Open-Source Database Buying Suggestions

One of the more common questions I hear is, "What database should I use under Linux?" That is a pleasantly difficult question because there are a number of choices, depending on what you want to accomplish.

If you're looking for a large commercial database such as Oracle or DB2 to run on Linux, the solution may be to run Oracle or DB2. Many of the most prominent commercial databases established a presence in the Linux world years ago, so you can usually stay with your current database vendor under Linux.

But if you're looking for open-source alternatives, there are several. One of the most visible options is MySQL. Unlike most commercial databases, MySQL is less concerned with having every possible feature and more concerned with maximizing speed. As a result, some database administrators make the mistake of thinking MySQL is a toy because it currently doesn't have support for stored procedures, triggers and views.

But MySQL is no toy. It's an extremely fast, sleek engine favored by Web designers for years. The few features it lacks will arrive, but only after the core team deems them fast enough to meet the project's speed requirements. The developers refuse to slow down the engine's trademark quickness for the sake of adding features that are unused by a large number of customers. During the frantic era of the dot-com boom, many organizations started using MySQL to power their Web pages. Its fast queries, minimal administration and the fact that it's free made it a winner. But in the aftermath, these organizations are discovering that this "little" database can do a whole lot.

On the other side of the coin is PostgreSQL. Begun as a research project at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1980s, PostgreSQL is a database engine focused on stability and high volume. It boasts an impressive array of features and availability on a wide number of Unix platforms; it will feature native Windows compatibility with its next release. It also includes graphical user interfaces for database administration under both Linux and Windows.

PostgreSQL is a solid engine that has seen significant improvements over the years. It is also becoming quite popular with organizations seeking open-source solutions to large databases.

Another open-source database that's beginning to turn heads is Firebird. Born of the opening of Interbase's source code, Firebird seems to be gathering fans in the open-source world. Given Interbase's long history, Firebird is quite mature for a relatively new open-source entry.

Which one of these open-source database engines fits your needs? That's up to you. And since they are open source, you don't need some expensive contract just to try them out. You can simply download them and begin testing, or better yet just install them from most common Linux distributions.

Pavlicek is an independent open-source consultant. Contact him at

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This story, "Open-Source Database Buying Suggestions" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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