There’s a pretty good chance that you don’t have a reason to look for a database engine, and even if you did, the choice might come down to one of three top contenders. There’s a deeper story to the plucky, underdog MariaDB engine, however, and it is about the difference between ‘Free’ and ‘Open Source’ Software. It’s also about the future of software as we know it, and as it could be.
From the creator of MySQL
Michael “Monty” Widenius is a hero, of sorts, for the concept of Open Source Software. In 1996 he released one of the most ubiquitous database engines now in use, MySQL. It’s hard to go much of anywhere in the programming world without hearing about it, and because of its simplicity, it is often used as the training ground for developers new to relational databases. This Open Source project was so successful, that Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) bought it out in 2008 for a staggering $1 billion.
The model for Open Source companies before this point was to provide a dual licensing of their software. MySQL AB, the company that grew up around MySQL, would provide a GPL version of the engine at no charge, but also sold a traditional license to companies wanting to use the engine in a more closed environment. Other streams of revenue included consulting and certification training for users. Widenius’s hope was that Sun would be able to provide the support needed for MySQL while also maintaining this open stance for the software, sadly, this was not the case.
Isn’t MySQL still free?
You might argue that MySQL, named after one of Widenius’s children, is still in the FOSS community, because it is free software, and you’d be right. It is not, however, Open Source. When Sun bought the rights, it closed down the availability of the code updates so that the production would continue in-house rather than publicly. This allowed them to market the product differently, and to rely more heavily on licensing with support and training built in. While the engine is still free, it isn’t available to scrutiny and review without Oracle’s say.
This is why Widenius stepped away from MySQL in 2009, just a few months after Sun’s purchase, and created a fork of the project called MariaDB, named after another of his daughters. The goal of MariaDB is to maintain the core code behind MySQL as an Open Source project. In fact, there are very few cases in which your already written SQL code won’t work with MariaDB. Widenius has formed a foundation around the intent to keep the project Open Source, and to create a centralized community structure for the developers interested in contributing called the MariaDB Foundation.
From Open Source to Business Source
You might be aware of various Open Source licenses. In August of 2016, MariaDB announced a new type of license that it will be piloting based around a business model for Open Source software called the Business Source License with its MaxScale 2.0 beta. One of the features of this license is a sample code model, in which the software is free to use on a limited number of machines, perhaps for testing purposes, but then must be licensed when used in an enterprise capacity.
Since this license is so new, it will take a while to see how effective it really is, but it initially spawned questions of the model seeming like a light version of many other available business licenses. The one feature that sets this license apart from others in the field is the inclusion of an Open Source date in the license features. The idea is to set a deadline for this enterprise license to be limiting on use by the community.
Widenius is vocal about the need for Open Source models to move away from “religious” belief in the software leading directly to support. He still believes that Open Source is one of the best ways to develop software, but is becoming increasingly aware of the challenges of creating a sustainable business model to continue to develop those projects.
Check out the MariaDB Foundation’s governance page to learn more about the aim of keeping the software Open Source, or learn more about the database itself at MariaDB website. Let us know in the comments what you think about a ‘business model’ for Open Source projects.