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Ask MySQL's CEO About Running a Free Software Business 85

Posted by Roblimo
from the world's-most-popular-free-software-database dept.
There have been so many articles written about the perils, pitfalls, and possible rewards of running a business based on free or open source software that we can't possibly link to them all. Instead, let's ask MySQL CEO Mårten Mickos how to make money with a company based on free software, because he runs a company that is almost always touted as one of the world's greatest free software (business) successes. You may want to read some of these interviews with Mårten before you come up with your own questions in order to avoid duplication, but other than that suggestion and the usual Slashdot interview rules, ask whatever you like, however you like.
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Ask MySQL's CEO About Running a Free Software Business

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  • Biggest Problem? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Monday October 16, 2006 @12:57PM (#16454515) Journal
    In your eyes, what's the biggest problem with MySQL? More specifically, what leaves market share room for Oracle & your competitors? Do you even see yourself as having any competitors since your product is free?
    • Re:Biggest Problem? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Monday October 16, 2006 @01:21PM (#16454877) Homepage
      They still have competitors like PostgreSQL that are also free. MySQL currently has a huge following, and is "the" database offered by most shared hosting companies. What is MySQL doing to ensure that they stay in that position. As far as I've heard, PostgreSQL is a much better database, the only reason why MySQL is the DB used by webhosts is because many tools (phpBB and others) depend on MySQL to function properly.
      • by Megaweapon (25185)
        As far as I've heard, PostgreSQL is a much better database, the only reason why MySQL is the DB used by webhosts is because many tools (phpBB and others) depend on MySQL to function properly.

        PostgreSQL is a *far* superior database, and unfortunately despite various kinds of database abstraction layers for the popular programming languages out there, people still insist on writing open source apps that are soley tied to MySQL. The whole notion of "but it's easier" just goes to show that they don't care abou
        • In light of comments here about PostgreSQL being superior (and F/LOSS) technology but MySQL being used because of "MCSE weenie mentality", are you, Mårten Mickos, concerned about the complacency of 'good enough' technological solutions or that Free/Libre Open Source Software may never remove the entrenched market leaders?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by suv4x4 (956391)
          PostgreSQL is a *far* superior database, and unfortunately despite various kinds of database abstraction layers for the popular programming languages out there, people still insist on writing open source apps that are soley tied to MySQL.

          You know superios can be context specific. Of the two, MySQL is faster. This matters a lot when you just don't need the "functional superiority" of PostgreSQL.

          And one thing.. PostgreSQL with its incredibleness, doesn't support something as basic as full text indexing. In My
          • by nuzak (959558)

            > And one thing.. PostgreSQL with its incredibleness, doesn't support something as basic as full text indexing.

            False. TSearch2 ships with Postgres, and it requires merely checking a box to install.

            MySQL's fulltext indexing is a joke. Let me count the ways:

            * Words that are in over 50% of rows are considered stop words, and not indexed. You must recompile MySQL to change this.

            * myisamchk resets the indexes to using the hardwired default parameters.

            * It does not do stemming.

            * It only works with MyISAM.
            • by jpkunst (612360)
              Words that are in over 50% of rows are considered stop words, and not indexed. You must recompile MySQL to change this.

              False. The only thing you have to do to overrule this 50% threshold is add "... IN BOOLEAN MODE" to your full text query. See the manual [mysql.com].

              JP

          • by Tim99 (984437)

            SQLite http://sqlite.org/ [sqlite.org] is probably faster than MySQL for a medium size web site. It has (beta) full text searching and is quite similar to PostgreSQL to programme. It has a tiny footprint and supports triggers.

            The real advantage of SQLite (and PostgreSQL) over MySQL, is that it has a developer friendly license:

            The original author of SQLite has dedicated the code to the public domain. Anyone is free to copy, modify, publish, use, compile, sell, or distribute the original SQLite code, either in source co

        • I'd say MySQL vs PostgreSQL is the VHS vs Betamax all over again. MySQL is good enough for 99% of what people use it for. It might not be as good as PostgreSQL, but it's more than good enough.

          I'll admit I'm pretty fickle though, and I use MySQL because I think their documentation site is a lot better and the command line client is far nicer than Postgre's. Poor benchmarks for me to use, but hey.. it's all about the gloss.
          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            MySQL is good enough for 99% of what people use it for

            That's a tautology. If it isn't good enough for your needs, then you'd probably use something better like PostgreSQL, Oracle, etc. Of the people who use it, it's always going to be good enough for what they use it for. Myself, I have no experience with PostgreSQL, but I know that just about everyone says it's a better DB than MySQL. MySQL does fit my needs. However, I don't run enterprise level stuff.
            • Yeah, I guess I put it wrong. What I really meant was:

              MySQL doesn't suck enough for what 99% of people use it for to make them want to try anything else.
        • by killjoe (766577)
          To be fair mysql was first to the market with technologies that many people care about. Mysql had replication, solid user level security, and full text indexing way before postgres. Not only that but even when postgres eventually caught up mysql take on these technologies made them easier to set up and maintain.
        • by edmicman (830206)
          Off topic, but is there a good comparison somewhere between MySQL and Postgre, that's current? My google search turned up entries that were a couple of years old, and I'm pretty sure that a lot has changed in that time. It'd be even better if there was a comparison of the two to commercial offerings like MS SQL Server.

