Sun's Mickos says he's OK with MySQL co-founder's 5.1 rant

Database VP: criticism of release by Widenius 'is part of being an open-source company'

Michael "Monty" Widenius, original developer of the MySQL open-source database, put a damper on Sun Microsystems Inc.'s recent release of MySQL 5.1 with a now-infamous Nov. 29 blog post that trashed the company's decision to give the update a "generally available" designation.

Widenius, who is the chief technology officer for Sun's MySQL operation, warned users to be "very cautious about MySQL 5.1" because "there are still many known and unknown fatal bugs in the new features that are still not addressed."

The comments of Widenius sparked considerable debate last week, with some observers questioning how long he would remain at Sun — which bought MySQL in January for $1 billion — in light of such public insubordination. Sun confirmed earlier this year that Widenius was considering leaving the company; his fellow MySQL co-founder David Axmark already resigned in early October.

But Marten Mickos, who was CEO of MySQL AB before the acquisition and is now senior vice president of Sun's database group, said in an interview on Monday that Widenius remains at the company and that his public criticisms reflect Sun's open-source ethics.

"I learned over many years about the benefits and the painfulness of absolute transparency in open source," Mickos said. "A little bit of debate never hurts. This is part of being an open-source company. People are free to blog about what they want."

In his blog post, Widenius pointed blame directly at Mickos for what he considered to be the too-early designation of MySQL 5.1 as a generally available product.

"We have changed the release model so that instead of focusing on quality and features our release is now defined by timeliness and features," Widenius wrote. "Quality is not regarded to be that important. To quote Marten Mickos: 'MySQL 5.1 will be release[d] as GA in or before December because I say so.'" He added that Mickos "needs something he can sell" and that a GA version is easier to market to users than one designated as a release candidate.

Mickos declined to address the specific points Widenius made in the post, but said that the long-delayed 5.1 release is "great" and that he is "very confident" about the software. The release has been downloaded more than 250,000 times in its first 10 days of general availability, according to Sun.

Meanwhile, Widenius sought to clarify his position in a follow-up comment that he added to his blog on Sunday.

"I think that MySQL 5.1 is a good *recommended* release, especially now when MySQL/Sun is providing full support for it," Widenius wrote. "What I disagree with is giving MySQL 5.1 a GA status, which at least for me, implicates it has no crashing or other serious bug that affects normal operation. That said, work on MySQL 5.1 continues and if things goes well [we'll] reach this goal more sooner than later."

Other MySQL team members are defending the decision to place MySQL 5.1 in GA status.

"I absolutely trust the judgment of MySQL management and the ability of my fellow engineers," Christopher Powers, a senior software engineer at MySQL, wrote in a blog post of his own on Sunday.

Powers added that he has developed "operating systems, telecommunication software, database microkernels, medical device firmware and, most importantly, applications for the wholesale distribution of beer" during his IT career. "Every single one of these products shipped with known bugs — serious bugs — and every single one of these products shipped with at least someone strongly questioning the decision to ship," he wrote. "And the bugs got fixed and then we moved on."

In a lengthy post on Monday, another Sun employee detailed the internal processes and logistical issues that led up to the GA announcement on MySQL 5.1.

"MySQL 5.1 didn't start on the right foot," wrote Giuseppe Maxia, MySQL Community team leader at Sun. "The effort to produce its features was underestimated, mostly because, at the time when it was designed, the company was still unearthing the architectural bugs that were haunting MySQL 5.0."

But Sun didn't recklessly push out the GA release in response to marketing concerns, according to Maxia. A desire to ship the 5.1 software before last April's annual MySQL user conference "was rightfully dwarfed by the discovery of new, more disturbing bugs," he wrote, adding that Sun then put out two more release-candidate versions "while the developers fought to fix a staggering number of bugs" — more than 3,500 altogether.

Sun's marketing and sales executives were pushing for a GA release in June, Maxia said — a position that he described as "understandable," in light of the company's continuing losses and layoffs. But, he added, the remaining bugs were "so bad" that MySQL customer support and community staffers continued to object to making the software generally available.

"In a joint effort," Maxia wrote, "we identified 40 critical bugs that needed fixing before going GA" — an agreement that the company lived up to.

Nonetheless, MySQL's development process is "very much closed source" he wrote. "The obstacles toward opening the development model are quite a few. [But] the important point is that everyone agrees on the need for change, and we are working toward this goal."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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