Its so simple. If only Id remembered. Instead of dissing Oracle and trying to wrap my head around SQL injections, all I have to do to get readers attention is this: Write an article comparing the “lite” versions of proprietary databases to MySQL. Without mentioning Firebird or PostgreSQL.
Thats exactly what I did recently, and although it resulted in a gratifying onslaught of mail, I dont like making PostgreSQL users blood pressure skyrocket.
Both PostgreSQL and Firebird are very useful, robust open-source databases, not to be overlooked. And its far too easy to do just that, with these marketing-deprived outfits.
I had taken a look at Builder AUs review, which rated MySQL at the top of the list in comparison to SQL Server Express, DB2 Express and Oracle 10g Standard Edition.
The review had gotten Slashdotted—twice, that I noticed—but nobody had taken a serious look at the quality of the review or its basic premise.
And the premise, I thought, was funky: Builder AU created a hypothetical online business, relatively small, that sells books and DVDs. The business needs to grow, so it needs a database that can scale from a dual processor or four-way server on up to a small server farm. But the important thing was to do it on the cheap—hence, the free or close-to-free versions.
A few people mentioned that you just wouldnt base a business on these lite databases, which are primarily intended for marketing purposes (although an IBM insider pointed out that DB2 Express has been around for a while and is “a serious piece of engine,” with no parallelism restrictions on operations, except scale-out, no real RAM limits that most two-way servers would exceed, support for 64-bit and built-in autonomics).
At any rate, the premise of the comparison did in fact spark something for readers, who flooded my inbox with their own tales of making their own databases from scratch with dBase or using the light versions just as comfy at-home hack tools and, of course, with reasons why the media should stop overlooking PostgreSQL and InterSystems Cache and Firebird.
Steve Lane, vice president of Soliant Consulting Inc., pointed out that the discussion just cant proceed without including PostgreSQL, a database well known in the open-source world as “an extremely feature-rich, robust open-source database that has long boasted enterprise-class features such as transactions, triggers and stored procedures: features which MySQL has only just added in the Version 5 release, and which have yet to be extensively tested.”
And then theres Firebird. Doug Chamberlin wrote in to say, “Why use lite versions of any database when you can use free, fully functional, fully relational open-source databases?
“Firebird is fully open source and has been around, in one form or another, for over 20 years,” he wrote. “It has thousands of installations handling databases in the hundreds of gigabytes [range] down to those with hundreds of records. The Firebird approach pioneered zero administration database technology.”
Theyre both right, and theyre not alone. Check out the Builder AU reader response section for more snubbed-database user feedback. I had seen it and somehow it completely slipped my mind to mention it. Mea culpa.
Why does the media keep forgetting these other open-source databases? Quite simply, the communities dont pay people to be in our faces all day. Lane nailed it:
“MySQL is backed by a commercial firm, so their marketing has always far outstripped that of PostgreSQL,” he wrote. “This explains much of the pervasiveness of MySQL in the public mindset. As a long-time user of PostgreSQL, I almost always end up wishing the media covered it more extensively.”
My New Years resolution: Stop forgetting PostgreSQL. Stop forgetting Firebird.
Next Page: How are people using light databases?
How Are People Using
On the “MySQL is still a toy” front, Jared Nedzel wrote in to say that hes sorry, but he will not be using a database that doesnt maintain referential integrity.
“Are there a lot of unnecessary features in Oracle? Sure. But it has referential integrity that works,” Nedzel wrote.
“The most important thing about a database is not its speed or its ease of use,” he continued. “The most important thing is that it safeguards the data. Everything else is secondary.”
If MySQL users are still having serious issues with referential integrity—with Version 5.0? With earlier versions?—please let me know. If its an issue eWEEK needs to explore, Im there.
When it comes to getting lighter than light, one reader prefers a featherweight. Reilly Burke, technical advisor for Aero Training Products Inc., wrote in about a complete dBase database application server for Linux the company created.
His company runs its Web site with it, and for what they need, “Its light, fast and reliable,” he wrote. “It also imports and exports from Excel spreadsheet formats, and so it cooperates nicely with OpenOffice, MS Excel, etc.”
Its not rocket science, but it does all the e-commerce that Aero needs—which is really what light versions are all about, from a user perspective anyway, right? “The entire Web site fits into a standard $25/month ISP package, so we dont need an IT department, security specialists, etc.,” Burke wrote. You can check out the companys site at here.
But what about people who are actually using the light versions of the proprietary databases? What do they do with these things?
Jacob F. Love, lead business administrator for Information Technology at the University of Michigans College of Engineering, said hes using a light version of Oracle at home for small projects or the occasional nonprofit that he helps out.
This, he pointed out, is the reverse of Microsofts strategy of getting people hooked on the free product and hoping theyll upgrade.
“I use Oracle at work, so when I want to develop at home … its great to have a freebie that I can use without learning another product,” he wrote. “Ive tried using Access and Filemaker for these sorts of things, but I inevitably reach a point where even though I could fire up Visual Basic or Filemakers macro language, I realize that everything I want is pre-built in Oracle, so it makes more sense just to go with that rather than reinventing the wheel.”
Finally, David Darling wrote in to relay some recent experiences with SQL Express 2005.
For his Web-based document-management applications DocDockFREE and DocDockPRO (available on download.com, ZDNet Downloads, MSN Dowloads, etc.), he needed something that was available for wide-scale distribution at low or no cost to the user.
He said the product is “super easy to use and eliminates most, if not all of the problems” he had encountered with MySQL and the others with respect to user setup.
“Simply create an empty database within the App_Data directory of a .NET 2.0 Web application and run a script against it to create the table structure of the database as well as any required default data needed by your application,” he said.
“Copy the completed database to a backup location (for safety). A client simply installs your ASP.NET 2 Web application to a Windows server running IIS. Your completed and ready-to-use database is installed along with the application, and should the target server not have .NET Framework 2 or SQL Express 2005 installed on them, they will automatically be downloaded from Microsoft and installed for the user.”
Two simple steps later to change the security settings on the installed database, and the Web application is ready to go, Darling said.
Darling said hes had better luck with SQL Express than with open-source databases that have failed due to database configuration or setup issues.
Darling did point out what he called a little-known SQL Express 2005 nasty, though: “Microsoft really does not want thousands of independent developers competing with them in the new on-demand world,” he wrote.
“To that end, they slipped a restriction into the licensing file of the production release of the SQL Express 2005 product. As long as your distributed applications are used by end-user companies directly the software can be used free of charge. Try to develop next-generation hostable Web applications that can be rented by the thousands, and suddenly your application must use the commercial database product for its data store.”
Well, yes, but isnt that the point of SQL Express? To sell more commercial licenses? If its unpalatable, theres always PostgreSQL.
Another reader points out that, now that stored procedures are available in MySQL 5.0, DBAs will be needed somewhat more than before, because stored procedure writing can become “quite twisted.”
Its getting hard to win, isnt it? But the silver lining is that DBAs can look forward to good employment prospects in the new year. Have a Happy New Year, keep writing twisted stored procedures, and keep writing to me with these tales of trying to do databases on the down and dirty.
Lisa Vaas is Ziff Davis Internets news editor in charge of operations. She is also the editor of eWEEK.coms Database and Business Intelligence topic center. She has been with eWEEK and eWEEK.com since 1995, most recently covering enterprise applications and database technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.