          Specifically, I'm interested in the possibility of developing ASP.NET apps with a F/OSS database backend. It looks like both MySQL and Postgre have .NET connectors available, so I wouldn
  • by OakDragon (885217) on Monday October 16, 2006 @12:58PM (#16454529) Journal
    How do you fight the perception that MySQL is not suitable for 'the real world' because it is free?
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      This can be a big problem, especially for the non-technical people an organization to grasp. With the closed source competitors (MS,Oracle) having products that cost more than $10,000, it would seem to most that there must be something missing in that price difference. It's hard to convince people your product is competitive, when you are giving it away for free.
  • What are some of the "business strategies" you use to make money off of a freely available open-source product? How do they differ/compare with tradional strategies of selling a non-opensource or freely available product?
  • R&D Directions? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Monday October 16, 2006 @12:59PM (#16454541) Journal
    In a market where people are just looking for stability, simplicity & scalability, where do you turn for innovation in your products? Is there a lot of research and development towards new features and completely new products in MySQL's community or do you aim primarily to do one thing well? How do you influence the direction of this research in such a large open source project? Do you attempt to add direction at all?
    • Innovation? Microsoft have stripped the word innovation of all meaning.

      > In a market where people are just looking for stability, simplicity & scalability, where do you turn for innovation in your products?

      Actually getting those things would be innovative.

      Seriously, most of what passes for innovation is packaging up other peoples ideas, possibly making small improvements if you are lucky, and selling them to a wide market. Then companies claim innovation and people believe the ideas are innovative
    • Re:R&D Directions? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bzipitidoo (647217)

      A few questions, only one about the biz. For those of us who like designing and researching and wish to spend our time on that, and don't like the thought of spending time on sales and promotion, or begging for money from VC vultures, or figuring out tax forms, stock options, and such, or sifting through thousands of resumes trying to find a few good people to hire, or knowing when a deal is a bad one to be avoided at all costs, or all the other aspects of business, what are wannabe independent software de

  • Defects per KLOC (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Monday October 16, 2006 @01:01PM (#16454565) Journal
    Your website [mysql.com] touts you as having the lowest defects per KLOC by up to 12 times the industry standard, what do you attribute as the leading factor to your success in this respect? Since cold cash is the traditional method, how do you incentivise code quality in an open source product?
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      the lowest defects per KLOC by up to 12 times the industry standard, what do you attribute as the leading factor to your success in this respect?

      They just ignore the errors, and pretend they don't exist. :). Seriously though, it's easy to program a database with less errors if you have less functionality and data integrity than everyone else in the database industry.
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <[moc.liamg] [ta] [nhojovadle]> on Monday October 16, 2006 @01:03PM (#16454607) Journal
    In your five years as MySQL CEO, what has been your proudest moment? Do you find it difficult to lead a company based on a product that belongs to a community? Do you ever experience any fallout/backfire from running your company on such a business model?
  • Roadmap Decisions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gunfighter (1944) on Monday October 16, 2006 @01:05PM (#16454631) Homepage
    When you plan your software product roadmaps, what feature requests do you pay more attention to? Enterprise customers want scalability, reliability, redundancy, and security; but some database programmers are looking for features such as solid transaction support, stored procedures, and more functions. How do you rank which feature requests get attention first?
  • IPO (Score:1, Redundant)

    by mbrod (19122)
    When will you bring the company public?
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) on Monday October 16, 2006 @01:10PM (#16454701)

    One of the most common complaints I've heard about the business model of profiting on support for a product, is that it provides motivation to keep the product from becoming very user friendly. After all, if the product is too easy to use, who will pay for support? In my own experience, I've seen a lot of companies that consider support to be insurance, and don't use it for help with installation, configuration, or to overcome usability issues so much as a way to cover their asses in case something goes very wrong. Do a lot of your customers use support to overcome usability problems and if so, does this de-motivate you to solve other usability issues?

  • To convince a large company to shell out a large amount of dollars to support something that's free? Especially considering all the new enterprise-friendly features that are being added in 5.0 and 5.1 like NDB. Do you have any advice to offer or arguments that work better than others? Do larger companies quibble about the fact that it's free, or do they try for a break in the price? Or are you more into licensing those mysql users, selling them value-added once they are already using the product and all
  • by PetiePooo (606423) on Monday October 16, 2006 @01:22PM (#16454907)
    To avoid asking something that's already been answered, here's a synopsis of some of his more recent interviews.

