By Russell J.T. Dyer

Linux was first started
to fill a simple need by a young man at a university in Finland. In a short
period of time, a bunch of people joined in and helped him to develop Linux
into something spectacular, a dependable operating system now used by some of
the biggest corporations in the world. This story has been repeated for a
variety of open-source software which are community
driven and usually developed by volunteers and are free to use.

Some open-source
software, though, has either been started by standard businesses or has in part
been corralled by commercial enterprise). For an example of the former, other
companies like MySQL AB (owners of the database
system of the same name) have created software with the intention of
controlling its development, while still grounding it in the community. For an
example of the latter, Red Hat has harnessed Linux in part by providing an
easy-to-install distribution and related software. For both of these business
models, though, seizing revenues in large amounts has been difficult compared
to closed-source counter-parts like Microsoft. To prosper financially, open
source businesses have had to offer ancillary services for which they can
collect revenues. Simple enough in a normal corporate business, but it requires
keen salesmanship to convince business managers that they should use
open-source software to save money (among other reasons) and then convince them
to pay for related services.

They’ve been developing
the MySQL database system for ten years now. It now rivals
huge competitors such as Oracle on speed and stability. Where they differ is on
price. Oracle takes in huge amounts of revenues from the sale of their software.
Conversely, MySQL offers their software either for
free or for only a few hundred dollars depending on the user’s needs. There
haven’t been many instances of the six million installations of MySQL in which purchasing a license has been required. So, MySQL AB also offers support, consulting, and outright
database design services for a fee. Since there’s nothing like hiring the
people who make the software, it does gives them an
edge. Unfortunately, it hasn’t put them on the Fortune 500 list.
A little here and a little there can add up, but it’s not the big money that
you’d expect from a software company that boasts of 35,000 downloads of their
product a day.

To be able to recognize
some serious revenue, though, these companies have to have even more specialized
business savvy. To that end, MySQL has recently
introduced a package called MySQL Network
– much like Red Hat Network. It includes access to support around the
clock, access to their new subscriber-only knowledge base, notices e-mailed to
subscribers or their cell-phones to alert them of any security vulnerabilities
found, and notices for new updates and patches as they come available. These
features are excellent for an administrator of a large system to stay on top of
her job and to resolve problems quickly and sometimes before they can happen. MySQL Network also includes access to an FTP site for
certified binaries and upgrades for MySQL software,
and warranty and indemnification for the software. Red Hat and Novell offer
similar packages related to Linux. Planned for release later this year, MySQL Network will also include software you can install on
your server to regularly analyze your system and settings and to make
suggestions on changes. This is similar to Novell Ximian’s
Red Carpet; however, the suggestions will include not only recommended software
upgrades and patches, but also recommended changes for security and
performance, based on your server’s particular needs and usage–A very neat
service.

Conclusion

Some purists may
dislike the growth of open-source companies like MySQL
over Posgresql, Red Hat over Debian,
and so forth. However, those strictly community driven choices will always be
available. And, the good news is that by carving out some revenues for
themselves through professional services, companies like MySQL
and Red Hat will survive, giving users and businesses affordable alternatives
that meet their individual and enterprise requirements.

For more information on
the trends happening with open source companies, read our interview
with the Zack Urlocker, MySQL
AB’s Vice President of Marketing.

Russell Dyer is a Perl
programmer and a MySQL developer living and working
in New Orleans. He is the author of MySQL
in a Nutshell
(O’Reilly 2005). He can be reached at
russell@dyerhouse.com.