense, but these people should get a grip. This is one case where Oracle seems to be taking care in how it steps on the open source path. They aren’t flooding the product line with a wash of new commercial-only features, and they released a fairly well-received 5.5 version of MySQL this past winter–a release chock-full of open source goodies.

“Sure, it would be great if MySQL were all open, all the time. But once the dual-license model is created like this, then commercial extensions are a natural progression to trying to create a value add for paying customers. What’s happening with MySQL is not something new, or completely outrageous. Anyone who lives in MySQL-land should accept this as a part of the way MySQL has been handled since its exception.”

If you’re confused by all this, don’t be. While it’s true that these three commercial extensions will do little to lesson the value and useability of the GPL’d version of the database, they are possible foreshadowing of what is to come. Little by little, I expect, the FOSS version of MySQL will turn into open core “crippleware.” The free version of MySQL will be the come-on, sort of the free trial version, but the sales pitchmen will then go to work to explain that “the true potential of MySQL can be opened only by purchasing MySQL Enterprise Edition.”

Oracle will claim that throwing in a few value adds into a commercial version is the only way they’ll be able to continue to fund development of the free version. They will claim they only have the best interest of the FOSS community in mind when they do this. This should set up red flags all of the place for anyone who supports the notion of free software. This should be taken the same way as hearing the words “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

Thankfully, not everyone’s taking the bait. Yesterday ars technica posted a great article dealing with this issue, suggesting that Oracle’s move will not only alienate the FOSS community, but might inevitably lead to a fork:

“The commercial licensing trend started well before Oracle acquired MySQL along with the rest of Sun Microsystems, as did the MySQL diaspora. Sun made the decision to release MySQL Enterprise Backup and future new features as commercial code in 2008, a move that created a similar uproar among sectors of the MySQL community. Two commercial extensions, MySQL Enterprise Backup and MySQL Enterprise Monitor, were already part of Oracle’s MySQL Enterprise 5.5 subscription version. And Oracle’s new MySQL Enterprise extensions don’t remove anything from the existing MySQL open-source code. But the new extensions cover areas that cut closer to core database functionality: scalability, high availability and security.”

So, why should this lead to a fork? Remember, MySQL is an essential ingredient of the open source LAMP web platform. We absolutely cannot afford to let the “M” in LAMP turn proprietary for all intents and purposes. About the only choice now is for the FOSS community to make the same moves with MySQL as we made with OpenOffice.

If you think that Oracle doesn’t want to cripple the free version of MySQL, you’re a dreamer. Oracle is primarily a database company, and a free MySQL is in direct competition to their signature product. They’ll kill it or they’ll turn it proprietary, using a so-called “free” version as the test drive before purchasing “the real thing.”

In other words, it’s time to get serious about creating a viable fork. With LibreOffice we learned what we can do. Let’s just do it!


  1. Timothy Timothy September 27, 2011

    Forks are already there.. Dribble, MariaDB. But we need a fork that is by the community and for the community. The way I see it, there isn’t much to worry about. When that time comes to fork away, Oracle will be similarly stunned as in the case of the OpenOffice split.

  2. Timothy Timothy September 27, 2011

    Meant drizzle not dribble.

  3. sola sola September 28, 2011

    Possibly, LAMP needs to transform into LAPP (Linux-Apache-PostgreSQL-Php) in order to keep LAMP a truly free and open-source construct.

  4. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | September 28, 2011

    @Timothy I agree. I’m coming to believe more and more that the core FOSS components should be community based. This still leaves room for other more privately developed FOSS projects, but the core infrastructure should be community managed. This doesn’t mean that interested companies can’t contribute money, code, etc., but the organization itself should be community based. Excellent point!

    @sola Funny, I was thinking of PostgreSQL as I was writing this. I like the sound of LAPP, but I’d still like to see MySQL survive. 🙂

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