% fortune -ae paul murphy

Sun vs. MySQL: the Widenius theses

Last week Michael Widenius, founder and original developer of MySQL, blasted Sun in a 4,400 word rant titled Oops, we did it again (MySQL 5.1 released as GA with crashing bugs).

Some excerpts will give you the flavor:

Here follows some of the main reasons why MySQL development department again got a quality problem with a GA release:


One would have thought that MySQL AB (now the MySQL department at Sun) should have learned something from our too early release of MySQL 5.0 but unfortunately this is not the case. The main argument I have heard for why MySQL 5.1 was declared as GA now is that it's better than MySQL 5.0 was when it was declared as GA. In my opinion, this is not a good reason to declare something GA, especially as 5.0 GA was in terrible shape when it was released. What is worse is that the new features in MySQL 5.1 are of no better quality than new features in MySQL 5.0 was at the time MySQL 5.0 was declared GA.

As I see it, there are three distinct levels of messaging here:

  1. At the most superficial level - the level your boss likely operates at - the presence of crash causing showstoppers in this release coupled with personality conflicts among MySQL team members at Sun adds FUD to the MySQL 5.1 decision.

  2. For those who know more about database technologies there's a subsidiary message: the document is a remarkable testament to the complexities that accompany open source success as a basically simple product gets asked to do more and more -and the consequent architectural stretching leads to some leakages, some stopgaps, some serious blockages, and lots of frustration.

  3. More subtly, those who actually use database management products should get just about the opposite message your boss does: that the core product is rock solid and that users who don't push the features envelope, don't try to rejig their data definitions on the fly, and generally do standard stuff in standard ways, have nothing to worry about in making the jump to 5.1.

I don't think there are quite 92 points to this, but I could certainly see it being used against MySQL by people selling competing products to ninnies - even though techies involved in actual application delivery should more probably consider it reassuring.

The most interesting message here, however, has nothing much to do with MySQL 5.1 and is really about the team's emotional temperature as the post acquisition honeymoon nears its end - and while some of the emails I've received about Ian Murdock's role at OpenSolaris would blister the inside of a ready room coffee pot this is the first serious indication I've seen that Mårten Mickos may be following in his footsteps at the MySQL operation.

It seems to me that this is all symptomatic of the natural culture conflict arising when big companies take over open source players, because people like Widenius naturally expect to air their dirty laundry in public while the people they suddenly find themselves reporting to equally naturally rely on authority and secrecy.

And that, I think, leads to the real bottom line on this episode: since you can't merge a personality driven business into a line operation without this kind of mutually damaging blow-up, the lesson is that you either shouldn't do it at all - or get the staffing realignments needed to make it work over with the day after the paperwork gets signed.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.