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MySQL chief to users: Don't expect big disruptions post-Sun

MySQL's Marten Mickos says that coming under the Sun Microsystems umbrella will not change the interaction between his company and its user community.

Marten Mickos

Marten Mickos joined MySQL as CEO in 2001. In January, he presided over the sale of the company to Sun Microsystems. Since the acquisition, he has served as the senior vice president of its database group. I caught up with Mickos after his keynote speech at the MySQL User Conference & Expo taking place this week in Santa Clara, Calif.

Q: What's next for Sun as far as its open-source quest?
Mickos: I think Sun has embarked on many things with (the) open-sourcing of Java and Solaris. Now is the time to fine-tune those models and settle down. When you embark on something new, you have to experiment and find the right path. You're seeing it take effect now. The Open Solaris and GlassFish download numbers are growing, and that's a positive.

One theme that we heard today was the similarity in work cultures between Sun and the folks who came over with the MySQL deal. As the teams further integrate, is there any change in how the community adds feedback to the product roadmap now that you're a part of Sun?
Mickos: Not really. The agreement when we started talking about acquisition was that they were buying us for who we are. We have things going on with the community and are trying to improve our community all the time. In internal meetings, we actually say we don't understand community well enough and how to improve it. It hasn't changed other than that we have a new sounding board.

In the past, there were questions about the ability of MySQL to maintain its code base with critical bugs not getting fixed for long periods. You mentioned this morning that there have been a number of bug fixes so far this year. Were you trying to send a message?
Mickos: Absolutely. When we launched 5.0 (in October 2005), it was a major release for us. We pronounced it as GA, but I got an earful from my engineers who didn't want me to call it ready for general availability just yet. I still went ahead, but then we turned up bugs and had to fix more and more things. I think we were still recovering from that, so today I wanted to give credit to the people working on (the bug fixes) because it takes such complete commitment on their part.

You announced that MySQL 5.1 would become available this quarter. Should users expect the time between product introductions to change now that you're part of Sun?
Mickos: I'm hoping that it will shrink. We've made good improvements to our engineering organization and we've worked diligently on speeding up our cycles. Some customers take our software when it's in alpha stage, others when it goes to GA, while there are still others who don't touch it for a year after it becomes available. It's not as if everyone's cut from the same mode.

When companies take on new projects and they choose open-source infrastructure such as the LAMP stack, what's the most common reason you're hearing behind that choice?
Mickos: The first reason is that it's free. We talk about all these principles and philosophies, but for the majority, it's free. But you should ask separately, what makes them stay with us? Why hasn't Facebook moved to something else? Because they've found that the product we make gives them the scale and performance and reliability that they need.

Looking ahead, do you think MySQL or the OS will be more likely to occupy the middle of the open-source universe? I'm asking because Red Hat's moving beyond Linux to offer middleware.
Mickos: I think data management is such a specific chunk that we'll always be there.

Are you hoping to try to sell more into what's been Oracle's turf?
Mickos: We always say that we're not trying to eat Oracle's lunch. We're trying to eat their dessert.

OK, let's stay with the metaphor. Oracle probably would like to eat yours as well.
Mickos: Of course they do. They're a big powerful well-run company.

But it probably feels a lot different having a corporate parent with deep pockets than when you faced an Oracle alone?
Mickos: Well, that's interesting you say that because we were able to use our underdog status to our advantage. There are lots of people out there who would come to us and say we don't mind that we're a smaller company. They would say that they just hate all big database vendors.

What's your own professional timeline? When will you consider your job accomplished and that it's time to move on?
Mickos: No idea. I'm not waiting for such a moment. For the moment, I'm enjoying the job and will continue to do it for as long as it's enjoyable. I don't really plan my career or my future. In fact, I've never done that.