Subject: Re: Tim's paradigm shift
From: Adam Turoff <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jul 2004 01:04:35 -0400

On Wed, Jul 07, 2004 at 01:20:54PM -0700, Tim O'Reilly wrote:
> >And it doesn't explain why MySQL has been so successful.  They employ
> >100% of the code committers to MySQL - no architecture of
> >participation (unless you count QA, and that does count).  They're
> >open source in  some different sense of the word than the purists
> >would like to use, but  it's a sense that is bringing them dollars.
> >More on this below.
> They have neatly slotted themselves into a component of the overall  
> architecture.  Intel didn't have a participatory architecture either.   

Actually, this is a red herring.  MySQL *does* have a participatory
architecture.  It's just due to wrinkles with copyright law and
licensing issues that make it easier for them to rewrite submitted
patches and own the IP than it is to deal with complicated issues of 
ownership from a thousand different contributors.

There is still plenty of room to participate.  Using the GPL, MySQL
preserves Brian's right-to-fork.  This can range from the macro scale,
where users add new features to the database, to the micro scale, where
a single user makes a patch to fix a bug in the local installation.
Both are important, as are non-code related contributions, like writing
books, articles, FAQs and tutorials; answering questions on a mailing
list; and building support for MySQL into other platforms like Perl,
AOLServer, Gnome and the like.

When we talk about making changes to open source software, most people
tend to think in terms of grandiose macro-scale changes, like adding
TrueType support to X11.  However, the micro-scale changes are much more
common and, I would assert, much more important.  These changes may
never get committed back in the mainline, but these are the same kinds
of changes that keep a system up and running for years using
functional-but-obsolete software packages.  

MySQL has a large and growing community around its software.  The
structure of this community makes it easy for new users to join and
start using the product.  At the heart is a dedicated developer team
that is kind, courteous, responsive, and friendly (all the way to the
CEO).  They are supported by a salesforce that is anxious to keep
customers happy.  But more important than MySQL AB is the large user
community that helps itself through all of the standard fora.[*]

So why is MySQL more popular than mSQL, PostgreSQL, FirebirdSQL or even
SQLite?  It cannot be technology, since MySQL redefined the bare minimum
feature set for a relational database server, below what most thought
was possible.  I would say that the answer has a lot to do with
participation -- MySQL was the easiest product in its category to set up
and configure, which made it easy for new users to try out.  As an open
source product, it was always possible to contribute to MySQL, at either
the macro-scale (submitting bug fixes and new features), or at the
micro-scale (patches for the local installation), or with non-code
related contributions.


*: This is what Larry Wall described as the "outer layers of the onion,
   where you find nearly all of the mass, and all of the growth."