Back at the beginning of 2005, Pervasive
decided that there was money to be made by
selling support services for the PostgreSQL
relational database management
system. It seems like a good idea; PostgreSQL is a rock-solid system,
increasingly fast, offering a number of interesting features. It is
running in no end of production environments - including, it should be
said, on the LWN.net server. Free RDBMS systems look poised to create
trouble for their proprietary competition just like Linux made life
difficult for proprietary Unix systems. PostgreSQL is clearly around for
the long haul, and looks like a winning bet.
Not for Pervasive, however; the company has just published an open letter to the
PostgreSQL community stating that, while the company remains a big fan
of PostgreSQL, it is getting out of the PostgreSQL business.
The money, it seems, simply wasn't there. Pervasive is not the first to
come to this conclusion; a few years ago, a company called Great Bridge
failed with the same model, despite employing several high-profile
PostgreSQL developers. Red Hat still offers its version of PostgreSQL, but
the last posted news for that product is dated November, 2005, and the
product is not mentioned anywhere in Red Hat's last annual report.
PostgreSQL, it seems, is a hard business. According to Pervasive, the
problem is that the free support is just too good:
While we always knew that PostgreSQL is a solid product with
advanced database capabilities and that it has a very real
opportunity to shake up the high-end database market, we
underestimated the high level of quality support and expertise
already available within the PostgreSQL community. In this
environment, we found that the opportunity for Pervasive Software
to meaningfully increase adoption of PostgreSQL by providing an
alternative source for support and services was quite limited.
It is true that the PostgreSQL community is capable and helpful; any
company which wishes to offer something better than what the community
provides has a very high standard to meet. But there almost certainly has
to be more to it than that. MySQL AB has had a fair amount of commercial
success - something which companies working with PostgreSQL have not been
able to duplicate. One might guess that the
PostgreSQL community is more helpful than the MySQL community, and, as a
result, there is more commercial opportunity in the MySQL realm. This does
not seem like an idea that is likely to go very far. Something else is
Perhaps commercial PostgreSQL support is simply an idea whose time has not
come. Most PostgreSQL users may still be early adopters - people who are
willing and able to handle the support details themselves. The larger
market of users who are more interested in buying support services,
perhaps, has simply not developed yet. To the extent that this hypothesis
holds water, the companies which have tried to create a market in
PostgreSQL services have not done an adequate job of selling its merits to
potential customers. That would indicate that more work has to be done to
spread the word on what a good product PostgreSQL truly is; there needs to
be a serious brand-building effort.
There is another factor which should be taken into account here, however.
Much of MySQL AB's success does not come from support services; instead, it
comes from licensing. The MySQL code is licensed under the GPL, and the
copyrights are all held by MySQL AB; as a result, MySQL AB is able to offer
proprietary-style licenses to companies which wish to use MySQL, but which
do not wish to license their own products under the GPL. PostgreSQL,
instead, carries a BSD license and its copyrights are held by a number of
different groups. So there is no "GPL exception" business model possible
for PostgreSQL. Anybody wanting to use PostgreSQL in a proprietary product
can do so without asking permission (or buying licenses) from anybody.
What all this means is that anybody trying to build a business around
PostgreSQL must rely entirely upon services. They must convince potential
customers that PostgreSQL is good enough to merit consideration over any
number of proprietary alternatives, but not so good that these customers
can support it themselves. The latter part should be relatively easy -
there's still no end of customers who require support services before they
will consider deploying a system. But convincing companies to walk away
from their proprietary database vendors remains a hard sell. PostgreSQL,
along with a number of other free database management systems, is a
high-quality project. Eventually the commercial world will
understand that fact, just like it has slowly figured out that Linux is
worthy of its attention. But, until that time comes, making money from
PostgreSQL will be a challenging task.
Comments (30 posted)
The Free Software Foundation has released a second draft of version 3 of
. This draft incorporates comments made in the first draft,
filtered, of course, by the FSF's goals. The resulting changes tweak some
terms, clarify others, and generally increase the international
applicability of the license. The fundamental nature of the license and
its goals has not changed, however, and quite a few people who disliked the
first draft will have reason to be displeased with this version as well.
Those interested in the details of the changes and why they were made may
want to look at the FSF's
rationale document [PDF].
The term which, perhaps, upset the most people was the anti-DRM provision
requiring recipients to be able to install and run modified versions
of the software. In particular, if GPLv3-licensed software is shipped on a
device which will only run binaries signed by a particular private key,
that key must be provided with the source code. The wording of this term
has changed in the second draft, but its intent has not. It now reads:
The Corresponding Source also includes any encryption or
authorization keys necessary to install and/or execute modified
versions from source code in the recommended or principal context
of use, such that they can implement all the same functionality in
the same range of circumstances. (For instance, if the work is a
DVD player and can play certain DVDs, it must be possible for
modified versions to play those DVDs. If the work communicates with
an online service, it must be possible for modified versions to
communicate with the same online service in the same way such that
the service cannot distinguish.)
The FSF, it seems, is serious about not allowing
GPLv3-licensed code to be used on locked-down systems.
The first draft included a term saying, in effect, that any covered
software was not an "effective technical measure" protecting access to
copyrighted work. That term was intended to block use of the DMCA to lock
down systems built with GPL-licensed code. That term has been reworded:
When you convey a covered work, you waive any legal power to forbid
circumvention of technical measures that include use of the covered
work, and you disclaim any intention to limit operation or
modification of the work as a means of enforcing the legal rights
of third parties against the work's users.
