MySQL backtracks on closed-source plan

Sun's MySQL database unit has reversed on plans to release important backup features under a proprietary licence, following criticism from the open-source community
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Sun has backtracked on previous plans to release important backup features for its MySQL database under a proprietary licence, following widespread criticism from the open-source community.

"MySQL Server is and will always remain fully functional and open source," said Kaj Arno, MySQL's vice president of community relations, in a statement released on his website on Tuesday. "So will the MySQL Connectors, and so will the main storage engines we ship."

In effect, MySQL has changed its plans for forthcoming encryption and compression backup features that it had planned to ship under a proprietary licence, and will now release the features with open-source licences, Arno said. He also confirmed that pending backup functionality in MySQL 6.0 and the MyISAM driver for MySQL Backup will be open source.

The announcement is a step back from plans announced last month by Marten Mickos, former chief executive of MySQL and now a Sun vice president.

Under the strategy originally outlined by Mickos, backup encryption and some native storage engine-specific drivers would be offered only to MySQL Enterprise subscribers, and not to users of the open-source MySQL Community edition. To help enforce the separation, MySQL was considering releasing those add-ons under proprietary licences — a plan confirmed by MySQL co-founder David Axmark, also in April. "We are working on the idea that plug-ins — for encryption and compression, for instance — will be closed source," said Axmark. "But there will still be an open API so people can do their own implementations too. You will still be able to download the whole product under the GPL, but just not the plug-ins."

Axmark said the decision to offer some proprietary plug-ins was taken to help boost revenues before the Sun acquisition. Arno confirmed this, and said that MySQL felt it no longer needed such an aggressive revenue scheme after the Sun acquisition. "Our initial plans were made for a company considering an IPO, but made less sense in the context of Sun, a large company with a whole family of complementary open-source software and hardware products," he said.

While maintaining that the core of MySQL will remain open source, Arno left open the possibility of further commercial add-ons. "To financially support MySQL's free and open source platform, we have a business model which allows both community and commercial add-ons, and we remain committed to it," he stated. "Expect Sun/MySQL to continue experimenting with the business model, and with what's offered for the community and what's offered commercial-only."

MySQL has dabbled in proprietary code in the past. Until MySQL adopted the GPL licence in 2000, the whole database had been closed source since its origins in 1995, and could only be used once a fee was paid. "Adopting the GPL cost us the loss of 80 percent of our revenues within a week," said Axmark, relating the effects of that decision. "But we were not bothered about that. In about a year we had recovered those revenues."

Today the company makes money by selling an "enterprise" version of the software, which is identical to the version available under the GPL but which includes support in a sliding scale that goes up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a 30-minute response time for serious issues.

ZDNet.co.uk's Matt Loney contributed to this report.

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