MySQL Founder Resigns from Sun over Quality of MySQL 5.1

A picture of MySQL founder Michael "Monty" Widenius

I first laid eyes on Michael Widenius, the original and principle author of the MySQL database software at the 2008 MySQL Conference in San Jose.  Michael, who is more commonly known simply as “Monty”, had recently had his pride and joy, the MySQL AB company purchased by Sun Microsystems. I’d say that just about every attendee was extremely nervous about the future of MySQL, and every (new) Sun employee was eager to say “Oh, the purchase was great thing!”. There certainly was a Sun head hunter at every corner ready to hand out an application form (and a pair of boxer shorts or two).

MySQL_Boxer_shortsI left the conference having learned a lot of the techniques Lee Newton would be soon applying to the b5media database architecture. But far as the Sun purchase was concerned… I felt a little less safe. It was worrying that something that important was not quite as secure as it once was.  There was no indication something bad was about to happen, but the way things were, it was sure to be painful if something did.

So now not a year later, Monty announced today that he has quit because Sun released MySQL 5.1 without first resolving significant flaws despite Monty’s strenuous objections. Monty previously released a detailed list describing some of the “many known and unknown fatal bugs in the new features that are still not addressed.” My take from the article is that we should consider MySQL 5.1 should be considered a 5.0 maintenance release with pre-release beta features included.

Obviously Monty had spoken up to the higher ups at Sun prior to the release, but as he explained this had little affect.  I think that the open source world collided heavily with the corporate reality of “Cost, Schedule, Features, or Quality – Choose 3”. In the open source communities, the choice is simple, the schedule rarely if ever enters the mix. In this corporate battle, it obviously was one of the three chosen. Monty had been seen this coming early on and had been very vocal even back in April 2008 (see page 19) calling for Sun to “Create a release policy and independent release policy board that can’t be manipulated by people in charge of server development (to not allow anyone to sacrifice quality to reach personal goals)” Whoa… “To reach Personal Goals” – even then it sounded to me like he had someone in particular in mind. Additionally, from another comment later in the keynote: “Sun is more opensource/free software friendly than MySQL AB has been lately and is driving MySQL in the right direction” it seems obvious that there was a power struggle going on. After all MySQL AB was co-founded by Michael and he should have had significant influence over the company’s philosophies. I don’t know the rest of this particular sub-plot, but I’m certain there is more to be told.

In any case, in light of MySQL 5.1’s quality issues at time of general availability Michael tells us he immediately quit  but was talked into giving three months months to Sun for reconciliation and putting things right. That stretched into seven months, but the end result was the same. Michael announced today that he’s resigned and will be creating his own version of MySQL called MySQL-Maria which will will incorporate all MySQL updates but include rewrites and additional code to improve stability. It will be primarily developed by a new company he is forming named Monty Program Ab which will be “a true open source company”. I’m still not sure what that means, but I guess I could read up on it in more detail, if I wanted to.

So, what does this mean? Is it a good thing? I guess it is good that someone is out there fixing known bugs in MySQL, but won’t that happen anyway with an open source project? It’s great to see another company formed to further the open source movement, but can a MySQL standards war be beneficial?  Given the adoption rate of new MySQL releases, does it even matter that 5.1 was released? It’s not as if ISPs will install it anytime before 2010 by which time there will be patches.

In the end, from the clues I’ve seen I suspect this episode occurred due to a personal, philosophical dispute that Monty didn’t win. Regardless, I wish him success with his new project and thank him for providing a tool that I use ever day: MySQL.

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