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MySQL boasts might against big players

At the first MySQL confab, the database company releases source code for its upcoming product and touts itself as the little database company that could.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--MySQL kicked off its first-ever users conference by releasing the source code of its upcoming MySQL 5.0 product and touting its reputation as the little database company that could.

The Swedish company, which develops open-source database software, is making its way into markets once dominated by proprietary database vendors such as Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and Sybase. During a keynote address Thursday morning, co-founder David Axmark said more than 29,000 people are downloading MySQL each day, and it has more than 4 million users worldwide.

"Compared to when we started we are a very real company," Axmark told some of the conference's 500 attendees here. MySQL, which had just 20 employees as recently as two years ago, has grown to about 65 full- and part-time workers today.

Companies including backup software maker Arkeia and customer relationship management software makers SupportWizard and TechExcel said they are planning to announce support for MySQL database on Friday.

MySQL offers a dual licensing model for its software, meaning people who download the company's database software for free must make any modifications available to the public. Alternatively, people can pay to keep their changes private. The company gets its revenue by selling services, certification courses and paid versions of the product.

In a report released in March, Charlie Garry, an analyst with research firm Meta Group, said MySQL could make significant inroads into the database market if it can overcome uncertainty and confusion surrounding the open-source model. "MySQL is the wildcard in the competitive $12 billion database market," Garry wrote, adding that the company is attacking market leaders using a combination of open-source and commercial licensing to speed the adoption of its software.

MySQL is aiming for speedier development cycles than most database companies. The company is currently focusing on two products: MySQL versions 4.1 and 5.0. It released the binaries of 4.1 this week and plans to unveil a final version in about eight months. A final version 5.0 should be available about six months after that.

The company characterized MySQL 4.1 as the "big boy" of its upcoming releases. New features will include higher-speed key caching, which is a core component that handles memory allocation; subqueries, which provide for more tailored searches; and a feature that allows searches based on geographical data, something that companies offering Internet dating sites are demanding.

The company also is promising a concerted push into the enterprise market with MySQL 5.0, which will build on some of the features in 4.1.

Developers cheered several features promised in 5.0 including: foreign key support; a system that would automatically alert administrators when there's a problem; and the long-awaited stored procedures, which allow a command or series of commands to be prebuilt for later use.

However, some developers expressed concerns that the company would abandon its core fans with its enterprise push. Several worried that a MySQL product geared toward large businesses would sacrifice speed and efficiency to kowtow to corporate needs. Some company representatives said MySQL might consider two versions of the product for larger and smaller users, but others said that plan wouldn't be part of its roadmap.

Nearly all of the features planned for upcoming products are already available in database products offered by the bigger vendors. MySQL tries to differentiate itself by offering database software that is cheaper and open source, meaning people can tinker under the hood and keep the company on its toes by testing early versions of the product and reporting bugs.

"Even the most esoteric features get widely tested," Axmark said. "We'll fix the stupid small bugs."

And MySQL's popularity seems to be growing. Yahoo and Google use the software to run many parts of their Web sites.

Axmark said that according to Google, attracts nearly twice as many links as, and the word "MySQL" attracts slightly more mentions on the Web than "oracle," even though oracle has many other meanings than just a database seller. What's more, the company said, downloads of Microsoft versions of MySQL outnumber Linux versions by at least four to one.

Although the company has been around for eight years, this is the first time users have met in person to swap development tips and tales. Because most development work and customer interaction takes place over the Internet, most MySQL fans have never met face to face.

In fact, people who want to use the free product can download it without ever identifying themselves. Company representatives said they decided to hold a real-world confab to meet their customer base and to dispel any misconceptions that MySQL isn't planning to bolster its database with features and functions that more businesses have been asking for.

And it wouldn't be an open-source gathering without a mascot. Sakila the dolphin was plastered on T-shirts, bags and notepads throughout the conference hall. MySQL's Axmark said the company chose the dolphin because it's fast, clever and good looking. "They also group up to kill sharks," he said.