Corporate code releases are always an uncertain prospect. The contribution
of a large body of code is always welcomed, but only time will tell what
sort of development and user community will eventually develop around that
code. SAP released its relational database management system (SAP-DB) to
great fanfare in October, 2000. Compared to some of that month's other
(Atipa acquires OpenNMS, VA Linux hires the Debian project
leader, the PostgreSQL hackers to go work for Great Bridge, EBIZ and the
Linux Mall merge, Turbolinux gets $30 million in venture funding,
LynuxWorks files for its IPO, Progeny Linux ships its first beta
distribution, Linus claims "no show-stopper bugs" in 2.4.0-test10), SAP-DB
has been a raging success. Still, relative to the other free database
systems (PostgreSQL, MySQL, and perhaps even Interbase/Firebird), SAP-DB
has not pulled in a particularly large community.
Nobody can say the same thing about MySQL. This free relational database
manager, despite a lingering reputation for lacking the features that
"real" database systems have, claims some four million installed systems.
MySQL's user community is large and strong, and MySQL AB, the copyright
holder for MySQL, is apparently thriving. But MySQL's "fast, reliable, but
still a toy" reputation (at least in some circles) is probably not helping
MySQL AB win those really big contracts.
announcement of a partnership between MySQL AB and SAP makes a
fair amount of sense for both sides. Under this deal, MySQL AB gets
the right to sell commercial versions of SAP-DB, which will be relicensed
entirely under the GPL and renamed. SAP-DB will thus become a product much
like the current MySQL offerings, but one aimed at "enterprise"
MySQL AB gets a new product to sell which has a lengthy large-deployment
track record and which should prove easier to market to large companies.
SAP's sales force and existing large company customer base should also
prove most helpful in that regard. And, of course, MySQL gets to mix
together the best of both systems to create "the next-generation MySQL open
source enterprise database."
SAP, meanwhile, gets access to a brand with great respect in the free
software community. MySQL AB has a proven ability to create an active
developer and user community around a free database system; this skill will come
to great use in reviving interest in the database formerly known as
SAP-DB. More significantly, however, is the fact that MySQL AB has
figured out how to sell proprietary licenses to a free software product,
pleasing its customers while simultaneously avoiding alienating the
developer community. The company's ability to walk that fine line bodes
well for SAP-DB's future.
If there is a down side to this deal, it is that the SAP-DB client
libraries, which were formerly licensed under the LGPL, will, in the
future, only be available under the GPL. That change is crucial to the
entire strategy, of course; it is the lever that will force proprietary
software vendors to buy a commercial license. But it is a change which
will upset users who were making use of the previous LGPL licensing; a look
at the sapdb-general
mailing list shows a handful of messages from users who are unhappy
with the new state of affairs.
Of course, those users have not really lost anything; the current SAP-DB
release cannot and will not be taken away from them. They simply will not
have the same access to future releases. SAP-DB users have the right to
fork the code base and maintain the code independently, and they might just
do so. But it is hard to see a forked SAP-DB attracting a larger community
than SAP-DB has now, especially when the folks over at MySQL appear to be
having all the fun.
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