    In Guy Kawasaki's Blog, [guykawasaki.com] he's asked:
    1. How do you make money with an Open Source product?
    2. What changes in the Open Source community's attitude have you encountered since you decided "to build a company" around MySQL?
    3. Do you compete head to head with Oracle or do you have different customers?
    4. What's the biggest MySQL DB?
    5. What's the weirdest use of MySQL?
    6. What's the most "mission critical" use of MySQL?
    7. How does a company controls what's happening to its product when the Open Source community is doing the programming and testing?
    8. Is Open Source hindering innovation because it's one thing to debug an existing product but it's another to design a new one?
    9. Who fixes the most bugs?
    10. If MySQL ceased to exist as an organization, would MySQL the product continue?

    In InfoWorld, [infoworld.com] he's asked:
    1. Recently, a number of open-source developers have expressed their unhappiness with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the second draft of GPLv3. Are you concerned about a potential forking of the license as some people stick with GPLv2 and others move to GPLv3?
    2. How do you decide when MySQL needs to develop new features for the database and when to rely on the open-source community for those innovations?
    3. So, is open source then a more forgiving environment than the proprietary software world?
    4. What's ahead in 2007 for MySQL?
    5. What's the latest news on Falcon, the transactional database engine being developed by database architect Jim Starkey who joined MySQL in February?
    6. Is MySQL's current dominance of the open-source database market ever a cause for concern?

    In Forbes, [forbes.com] he's asked:
    1. How is open source software influencing what the bigger tech giants like Oracle, IBM and Microsoft will do in the next year?
    2. Do open source firms that sell to large, proprietary software companies risk being dubbed sellouts by the community that's helped them develop their software?
    3. How do Oracle's recent open source acquisitions affect MySQL?
    4. Is Oracle more of a threat now?
    5. What is MySQL's workforce like?
    6. MySQL recently took funding from Red Hat, Intel and SAP. What's the strategy here?
    7. Is there an IPO for MySQL in the future?

    In LXer, [lxer.com] he's asked:
    1. What are your short and long term goals do you have for the MySQL database system?
    2. Realistically where do you think you will pick up quick conversions to enhance your immediate market share from your competitors? Later, how much market share must MySQL commercial versions have to pick up to have long-term viability?
    3. If you see your main opportunity is in the replacement of Oracle installations does MySQL match or exceed the forte of Oracle in the transaction per second processing? Are you now aimed at the lower end of the Oracle market installations? What will it take to be really competitive with Oracle at the upper end of the scale?
    4. If you see your natural market as the range SQL Server is now aimed at, small medium business and departmental installations, can you match their ease of administration? If not what is the salient argument for such companies to install MySQL over the competition? Since you are primarily aimed at the market willing to pay for your enhancements and support, do you see any advantage in offering a MySQL product that will undercut MySQL server from below?
    5. What trade offs have had to be made to make MySQL 5.0 commercial version more feature rich and robust?
    6. Where do you see competition arising from for pursuing the paths to th
  • GPL protocal (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Why is MySQL's justification of claiming the GPL applies to the MySQL wire level protocol itself?
    • Why is MySQL's justification of claiming the GPL applies to the MySQL wire level protocol itself?

      Please mod this up. I wish to understand the rational for this decision as well as a potential commercial, closed source, software developer. Though I can appreciate MySQL's need to make money, I fail to see how this is consistent with GPL, as I understand it. MySQL apparently demands that I either pay up or open source my software simply because it packages and uses the MySQL database (no modifications t

  • Your company is one of the few that has made open source into a legitimate business model. What has made you succeed where others have failed?
    • Your company is one of the few that has made open source into a legitimate business model. What has made you succeed where others have failed?

      Heh. I've worked at a number of places in my time, including no less than four companies that develop open source software as part of their business plan. You've probably never heard of any of them. I think you might want to rephrase that as, "your company is one of the most well known companies to use open source development in your business model. What has made y

  • MySQL trade coverage (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Let me start by stating that I use MySQL for numerous intensive "enterprise" applications, so I don't intend this question to sound as critical as it probably does, but . . .

    Does MySQL AG pay for the intensive promotion it receives in Linux Journal similar publications ? By this I mean the fact that every single article about anything that uses a database mentions MySQL, when you would expect an occasional sqlite or PostgreSQL, even disregarding technical advantages MySQL might have.

    It might be that the pu
  • What other killer open source app would compliment MySQL and kill the pay for competition?
  • You give MySQL away for free, and sell an enhanced version also. How do you convince the bank manager/other investors to give you money to start a for-profit business, based on such a model?
  • make new product
    give it away fro free
    ????
    profit!
  • are you really open source? its lovely that one can look at the source,
    and that its gpld, but in order to get to the mainline, one must agree
    to a 'contributors license' which assign all rights to mysql ad.
    a bit of a dodge?
    • by Jay Pipes (997549)
      The Contributors License Agreement (copyright assignment) is necessary so that MySQL does not violate US copyright laws. That's really about it.

