Oracle offers commercial extensions to MySQL - what will this mean for open source projects like Drupal?

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Oracle has released three new commercial extensions for MySQL, provoking fears that the company might be trying to take the project too far from its open source roots. The extensions for MySQL Enterprise cover 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. Existing open source plans for MySQL are unaffected.

On Thursday last week, Oracle quietly announced the addition of three new commercial extensions to MySQL Enterprise Edition, the proprietary flavor of the dual-licensed MySQL database. From a technical point of view alone, these extensions are pretty good. Thread pooling has been added to improve MySQL scalability; failover clustering support has been added for Windows clustering and high availability features are enabled with a VM template; and external authentication APIs have been added for Pluggable Authentication Modules and Windows.

So, what's the problem?

It seems that quite a few people are upset about the whole notion of adding commercial-only features to MySQL, seeing it as the end of all innovation in the GPLed flavor of the popular open source database. I don't see these additions as being anything other than a value add to MySQL customers who are willing to pay for them, and this is no more a threat to the open MySQL development than the hinkiness a dual-license set up has in the first place. In other words (long time readers, here's where I blow your minds), this is a good move by Oracle. I know that seems strange coming from me, but in the context of a dual-license model, this is exactly the kind of thing that goes on. Indeed, it almost has to happen. Why? Because in order to justify charging money for a non-open version of MySQL, Oracle (and Sun and MySQL AB before it) has to have a value-add for the commercial, proprietary flavor.  

In the past, commercial mySQL's value-add was the support and consulting that MySQL AB would provide enterprise customers. The availability of a proprietary flavor for those customers who did not want to work with the GPL was a feature as well. And for a while, these were enough. But then it became clear this wasn't enough of a differentiator. MySQL AB tried adding monitoring tools and a rapid release schedule for paying customers, but that didn't go over so well, and now a slower release schedule is the norm.

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.

Oracle may someday drop the dual license and shift MySQL to a proprietary license, but that day is not today.

Part of Oracle's agreement with the European Union Commission for being allowed to go through with the acquisition of Sun was the promise that Oracle would continue to support the dual-license scheme until the fifth anniversary of the closing of the transaction. That date is January 28, 2015.

What happens then is anybody's guess, but I think a successful proof-on-concept of how the commercial and open licenses can work together would benefit all involved.

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