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February 2006

Application of the Year

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At the annual MySQL Users Conference in April we will announce awards for our applications of the year and partners of the year.  It's a nice way to recognize the successes of people who help make up the overall MySQL community, whether its big companies using MySQL, innovative startups, interesting dot orgs, developers, partners and so on. Past winners have included organizations like Wikipedia, Friendster, Sabre, CNet, Cox Communications, LiveJournal, Novell, SAP, Rackspace, GoldenGate Software, Quest Software, Embarcadero Technologies and others.

Also, early registration is available now for the MySQL User's conference saving $200 off the normal fee.  Last year we had over 1000 attendees and many sessions sold out early.


Jay Pipes: MySQL Pro

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Jay Pipes, co-author of "Pro MySQL" published by Apress joined MySQL recently as our latest community guy.  Jay is an excellent fit for the company.  He has a terrific "can do" attitude and has been out writing and blogging about MySQL for ages.  Not only is he a MySQL expert, he's also a great speaker and keen to help out on community projects.  Soon enough we'll be letting him loose speaking at conferences including our own MySQL Users Conference in April. 


ITConversations On Evil

Toevil

I'm not sure how I missed Danny O'Brien's presentation at Oscon last year "On Evil." At any rate, it's now available on the ITConversations podcast.  The whole thing is about 15 minutes long and is a tongue in cheek look at good and evil in the open source world including mentions of all the hot topics: GPL licensing, Google, Maureen O'Gara, Ruby, Perl, Linus Torvalds and the ultimate evil: Software Patents. 

For those who aren't yet into podcasts, consider giving ITConversations a listen.  It's got some of the best content out there on a wide range of tech topics.  Next to Engadget and Phedippidations (don't ask) it's one of my favorites.  I'm hoping our Community guys will take up the mantle and develop a regular MySQL podcast in 2006.

Addendum: For some reason the image on this story is not always showing up.  This may be an issue with www.typepad.com.  I am investigating.


SDForum: The Future of Open Source

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Last week I spent a half day at an SDForum think tank meeting "The Future of Open Source."  It was an invitation-only gathering of around 50 execs from the open source industry with a smattering of lawyers, VCs, corporate users and large IT companies including Microsoft, Novell, SAP, Sun, Symantec and Bank of America. The open source companies represented included providers such as Alfresco, BlackDuck, Collabnet, Covalent, Eclipse, Intalio, Funambol, JasperSoft, MySQL, Olliance Group, Optaros, OpenLogic, OSDL, SugarCRM, Zimbra, Zmanda and others.  A few companies were conspicuoulsy absent: JBoss, Red Hat, Sleepycat.

2006 will be a telling year for open source.  At MySQL we've been able to turn the corner and achieve profitability in the last six months and still maintain nearly 100% annual year-over-year growth.  But to my knowledge there are only two profitable open source companies right now, us and Red Hat.  (Of course, with private companies, it's always hard to say.)  I suspect that in 2006, there will be a number of companies that just can't make it on their own and they will either close down or they will sell out.  But those who stay independent and thrive will be significant drivers for the next ten years. 

Andrew Aitken from the Olliance Group put together the meeting. Even though no one really knew what it was about until it started, everyone felt there was value in gathering so many like-minded people together in one room.  However, unlike most open source love-fests, this was not about developers (or mercifully, licensing) it was about business. 

I believe that commercialization of any new technology, whether it's open source, bio-tech, nano-tech, podcasts or the web, is necessary in order for a trend to really take hold.  We owe a debt of grattitude to the early pionneers of open source who weren't interested in fame or fortune (ok, maybe they were interested in fame!) but commercialization is what makes it sustainable for the long haul. There are some big closed source companies out there who would like nothing more than to disprove the financial viability of open source. After all, if open source is not profitable then perhaps its just a fad and will blow away.  Then they can stop paying lip service to open source and go back to the way things were before: high prices for software that's so complicated no one can use it without expensive service contracts. 

There were a number of good points made during an opening panel led by Larry Augustin and featuring Tim O'Reilly, Simon Phipps from Sun and Rod Smith from IBM.  There was the usual discussion about how to define an open source company (developing? using? contributing?). Although it's interesting to consider whether a company can be thought of as open source (Red Hat: Yes! O'Reilly: Yes! Amazon: Yes! Oracle: No!) I'm not sure that it's a particularly relevant exercise.  There was the interesting observation that Microsoft is a significant contributor and user of open source, but that they could do much more. 

Simon Phipps made the good point that open source is not in itself a business model, but it can help lower production and marketing costs.  Simon has already defined and categorized all relevant business models that use open source, so he just shouted out the numbers whenever appropriate. (And this reminded me of the old joke about the prisoners who've been imprisoned so long they just shout out numbers instead of retelling jokes.)  The bottom line is that open source may well be a part of every business model.

