OSCON: The saga of MySQL

At OSCON in 2006, I followed sessions that discussed how open source companies would fare when big corporations come in. Back then there were only a handful of examples of big companies purchasing small open source companies. Three years later, we’ve witnessed MySQL AB get swallowed by Sun, only to have Sun be swallowed by Oracle. Now there are more open questions than ever and at least three versions of MySQL that are jockeying to continue the MySQL blood-line. Yesterday I attended talks by two of these groups and I have to wonder how the MySQL game will play itself out over time.

The first talk I attended was: “Drizzle: Status, Principles, and Ecosystem” where a number of Drizzle developers shared their thoughts about this project. Brian Aker forked MySQL to create Drizzle a year ago with the premise to create a new database that was leaner and more extensible by using a micro kernel and plugin model. The existing MySQL codebase had grown overly complicated after a number of features were “hacked in” which made adding more features overly difficult.

The drizzle team, which has several developers sponsored by Sun, seems very much concerned about the technical nature of their project. As in most open source projects the developers seem less concerned with politics and companies and more with creating a kick-ass database. I tried to ask a few questions to see where they think that MySQL, Drizzle and MariaDB were headed, but largely the questions were not answered — they reiterated the focus on technical excellence. Aside from having serious corporate support, Drizzle appears to be driven by classic open source principles. This makes me happy, because the future of both MySQL and Drizzle are unclear since Oracle just purchased Sun. Given the focus on open source principles, I’m certain the Drizzle would not go away should Oracle decide to stop supporting the team.

The second session was: “MariaDB: Community Driven SQL Server” which presented Monty’s (of MySQL AB fame) new company Monty Program AB. Unlike the Drizzle group, Monty’s new company has clear corporate goals, complete with fluff and marketing speak. The new company’s fork of MySQL, MariaDB, aims to be 100% compatible with the original MySQL. Its designed to be 100% drop in replacement that goes even as far as letting people who are certified on MySQL apply their skills to MariaDB. Even though Monty Program AB differs in a few aspects from the original MySQL AB, it really seems to follow a fairly similar model.

The people working on the original MySQL were not too well represented here at OSCON. Unlike Drizzle and MariaDB, MySQL is shrouded in uncertainty since no one know what Oracle plans to do with MySQL. Given that it MySQL can cannibalize (and probably already has) Oracle’s flagship product, the future of MySQL is very uncertain. The mindshare at OSCON clearly belongs to MariaDB and to Drizzle.

Returning back to my original point now, we can see that the acquisition of MySQL AB by Sun hasn’t worked out at all how everyone had hoped. Many of the fears raised by my blog post from 3 years ago have manifested in this mess. After MySQL became a Sun property, the quality of MySQL started to suffer, including releasing a version of MySQL that had serious known bugs. This had never happened before and sent a clear signal that not all was well with MySQL. And the community had a lot of frustrations with Sun as Sun slowed or stopped accepting patches. Even important companies like Google had serious patches to MySQL ignored. Clearly the process had broken down.

Today we find ourselves with at least three versions of MySQL that all have differing goals, yet promise to share code with one another. Some will be compatible with each other, some break new ground. The one thing we know for certain that nothing in this game is certain. Until Oracle makes a statement about the future of MySQL nothing will be clear.

I find it really interesting that both Drizzle and MariaDB have returned MySQL to fundamental open source roots. Neither group is going to require fancy licenses or copyright agreements and will solely rely on using the GPL. Drizzle is devoid of a commercial model for the time being and even Monty Program AB will look like a more “classic” open source company.

Amidst this uncertainty the only thing that is clear to me is that the MariaDB and the Drizzle communities are not waiting for anything — they are working on new improving their projects as fast as they can. I personally think that Drizzle presents the most interesting approach to saving MySQL — it sounds like the codebase needed a serious overhaul in order to break some development bottlenecks and to allow more people to come and participate in the development process.

Even though I’ve switched to Postgres many moons ago, I’m utterly fascinated by what is currently happening with MySQL. The current events in this space are things that we discussed three years ago with the conclusion of “This will be interesting to watch!” Indeed, it’s interesting to watch — I think we’ll be talking about this situation for quite some time to come. Oh, and MySQL users: Worry not — you’re going to be the winners in this whole debacle!

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