SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The patent wars are red-hot.
The OSI (Open Source Initiative) board earlier this month issued a statement condemning open-source license proliferation as “a significant barrier to open-source deployment.” For its part, Intel requested in late March that OSI withdraw one of Intels patents from future use. Meta Group analyst Charlie Garry is predicting that through 2010, enterprises will flee from the steep fees of database software licensing and into the embrace of open source.
Thats great, say the founders of the open-source MySQL database—David Axmark and Michael “Monty” Widenius—now take it a step further and kill all the software patents, and wed be getting somewhere.
The duo sat down with Database Editor Lisa Vaas after their opening keynote at MySQL ABs third user conference Tuesday.
They were bullish on the upcoming enterprise-class features of 5.0 and on their beloved community, upon which the company relies for scrupulous bug fixing, but they also had some choice words for what they consider the undemocratic notion of software patents.
First, 5.0. Whats still missing?
Widenius: Weve got the most demand for big features. What weve done, some parts work extremely well, and some parts are just working. Now we want to get the working parts working really well. In the past, and now to some extent, MySQL has been good for production use, when you know what the application is doing and you know how to do queries in a good way, following good practice.
But at times, users dont have full control of the database. They can add queries without knowing whats efficient and what is not. MySQL, you just have to rewrite the query a bit. We could be much better with ad hoc queries.
Youve just announced a new migration tool, MySQL Migration Suite. Are you seeing increased migration from other databases?
Widenius: In practice, we can migrate data close to perfect. But stored procedures, we dont really do that.
Axmark: [The new tool] generates scripts that you can hand-edit if youre a power user.
Widenius: In principle, we are doing useful tools. Thats a big difference [between us and Microsoft Corp.]. For example, a Windows user, if they want to read with something, they have to click a thousand times.
Axmark: You have to do everything in the GUI, with Windows. [Users] get pissed off. They want to get at the data under the GUI. Our first release, you have the API, you have tools to work with the data, and you have tools on top of it. You can use it at both the high and low levels. When I use tools, I like tools that help me.
Widenius: [And our new tool,] thats for everybody. Usually the user community will not pay. They will help with bug reports, [etc.]
Why not patent this
sentence?”> Speaking of the user community, it must be exponentially larger than when you first launched MySQL, 10 years ago.
Widenius: Our best guess now is 6 million.
Axmark: One point is, you have a university student who wont pay for anything. He sits down, plays with it, likes it, and eventually gets the enterprise to use it. [Is that one download, or how many?] But the number of bugs doesnt grow exponentially.
Widenius: And we have a much bigger team now fixing the bugs. That doesnt mean we have much more bugs than before. … [But] the new community is so ingenious, to use new software in ways you wouldnt suspect. The community [puts out a level of] effort for us to find bugs that would be impossible to find otherwise.
Axmark: Like we said in the keynote, the MySQL community [gets] all the source code, all the features. So if you have [a proprietary] application, you see a price for full text search, or for replication, and you have to pay more for it. But if everythings available as an option [as with MySQL], everyone uses it, so it all gets tested. [By] hundreds of thousands of people, instead of [hundreds or thousands of testers for proprietary software].
Widenius: A lot of people store e-mail in [the MySQL] database and use full text search to find it. They couldnt use that in proprietary [databases].
Axmark: In the proprietary market, you always sell to guys who can spend thousands. In open source, [you give it away to everybody]. Advanced enterprise [features] go all the way down [to the most frugal user]. Its about fixing the thousands of small things that matter to people.
Obviously, thats very democratic, in the true spirit of open source. But you both go beyond democratic code distribution and believe that, basically, software patents are absurd, correct?
Widenius: Weve been against software patents for more than 10 years.
Axmark: I joined the League for Programming Freedom, [an organization that opposes software patents and user interface copyrights] when it was founded in the United States.
Widenius: [Patents] just stall innovation. Look at an extension of patents. I dont see any difference in a software program and a recipe in a book. Its the same thing to me as a programmer. Its them saying, “Youre not allowed to write the sentence youre writing right now because somebody patented it.”
Why should some books be banned and some not? Just because its electronic media. I could say I should be able to patent sentences.
Axmark: Yes, that would mean you get a really big mess, so then youd have to fix it. Thats one thing we like about Oracle: Theyre against patents. Check out NoSoftwarePatents.com for quotes from Larry Ellison.
BlackBerry was sued for $450 million because you can transfer e-mail electronically. Something so trivial that anybody could come up with. One problem is patents, and another is what the judge says the patent is worth. Why should that technology be worth $450 million? It makes no sense.