Later we broke into groups, each of which focused on a particular perspective on what open source will be like in 2010.  The discussions were worthwhile even if the conclusions are unlikely to be that dramatic.  Here are a few comments from the notes I took:

  • By 2010, open source will be in the infrastructure for all companies.
  • Open source enables companies to shift from the activities around acquiring software to putting it to work. 
  • Marketing will evolve to be focused on community. (Some called it the "death of marketing" but I think it's more of an evolution.  But in any evolution, there are a few species who will become extinct and Marketing may have more than its share of dinosaurs.)
  • Around 1/3 of the audience believed that the old monolithic software companies would evolve from earning revenues from licenses to services. (And I think this is already taking place.)
  • More transparency means more efficiency in development, integration and even sales & marketing.
  • Features will continue to become less important than price, convenience and reliability.
  • Open source will easily take root in well-understood mature markets.

If you're in the bay area and are part of a high-tech startup or work with high-tech startups, I strongly encourage you to join SDForum.  There are also a couple of other reports from SDForum in the links below.  I believe the opening and closing sessions were recorded in audio and should be available on ITConversations at some point. 


OSBC San Francisco

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I got an email reminder message (several actually) from Matt Asay about the upcoming OSBC conference in San Francisco.  For those of you in high tech in silicon valley who want to understand open source, or anyone looking for a fun way to spend Valentine's day, OSBC is the place to be.  It's the first and best business conference about open source.  Two years ago, when Matt started the conference, open source business sounded like an oxymoron.  Now it's practically a mantra in the valley.  Keynotes include the likes of Nick "Does IT matter?" Carr from Harvard, John Roberts from SugarCRM, Bill Hilf from Microsoft, Peter Thielf from Paypal, Jonathan Schwartz from Sun and Lawrence Lessig from Stanford.

Don't think about it, just sign up.


Doc Searls at SDForum

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Doc Searls, co-author of the ClueTrain Maniphesto, gave a closing address called "What I'm Still Learning from Open Source" at the SD Forum open source gathering last week.  Doc made a number of interesting observations which I will try to paraphrase. 

  • Open Source adoption typically happens when the engineers take over.  Adoption decisions are rarely made at the top, it's done by the developers themselves.  It's Do-it-yourself (DIY) IT. Its used when customers need to build solutions for themselves.  They want to save money and get stuff done.
  • There's a lot more open source usage going on than we know about (or will read about in the press.)  Lawyers don't want to have their engineers talk about what they're doing with open source.  Too many lawyers got spooked by SCO and their lawsuits.  So the press continues to write the fluffy "sports stories" pitched by the big IT vendor marketing departments rather than the in-the-trenches reality from developers. 
  • Software is like the construction industry, which is the oldest profession and generates over $5 trillion dollars.  We even share a common vocabulary: architects, design, developers, tools, platforms, structures, sites and "under construction."  The construction industry likes commoditization.  It enables modular solutions.  Anyone can get started.  There's no single platform or lock-in.
  • Open source is typically reactive and adaptive.  As a result the open source projects tend to be conservative, whearas companies tend to be proactive.
  • If you want to use code and have others use it, the GPL is the best choice of license.  (Though here, Doc admitted that he was biased about licensing.)

Doc also drew upon some research from the Burton Group discussing the interelation between open vs. closed systems and infrastructure vs. commercial solutions.  Drawing from his interviews with Craig Burton of the Burton Group, Doc discussed the difference between open source and proprietary, suggesting that a more accurate continuum is open vs. closed and proprietary vs. public domain.  The important point is that commoditization can drive a truck through scarce proprietary closed solutions to create a ubiquitous open and public infrastructure.  That's what open source is all about. 

Burton_ubiquity_1 

And it's exactly why open source drives closed source proprietary companies crazy.  They can't control it!  And it eliminates the "scarcity tax" they use to charge their customers premium prices.  How do you keep selling a $50,000 per CPU for proprietary enterprise software when you can download an open source solution for free? 

That's a good question.  I suspect it will drive a few closed source companies to try to "lock down" open source by buying up promising open source companies and then gradually turning them into closed source.  It's like the old "embrace, extend & extinguish" tactic.  But the reality is that the commoditization is going to happen anyways.  Once the source code is out, it's hard to lock it up again. And maybe that's why Doc Searls and others are big proponents of the GPL. 

Here are a couple of useful links to Doc Searls commentaries:


TheOpenForce.com

After much procrastination, I have set up a domain name with the proper mapping for this blog.  So you can now reach it as www.theopenforce.com.   The blog is still hosted at www.typepad.com and all earlier bookmarks should still work.

Addendum: I have had reports that the RSS feed is not working. However, you should be able to get it at as before, e.g. http://zurlocker.typepad.com/theopenforce/atom.xml 


Apple's New Intel Macs

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Wouldn't you know it just a few weeks after I bought my father a Mac for Christmas, Steve Jobs beats his previous target dates by announcing and shipping Intel-based Macs at MacExpo last week. I don't think my father is enough of a power user to notice the difference, but for most Mac heads, the new Intel-based Macs are nothing but good news. 

