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Sybase Gives Away Linux Database

Sybase joins the database giveaway rush by offering up a limited-use Linux version of its flagship database free of charge.

Gregg Keizer

September 9, 2004

3 Min Read

Sybase on Wednesday joined the database giveaway rush by offering up a limited-use Linux version of its flagship database free of charge.

The Dublin, Calif.-based developer is giving away its Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) Express Edition for Linux so that businesses, particularly small firms, can "build, test, and deploy new applications with no license fee," said company officials in a statement.

"Due to compressed IT budgets, users are considering open-source databases, so we decided there was a need for customers to get started with a free production license, then grow on that as their databases grew," said David Jacobson, Sybase's director of data management.

ASE Express Edition for Linux, which is available for download from the Sybase Web site, can be installed only on servers with one processor and no more than 2GB of memory, and the database can be no larger than 5GB.

That size is fine for the uses Sybase anticipates. "Most of the [database application] pilots range from half a gigabyte of data to two gigabytes," said Jacobson as he defended the limit.

Sybase is following moves by other database makers who have either offered their wares for free or open-sourced them. Among the latter are IBM, which recently donated much of its Java-based Cloudscape database to the Apache Software Foundation, and Computer Associates, which is taking its Ingres database to open source.

Microsoft is in the giveaway game, too, with its SQL Server Express, a 2005 offering that's now in beta, and will be handed out for free. Like ASE Express, it will have a database size limitation, although its will be a gigabyte smaller.

"Absolutely, Sybase's move is a reaction to IBM, CA, and Microsoft," said Charlie Garry, senior program director and analyst with the Meta Group. "It's being forced on them by a couple of things, including having to compete against open-source models. Someone like Sybase can either join them or try to attack by offering their database free."

"I see this as a way for Sybase to get back into the game," added Noel Yuhanna, senior analyst with Forrester research. "It's obviously hoping to attract customers in the small- to medium-sized business market, then grow them into larger customers later. I think this is a good initiative."

But Meta Group's Garry sees Sybase differently, in effect caught between a rock and a hard place. "Sybase believes that free, as in price, is the main compelling feature why people pick open source. I think that's flawed thinking." Making a program free, as opposed to open-sourcing it, leaves a lot on the table, said Garry. "There are advantages to open source that Sybase will never accrue, including allowing the community to essentially QA the software."

On the other hand, Sybase really can't open-source its technology. "If they had said they were going to open-source, it's just a clear signal that they're going to end-of-life their database. They couldn't do that," Garry added.

"The market really only wants three main database players," said Garry, "and one of them will be an open-source player." At the moment, MySQL holds down that spot, with Oracle and Microsoft taking the top two proprietary slots.

That leaves companies like Sybase out in the cold. To create some buzz, and "maybe make people take a second look at Sybase," said Garry, Sybase had to do something bold.

The good news? "Both approaches -- open source and giveaways -- make database software much more available to a larger group of users," said Garry. "It expands the market, and that's a good thing for everyone."

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