At InfoWorld, we use a variety of software packages to run key parts of our business, from commercial products such as Lotus Notes, Oracle, Quark Publishing System, and Windows 2000 to open source software such as Linux, Apache, and MySQL. On the open source side of the house, I've been liberal in my praise. But I recently decided it was time to do something that isn't normally associated with free and open source software -- I decided it was time to pay up.
Before you think I've been kidnapped by the SCO legal team, let me explain. I've been faithfully going to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) site for years, downloading the latest source for their Web server and putting it into useful production at companies where I have worked. I'm a satisfied user, but I've been like the guy who walks by a band of amazing street musicians every day for years and never puts any money in the tip jar. The Apache Software Foundation keeps playing the music and smiling, downplaying the fact that the tip jar is right there. If you're like me, you might not have even noticed the "Donations" link on the Apache home page.
It took a special event for me to snap to attention and recognize the value of what groups like the Apache Software Foundation is doing. Kevin Varley, one of InfoWorld's developers, discovered a bug in the Apache Web server (No. 21095, to be precise) that we brought to the attention of the Apache team, and they fixed it. Not only did they fix it, they fixed it fast, and in a very responsive and friendly manner. We got help from Andre Maloin Germany, Cliff Woolleyin Virginia, and an assist from Thom Mayin London. They explained the problem in great detail, explained the fix, and delivered the patch to Kevin. If all software support was this simple and hassle-free, my job would be a lot easier.
Up until this direct experience with the Apache team, I had recognized the theoretical value of the open source development process, but I've always been on the periphery as a user and implementer of open source technologies. After the bug fix, I decided it was time to click on that donations link on the ASF site and toss a few coins into the tip bucket. As useful as Apache has been for me, it could never be enough, but it's something. If you've been benefiting from Apache, you might consider making a donation yourself.
After the Apache experience, I decided it was also time to pay up for MySQL, though their licensing doesn't necessarily require that for the way I'm using it. MySQL AB isn't a nonprofit organization like the Apache Software Foundation, but the folks behind the company have been driving the development of MySQL for years. MySQL Pro goes for $440 per server with no limits on client connections -- and this is the high-end version of MySQL with the InnoDB transaction engine. If you don't need transactions, your price drops to $220 per server. I'm sending in my $880 for two Pro licenses -- it's a bargain.
Some of the best things in IT life are free, but that doesn't mean they're not worth paying for in some way. With Apache you don't have to pay, and with MySQL, you don't always have to pay -- that's precisely why you probably should if you can.