I saw yesterday that MySQL has finally done the right thing, and announced new commercial extensions.
What this means is that paying customers receive something more than users who get the community edition for free.
Believe it or not, when I was working in the community team at MySQL, I was already an advocate of this solution. You may see a contradiction, but there isn't. I would like to explain how this works.
An open source product needs to be developed. And the developers need to get paid. Ergo, the company needs to make money from that product if it wants to continue developing it. Either that, or the company needs to sell something else to pay the bills. (Let's not get into the argument that a pure open source project with universal participation is better, faster, or more marvelous: MySQL was never that, not with Oracle, not with Sun, and not when it was an independent company. If you want a extra-super-ultra open project, go with Drizzle. With MySQL, we need to continue reasoning with the raw material at hand.)
When MySQL was scaling its business, it realized that many customers were not willing to pay for support and consulting alone. To expand the business beyond the simple offer of services, the company created MySQL Network, which soon evolved into MySQL Enterprise, with the addition of the MySQL Monitoring tools and a fast upgrade plan. This was a good proposal for small to medium customers, but not as good for customers with large installations. When you deploy thousands of MySQL servers, you really don't want to upgrade every month. Anyway, for some time, the value proposition from MySQL was that the community users would get one release twice a year, and the paying customers would get one every month.
As a community manager, I strongly objected to that formula, not only because it hurts the community, but also because it hurts customers. When the release is exposed to millions of free users before it goes to the paying customers, chances are that serious bugs are discovered by the community and fixed in due time, before it hurts a high profile customer and needs to be fixed in a hurry at higher cost. One of the main values of MySQL is that it's that its large community adoption and feedback increases stability. Fortunately, I was not the only one who believed that larger distribution is valuable for customers, and the decision was reversed at the end of 2008.
In that period, I and other employees recommended a different value proposition for our customers. Instead of selling fast upgrade plans (which become a liability), MySQL could develop some reserved features that would be given only to paying customers.
There are two problems with reserved features, though: you need to develop them internally. You can't start them in the open, asking the community to test them for bugs, and then give them only to customers when they are ready (There was a faux pas in that direction in early 2008, but it was promptly retracted). These features must be developed as closed source, and tested only internally. The second problem is that MySQL had little internal QA manpower when this discussion arose.
There was another issue, namely that the code base for the next intended version (the fabled 6.0) was brittle. After 2 years in alpha stage, there was little to show for the effort. In parallel to the Oracle acquisition, two important things happened: version 6 was abandoned, and a new effort was started, using the more stable version 5.x as a code base, and a new developing model was launched, based on milestones and robustness.
This new foundation, combined with the injection of experienced QA personnel from the ranks of Sun and Oracle, made the project ready to offer reserved features to customers, while continuing the development of a lot more features for the community edition.
From a community standpoint, I welcome the commercial extensions. It means that the MySQL project will get more revenues, and be able to sustain the public release more easily. In my opinion it's the logical evolution of the project, and it's what MySQL should have done already years ago if it had had the manpower.
There are already detractors who see this release as a sign of the apocalypse. They probably want to see only this one feature in the commercial arena, dismissing the dozens of new features released to the general public under Oracle stewardship. I refuse to enroll in the chorus of critics who judge Oracle on prejudice. I am so far satisfied with what Oracle has done with MySQL. My opinion is based on facts, and since the facts are in favor of the community, I am pleased to say so. If future facts will make me change my opinion, I will say it. But now, I want to say thank you to the MySQL team at Oracle!