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August 8, 2007

MySQL Takes Another Step (Away from Open Source)

In the ongoing effort to convert more users into paying customers, MySQL announced today that they are no longer making the source code tarball for their Enterprise server publicly available. You could see this coming from a million miles away.

Back in December 2006 I pondered on the changes with the MySQL database splitting into two offerings, the enterprise and community editions:

The source for the enterprise edition will still be available:
we will continue to make all releases available over our BitKeeper tree and as source code tarballs
So it appears that those willing to compile from source will still have access to the enterprise edition. This is very important (in my eyes) to keep MySQL in the open source space. Without it MySQL AB becomes a commercial company that has an open source offering.

So where does that leave MySQL now, are they still an open source company, or have they crossed the line? Today's announcement has this point about GPL compliance:

The GPL requires us (like anybody else) to hand out the code to those whom we give the binaries, which in the case of MySQL Enterprise Server is just the customers.

So this may be true technically, but 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. Is this just a lack on my part of really understanding open source?

I'm sure that folks will point out that the announcement confirms that enterprise source is still available on Bitkeeper. If true, the source is technically still available, but it is now just a little more difficult to get the source and turn it into a working binary.

And I can only guess, but somewhere in the MySQL master plan there must be another blog post planned to ease folks along about closing off the enterprise source in Bitkeeper. After all, we should not expect to get the code for enterprise software like MySQL for free, it is for paying customers.

And then there's only one thing left in the plan to convert folks to paying customers...cripple or do away with the community edition. The marketing message (one example) already suggests that the community edition is experimental and not for production. This might deter some folks from using the freely available community edition, but there are definitely more serious measures that would ensure it won't be used in environments where a licensed version could be used. Perhaps it is the long release cycle, or letting the community server get unreliable with community contributions. Perhaps it is introducing limits in data storage or server capabilities. Am I just being paraniod? Why is it easy for me to imagine this coming down the road?

Why does this matter to me? I don't know. I admit I'm not anything special in the open source community. I've been using open source since the early days, but haven't made any earth-shattering contribution or raised a flag of commitment or dedication to open source. I suspect it has something to do with having used MySQL since it first appeared in the open source stack and having been an advocate of it for many years now. I'm still sorting out why these changes at MySQL seem to always touch a nerve. I have many friends who work at MySQL and respect them a great deal. They are bright folks who work hard. This is definitely not about them.

[I also realize that the enterprise licenses are not expensive when compared to other proprietary software vendors. But that's not the point is it, the relative cost of a license isn't a factor in whether software is open source or not.]

Posted by mike at August 8, 2007 8:34 AM