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MySQL and the freedom to fork

MySQL is becoming an umbrella for all sorts of forks. Here's what that could be good for Sun.

Patrick Galbraith has initiated a fascinating discussion with his post, "What is the official branch of MySQL?" I did a double-take when I first saw it, and I can't quite shake the question from my mind. It implies much of the power, and peril, of open source.

The question is critical because it implies that open source can become much bigger than the developer--whether an individual or a company--that created it. While Linus Torvalds, for example, remains central to Linux kernel development, Linux has become much, much bigger than Torvalds. Companies and foundations have been set up to guide and monetize it. Billions of dollars are earned and lost each year because of Linux.

In the case of MySQL, it has sprouted forks and iterations/distributions on the popular open-source database. OurDelta (a superset of MySQL started by ex-MySQL employee Arjen Lentz), Drizzle (belatedly recognized as an "official" Sun/MySQL fork), and MariaDB (created by MySQL co-founder Monty Widenius) are just a few of MySQL's off-shoots, but a few is enough to prompt Galbraith's legitimate question, particularly if you're an enterprise looking to buy into the "true" MySQL code branch.

For Sun, the forks arguably both enhance and diminish the company's ability to recoup its $1 billion investment in MySQL. Forks siphon off development that could be focused on the main code branch, and could also redirect dollars to these branches.

On the positive side, however, the greater the proliferation of MySQL forks in the marketplace, the more salient and powerful the MySQL brand becomes, and hence the better able to command support subscription revenue. Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for example, becomes increasingly valuable as Linux variants multiply: RHEL becomes the safe, grounded choice for ISVs and enterprises.

Identifying the "official" branch of MySQL depends largely upon what you want. If you're an enterprise looking for the safe, standard build, Sun/MySQL is what you want. But if you're looking to build a Web-enabled business, Drizzle may be the right choice. Or if you're on the cutting edge and feel that Sun's support is too slow, OurDelta may offer the best sanctuary.

In short, figure out what you really want from MySQL before deciding what "official" means.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.