The new wording has the same intent, but it is intended to apply to
anti-circumvention laws in other countries (and the EU Copyright Directive
A fundamental term is the one stating that anybody who distributes software
under the GPL, and who owns patents covering some of the techniques used by
that software, is giving the recipients the right to use those techniques.
The first draft expressed this term as an explicit grant of licenses to use
the relevant patents. The second draft, instead, requires anybody distributing
the software to accept a covenant not to assert their patents against users of
the software. The FSF has evidently written a separate opinion document -
not yet published - which describes the reasons for making this change.
The prohibition on distribution of "covered works that illegally
invade users' privacy" has been removed. Evidently, there was a
strong public reaction against this term, so it came out.
The language in the first draft which allowed charging up to ten times the
actual cost for source code distribution is gone. The GPLv2 language,
limiting charges to the "reasonable cost" of shipping the source, is back.
The second draft has added a new term stating that making the source
available for free download (for three years) is sufficient to satisfy the
source distribution requirements of the license. It has also been made
clear that redistribution of a program through a peer-to-peer client (as
happens automatically with a protocol like BitTorrent) does not require
accepting the license and taking on the source distribution requirements.
The language on additional terms has been changed somewhat. There is now
an explicit prohibition on terms regarding who pays attorney's fees,
choice-of-venue terms, arbitration clauses, etc. There is also a clause
saying that, if the software has been received with any disallowed
additional restrictions ("no commercial use" restrictions being given as an
example), the recipient may simply ignore those restrictions.
The first draft of version 3
of the Lesser GPL is also available. The new LGPL is much shorter and
simpler than its predecessor, mostly because it is expressed as a patch to
GPLv3. The intent of the LGPL has not changed much. There are
terms intended to make it possible to run a proprietary application with a
modified version of the LGPL-licensed library, however - including a
requirement that installation keys, if needed, be distributed with the
By the FSF's schedule, the rest of the year will be dedicated to receiving
comments on the new draft of the GPLv3. The FSF has previously said that
it would like to adopt the final version of the new license in January,
2007, and there is no indication that this timeline has changed. There
will be another series of public meetings, with the next meeting happening in
Bangalore, India, on August 23 and 24. Anybody who has opinions
on the drafts, and who has not yet expressed them to the FSF, may want to
do so in the near future or forever hold their peace.
Comments (53 posted)
On July 24, 2006, AMD and ATI announced they will merge in order to
combine AMD's strength in microprocessor technology with ATI's
proficiency in graphics, chipsets and consumer electronics. The
transaction, valued at US $5.4 billion, is expected to close toward the end
subject to approval by ATI shareholders, regulatory
approvals and other customary closing conditions. At first blush, the
obvious implications of the merger focus on the market pressure this
will place on Nvidia and Intel, and how it will enable AMD and ATI to
accelerate innovation in the commercial, consumer electronics and mobile
In the near term, the merger enables the companies to create an
integrated graphics business and deliver core logic chipsets to compete
with Intel in the consumer market. In the long-term, the combined company
should be well positioned to develop
coprocessor-based media and physics acceleration technologies which will enable
advances in chips beyond today's cores.
If viewed from an open source perspective, some additional questions surface:
1) Will AMD, which has cultivated a strong relationship with the Linux
community, work with ATI to release open source drivers - including
supporting suspend/resume on laptops?; and 2) How will a combined AMD and
ATI influence the growth of the Linux desktop and handheld market?
There will probably be no comments from the companies until after the sale has closed. But
the potential benefits to the open source community resulting from a combined AMD
and ATI are intriguing. In this context, it is worth remembering that
Intel - AMD's primary competitor - has been working to provide free
Linux drivers for its video chipsets.
It would be absurd to believe that open source
graphics drivers and advances in Linux laptops and handheld devices are
the motivation behind this merger. But the opportunity for AMD to prosper in the Linux market
from embedded systems to servers, coupled with AMD's long-term goal of
beating Intel to market, makes the release of open source drivers
possible as a tactical outcome of a larger strategic vision. Any
augmentation of AMD's Linux and open source strategies will most likely
be revealed subsequent to the merger, so look for possible changes in
Comments (12 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Is my distribution vulnerable?; New vulnerabilities in apache, drupal, firefox, libtiff, ...
- Kernel: SCSI command filtering; Debating reiser4 - again; Toward a kernel events interface; New kernels and old distributions.
- Distributions: MEPIS and GPL Compliance; ROCK3, Mandriva Linux 2007 Beta, 64 Studio beta; Reviewed: Freespire, Mandriva 2007 beta, ROCK3, SymphonyOS
- Development: Season of KDE fosters young students - Part One,
new versions of BusyBox, Apache, jack_capture, sfront, GARNOME, KDE,
gerbv, Allegro, Qt for Java, Wine, Care2x, Firefox, ANNA, GnuPG, SciPy,
SDCC, Wing IDE.
- Press: Google to host open-source projects, Fedora Women launched, OSCON coverage, SCO stock drops,
Eben Moglen explains GPLv3, geo-located photo album, mainstream
parallel programming, feh review, dual-licensing issues.
- Announcements: Haansoft joins OSDL, Wind River Contributes Code to Eclipse,
Extremadura government to use Linux, Linux Business Campus Nuremberg,
OpenDocument icon proposal, Bangalore GPLv3 conf, RubyConf*MI.
- Letters: Foundational software.