Database Alliance Secures MySQL's Future, Co-Founder Says

With the threat of major changes by future owner Oracle, Monty Widenius, original author of MySQL, says the group will act as a safe haven for the open source database system.
Monty Widenius, original author of the MySQL open source database, said he co-founded the Open Database Alliance recently "to ensure that there is nothing to worry about" over MySQL's future.

But his responses to e-mail questions indicate he and other MySQL users are concerned about what will happen to MySQL once it's owned by Oracle. "Until Oracle clearly announces what their intentions are regarding MySQL, there will be uncertainties," he wrote in an e-mail response to a question about what worries him about Oracle's acquisition of MySQL.

"Several MySQL/Sun customers voiced their concern and asked if it was time to move away from MySQL" at the Sun/MySQL user group meeting in Santa Clara, Calif., in April, he wrote.

Just in case, the Open Database Alliance will act as a safe haven for the system, "an industry hub" for the open source system, including MySQL, derivative code, binaries, training, and support," he said in Wednesday's announcement. The alliance will be "a vendor-neutral" consortium, he added.

In his e-mail responses, however, Widenius made it clear that the hub will be focused on his current company's advanced version of MySQL, MariaDB, which he described as "a superset of MySQL," a version of the open source database with advanced features. MariaDB is being developed by Widenius' company, Monty Program, as an open source database with a choice of data storage engines.

His company is focused on producing a storage engine and including other open source storage engines in a distribution of MySQL users so they can capture transactions and other data created during business operations. MariaDB would come closer to the commercial relational systems, including Oracle, which have always included strong storage engines. MySQL made its name by being a lean system that could rapidly serve Web pages out of a database, not as a storage system. It was frequently used on high-traffic Web sites, such as and

One of the storage systems used in connection with MySQL is an open source system, InnoDB, but for Widenius and his alliance co-founder Peter Zaitsev, that's little consolation. InnoDB has been owned by Oracle since it acquired the Finnish company Innobase Oy in 2005. It remains an open source product, and Sun Microsystems gave its developer, Heikki Tuuri, a session on InnoDB performance improvements at the user group meeting April 21. Oracle's Ken Jacobs presided at the session, treating Tuuri as an honored guest. Oracle offers InnoDB as one of its embeddable systems.

MySQL code is issued under the General Public License, which means there are hundreds of thousands of holders of the MySQL source code. Oracle is unlikely to try to take proprietary possession of it, when the codebase would simply fork between GPL and Oracle-sponsored versions. Nevertheless, even Widenius thinks it's likely that Oracle will try to make MySQL more compatible with its wide range of products, including its middleware and applications. As the head of an open source version of MySQL, Widenius said, "I think it makes perfect sense for Oracle to drive MySQL to be more compatible with other Oracle offerings. I don't, however, think that should conflict with keeping MySQL working in the way our current users expect it to work."

Just in case Oracle did something that interfered with how "current users expect it to work," the alliance will continue its own development, still based on the core MySQL system coming out of Oracle. "We don't plan to fork, unless Oracle cripples MySQL in some way that is unacceptable to us or our users," he said.

Widenius is under no restrictive covenants or clauses after the sale of MySQL AB to Sun. He did not sign a no-compete agreement; he wasn't asked to, he said. "In fact, Sun never asked me to sign anything as part of the deal. When I parted from Sun, I had no noncompete period," he wrote.

Widenius said there's no reason Oracle developers can't contribute code to MySQL. "The alliance is happy to accept any donation of source code that makes MariaDB/MySQL better for our users," he wrote. "We would really like to see that MySQL/MariaDB operates better with Oracle products. This is something that would be good for all MySQL/MariaDB users."

But he didn't shy away from the prospect that the Open Database Alliance, which includes Zaitsev's Percona, a company specializing in MySQL high-performance systems, might become a rival download site to Oracle's, once Oracle takes ownership of Sun. Open source developers "will download the version of MySQL that best fits their needs. MariaDB will be developed in an open source, transparent spirit and will always be a superset of MySQL; over time, the developers may opt to use MariaDB," he wrote.

Oracle is acquiring Sun for $7.4 billion. In January 2008, Sun paid $1 billion for MySQL AB, which included the open source brain trust of original co-authors David Axmark and Widenius, and CEO Marten Mickos. The three men left Sun before the first anniversary of the sale.

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