Stallman took a different tack and chose to focus on economics and competition, joining with other open source advocates to echo Widenius's argument that the ability to issue commercial licenses was essential. In a letter to the European Commission, the group made this case: "As only the original rights holder can sell commercial licenses, no new forked version of the code will have the ability to practice the parallel licensing approach, and will not easily generate the resources to support continued development of the MySQL platform."
For better or for worse, the European Commission was not swayed by these arguments and agreed to let Oracle gain control of Sun and MySQL. How this will affect the way companies use and license MySQL remains hazy, but Oracle, its customers, and its competitors are preparing.
An open approach
Monty Program is not the only company that wants to support database administrators who use MySQL. Another group of ex-MySQL developers have started work on Drizzle, a fork of MySQL still in alpha form. Data center manager Rackspace recently announced hiring several major developers from Drizzle, a decision that should move the company closer to shipping a version that's generally accepted as stable.
The ecology of MySQL installations will probably split into several distinct camps. Widenius is already signaling that he wants his branch to offer a more collaborative, experimental community by accepting community bug fixes. MariaDB will probably be more attractive to the hard-core developers with the time to tune the code to squeeze out every last bit of performance. The new version includes Maria, PBXT, and Xtra, three storage engines that lie inside of the MySQL parsing mechanism.
Details about these storage engines will be of greatest interest to developers who need a high level of performance and ACID transactions. These details are largely hidden away behind the SQL parser, so most users will see these engines as equivalent to the engines distributed with the version of MySQL coming from Oracle.
Widenius suggests that the GPL binds all developers that distribute MySQL with their software, even if the two run independently. The MariaDB or Drizzle versions won't help them, unless they intend to distribute all of their code.
"My view is that the GPL doesn't affect one over [TCP/IP]," said Widenius. "The GPL in MySQL does however affect an application if it is distributed with the MySQL server and/or require the MySQL server to work. This is because the whole system is a derivative of MySQL, even if some parts aren't."
But others disagree, and any company in this gray zone is going to continue to need commercial licenses from Oracle unless it wants to be ready to argue about the details of the GPL in court. Or companies might just point to the way that Oracle blends its database with Linux OS, a process that many feel doesn't force the database to be covered by the GPL.