MySQL co-founder clarifies closed-source strategy

David Axmark stopped in London on Friday to talk to customers about the future of the database under Sun — and to shed light on that closed-source issue

MySQL's move to begin offering parts of its namesake database as closed source only will apply only to plug-ins, according to co-founder David Axmark.

Clarifying reports that emerged from the MySQL conference in Florida last week, MySQL co-founder David Axmark took to the stage in London to talk about the future of the database now that it is owned by Sun, in front of a large audience of several hundred MySQL and Sun customers.

Responding to a question about the closed-source reports, Axmark said they were "partially correct".

"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. His half-hour presentation, which appeared to be warmly welcomed by the audience, focused on the benefits of open source versus closed source.

Given the company's large open-source following, the decision around plug-ins is likely to raise further questions. In particular, how the company's belief that open source is better for bug testing and security squares up with offering critical enterprise features under a closed-source model.

This will not be the first time MySQL has dabbled in proprietary code. 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."

The following year, 2001, saw the formation of the MySQL AB company with the hiring of a chief executive and the first sales people.

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.