The open-source community's double standard on MySQL

The open-source community needs to figure out a consistent response to code contributions. Those who give much get little credit, while those who give little get a lot of credit. Does this sound reasonable to you?

Tarring and Feathering, 1773 Public Domain

Deja vu. Remember 2002? That's when Red Hat decided to split its code into Red Hat Advanced Server (now Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and Fedora. Howls of protest and endless hand-wringing ensued: How dare Red Hat not give everything away for free?

Enter 2007. MySQL decides to comply with the GNU General Public License and only give its tested, certified Enterprise code to those who pay for the service underlying that code (gasp!). Immediately cries of protest are raised, How dare MySQL not give everything away for free?

Ironically, in this same year of 2007, SugarCRM received universal plaudits ( from me, as well ) for opening up part of its code base under GPLv3. Groklaw crowed, "SugarCRM Goes GPLv3!" People everywhere flooded the streets to wax fecund and celebrate by multiplying and replenishing the earth.

This smacks of a perverse double standard, one that is neither fair nor warranted.

However welcome SugarCRM's move (and it was), customers continue to pay for the proprietary rights to SugarCRM's Professional and Enterprise code. I'm not criticizing SugarCRM here--it uses its revenues to plow back innovation into its open-source base. It's a model that works for SugarCRM and for its customers and community.

Rather, I'm criticizing the open-source community for applying a hypocritical double-standard.

When IBM, Adobe, Oracle, Novell, SAP, or other proprietary companies release even a modicum of code, they get universal plaudits. When 100-percent open-source companies like Red Hat and MySQL rejig the way they release code (while still releasing it and fully complying with open-source licenses), they get tarred and feathered.

It's almost as if the open-source community is suggesting that it's better to be a proprietary software company and contribute very little open source, rather than give away all but act selectively and intelligently about how one does it so as to be able to afford giving away more. Give little, get much credit. Do much, get little credit.

Linus Torvalds gets this . He understands the importance of making a living and of all the benefits that commercial interests have brought to open source. Would that his peers were as cogent on the matter.

MySQL, like Red Hat before it, is acting in a prudent way to ensure that it can continue to contribute its code back to the community. For those who think there's a free lunch in life, you're on the wrong planet. There isn't. Code doesn't grow on trees. Not even "community"-developed code like Linux. It has required a heck of a lot of money to get Linux to the point that it is now. Money that successful business models plowed into the code.

If you want the certified Enterprise code, no one is preventing you from paying for it. If you prefer to get it for free but are frustrated by the fact that MySQL Community doesn't have bug fixes immediately available to you, here's another suggestion: fork the code and fix them yourself.

But one way or another, please stop whining. It looks bad to see so many people with hands out and palms up--except as you take time to slap MySQL for acting responsibly. No one is stopping you from either paying MySQL with cash or paying the MySQL community with code. No one but yourself.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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