Not only do a lot of the MySQL developers and the open source community in general use and love the Mac, it seems to be an increasingly popular platform among our customers.  In our most recent user survey over the holidays, Mac OS/X users accounted for about 12% of respondents. This is an increase over the last year, and puts the Mac on par with Solaris.  It's still a far cry from Linux or Windows, but the trend for the Mac is going up whereas the trend for Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, Netware is not. 

Thanks to some fast work from our build team and the web team, we now have Mac intel binaries of the MySQL community edition available for download. Since MySQL runs on more than 2 dozen platforms, it was a pretty straightforward recompile with GCC; but its still great to have it so quickly. 

Apple's reasons for switching to Intel are clear.  They can deliver higher performance CPUs with lower power consumption and ride the Intel commoditization curve making their machines more competitive. The side benefit is that the Mac may become a more attractive and easier platform for ISVs to support.  That should increase the number of software titles available for the Mac, further increasing the size of the market.

The new Intel iMac's run at a theoretical speed that is 2-3x faster than the old G5 processor, but that's based on somewhat arbitrary (and unrealistic) benchmarks.  For most casual users, you might notice a modest 25-30% performance on some tasks.  That's not bad, but it's an incremental improvement at best.  For certain CPU-bound tasks, like crunching video files, there can be more significant improvements.  However, it does appear that the I/O is more efficient on the Intel-based Macs, so copying files and presumably compiling source code or running a database should see more significant improvements.  One of our partners, Zimbra, has seen significant performance improvements on the Intel-based Macintoshes.

For now, all of the Apple supplied software has been ported to the Intel chip set with nice performance improvements for QuickTime, iTunes, iLife etc.  We're also starting to see a steady supply of announcements form third party Mac ISVs who have or are planning on native ports to Intel.  Most older Mac software will run automatically using the built-in Rosetta fancy-pants dynamic binary translator software developed by the high-IQ code wonks from a company called Transitive.  The added oomph of the Intel Core Duo will be pretty much offset by the Rosetta translator, so its a bit of a wash.  Graphics programs, like PhotoShop are the programs that will most benefit from native Intel performance, so you may wish to wait until they're available before switching to Intel.

For more info, take a look at the articles and links below.  And if anyone wants to report on their experience with the Intel Macs, post comments and let me know.


InfoWorld runs on LAMP

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There's an interesting editorial in InfoWorld about SQL Server where Sean McCown, a noted SQL Server author and InfoWorld reviewer, says that only "tree huggers" would use an open source database. Maybe he should have checked with the IT staff at InfoWorld since they run MySQL and the LAMP stack extensively in InfoWorld's operations.  In fact InfoWorld's former CTO Chad Dickerson, frequently wrote about their use of MySQL and other open source products. I've put a few quotes and links below.  But maybe Chad is just a tree hugger. 

Maybe Alcatel, Cardinal Health, the Census Bureau, CNet, Evite, Friendser, The Gap, Google, Lufthansa, Macy's, Nasa, Nokia, Orbitz, Sabre, Sony, Suzuki, Tellme Networks, TicketMaster and eight million other MySQL users are all tree huggers.  Heck, we're being over-run by tree huggers!  Ok, Craigslist is a customer too, and they probably are tree huggers.  (And they run a very scalable, profitable tree-hugging business.)

InfoWorld: May 16, 2003

"In my day-to-day IT reality, open source technologies play a central role: infoworld.com runs Linux/Apache, I use MySQL inside and outside of work for fun, and I keep up with less-hyped but mature technologies such as FreeBSD and PostgresSQL. I've been a Linux user since 1994."

InfoWorld: August 15, 2003

"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."

Infoworld: August 6, 2004

"To a large degree, InfoWorld runs on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) architecture, which gives us great latitude in what Linux distribution we use."

InfoWorld: October 22, 2004

"In areas where outsourcing doesn't make sense and IT needs to build custom functionality unavailable in commercial products, open source is an increasingly viable choice. Just this week I needed to quickly load a 10,000-record database for some basic SQL-based analysis, so I created a MySQL database on my OS X machine (Linux would have worked equally well) using phpMyAdmin, then loaded the data. Minutes later, I was using the query features of phpMyAdmin to do interactive business analysis of the data. The benefits don't end with small projects."

InfoWorld: June 28, 2005

"I am running out of options for areas in my IT operation that legitimately shouldn’t be open source. Operating system? Linux works like a champ. Web server? If you’re not running Apache at this point, what are you doing? Database layer? MySQL scales fine for most Web-based apps, and basic master/slave software clustering for it is free, which can save roughly six figures over a commercial solution if you’re running more than a couple of database servers."

InfoWorld's reviews are generally good and McCown rightly points out some of the features that SQL Server has that are not found in MySQL. Our design philosophy is that when it comes to features, more is not always better. Often products get sluggish and bloated suffer from featuritis.  Our goal at MySQL is to deliver on performance, reliability and ease of use; we have purposefully decided not to focus on having the longest list of features. 

Nonetheless, for McCown to dismiss open source users as tree huggers misses the point entirely.  Open source is a growing phenomena for many companies who focus on getting the job done cost-effctively, InfoWorld included.