      As for whether we are open source, you will hear various parties argue one way or the other, usually coming down to our licensing choice or the fact that 99.9% of the code is developed internally. The fact is, though, that we're committed to open source ideals of access to source code and the freedom to modify and distribute the source code, and we will remain com
      • yes, i fully understand that you are a company. but you didn't answer the question as to what degree that company nature, and the contributors licence dilutes the gpl.
        its a bit disingenous to assert that its just about liability, as you demand that
        contributors assign all rights, so that you can distribute an alternative license,
        including this code, for a fee.

        • by Jay Pipes (997549)
          If the contributor did not assign us copyright, we would not legally (in the US), be able to include their code in ours. AFIAK, US copyright law says that you do not have the right to publish another person's work unless you have either bought or been assigned the rights to that work. Our general counsel would know the answer to this question better than I, but that's as far as I understand it. In addition, you say that "you demand that contributors assign all rights, so that you can distribute an altern
          • most other open source organizations are perfectly happy to accept gpl'd
            contributions, which include the right to redistribute. its normally not
            necessary to assign the ownership to the parent organization. this is a
            direct result of the company asserting its ownership rights over the source
            and all derivitives, in direct contradition to the spirit of the gpl. again,
            to assert that this is a legal neccessity is duplicitous. you are trying
            to keep and eat your cake. great if you can get away with it, but its not
            f
          • If the contributor did not assign us copyright, we would not legally (in the US), be able to include their code in ours.

            Technically, if a contributor is modifying the existing MySQL code, they only have the right to do that by agreeing to the GPL, which includes granting everyone the right to add their code to anything they want that is also GPL. If they are contributing completely new code, like a module or something and they have not agreed to license it under the GPL, then they'd need to agree to some

            • by Jay Pipes (997549)

              I don't know of any other company that develops GPL code that asks users to sign an additional license.

              First of all, we don't ask users to sign an additional license. We ask contributor's to assign MySQL the copyright to their contributed code. And, for your information the GNU/FSF does: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/why-assign.html [gnu.org] Guys, it's fairly simple, and not some "evil doing". You can see the contributor's license agreement here: http://forge.mysql.com/wiki/MySQL_Contribution_Lic ense_Agreemen [mysql.com]

              • First of all, we don't ask users to sign an additional license.

                I meant users of the license, but I can see why you were confused.

                We ask contributor's to assign MySQL the copyright to their contributed code.

                Right, and I asked why. You see having the copyright transferred to you provides you with the opportunity to release that code under a non-GPL license at some point in the future. That means you could take all the work contributed by these people (which admittedly is small compared to the total wor

  • by MarkWatson (189759) on Monday October 16, 2006 @02:59PM (#16456679) Homepage
    Hello Mårten,

    First, congratulations on MySQL's market capitalization! My question is:

    I have been working part time for about 6 years on software for text/data mining and general semantic information extraction. Almost all of my development is in Common Lisp, but I have ported little bits to Java and released that under the GPL in the past. I view this as a small, niche market, not like MySQL. What do you think that chances are for making money on GPLing a niche product?

    MySQL is very widely used so if you capture commercial use icensing costs for a small percent of users, you do very well. For my software, with luck perhaps a few hundred companies a year might start adopting my product. Does it seem like wishful thinking for me to use a GPL based business model like MySQL's?

    I want my customers to have my source code for a lot of reasons, but I would also like to capture revenue. I might just end up going to market as a proprietary product that incidently includes source code, with licensing that prohibits redistribution to non-customers.

    Thanks for your help,
    Mark

  • A successful open source business model, which MySQL seem to enjoy, is to make many users (as mentioned in reply to the first question in Guy Kawasaki's blog [guykawasaki.com]) of whom only a small number pay for extra features, service etc.

    What proportion of active MySQL users pay for service, and what is the average income per user?

  • I work for a good sized business and looked at using the Cluster Jumpstart but when I said told my boss the cost and that we'd have to play for flights he laughed at me, even though we're starting to really use mySQL pretty seriously now for some stuff.

    With costs for things like this and gold/platinum support also relatively high on a per server basis it seems there's a wide gap between community based support which costs nothing and enterprise support which appears somewhat pricey.

    How do you draw the line
  • When will the world get to the next big paradigm in database technology. As in, past the relational model.
  • I was going to build a very large database and don't need to many features. MySQL seems fine in that respect. I was wondering if the cluster version of MySQL scales as good as Oracle. I know your answers should be biased, but MySQL seems to target the middle market. Should I go with a different product for a very large database?

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