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Simplicity-money combo spells MySQL success

Open-source software such as MySQL's wins over users when it's easy to use, but money is the thing that ensures that more will be developed.

There are lots of reasons to love MySQL, the leading open-source database that Sun bought in 2008: it's inexpensive, perfect for Web applications (among other things), and boasts high performance.

According to Brian Aker, a principal engineer at Sun Microsystems, however, the real secret to MySQL's success is ease of use:

The thing that MySQL brought to the table when it came out was the ease of use and the ease of installation. MySQL came out in an era where comparable products were really complex and required a lot of knowledge to be able to use and install. With MySQL, the user is able to take the database, download it, install it, understand it, and then apply it to their application.

This is one reason that MySQL skills are in hot demand. On the Elance recruiting Web site, for example, MySQL skills are the third-most demanded skill.

The next phase for MySQL and other open-source technologies, however, needs to take that ease of use that is characteristic of Ruby, Drupal, and other leading open-source projects, and translate it into business-friendly terms that make it easier for enterprises to consume open source.

Marten Mickos, departing senior vice president of Sun's database group, calls this out in a recent interview:

If we want open source to be "the right choice for business"...we also must make open source suitable for business. It is a strength that the open-source community has passionate members who have no business interest themselves, but we must also find those who are passionate about building a business.

This means an expansion of the original meaning of open source--and a healthy one, I might add. The more business success we have in and around open source, the more open source we will have.

I've been arguing this point for years, and founded the Open Source Business Conference to help tackle the issue. The more money we make in open source, the more open-source software will be written. This is a very good thing.

It will be particularly good if the software written is as easy-to-use as MySQL. MySQL has earned its reputation as an exceptional database. Now it must figure out how to pay back profits on the $1 billion investment Sun made in MySQL. Indeed, this is the next big test for all commercial open-source software.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.