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MySQL CEO Mickos: Beware of proprietary vendors' giveaways

Beware proprietary vendors bearing free software. MySQL AB CEO Marten Mickos warns users to watch out for vendor lock-in strategies and overpriced service organizations.

Open source software developers offer freebies, and the reward they reap is input that spurs advances in their creations. When a proprietary vendor offers free software, however, there is usually a hook inside, says MySQL AB CEO Marten Mickos. So, he says, look carefully before you bite.

Mickos dissects the avalanche of free express versions of proprietary enterprise software and talks about MySQL's partner programs and hosting strategy in this interview.

More proprietary vendors are offering free versions of their products or open sourcing parts or all of their base products. What should IT managers know about this trend?

MÅrten Mickos: When people use our product without paying, they're getting open source code, so they can contribute bug reports and fixes. It is not a loss for us. We get something back.

When a proprietary vendor comes out with a free express version, there is no value to that vendor other than forcing the user to upgrade. The only justification for the existence of this type of free software is to lure and lock in customers. We don't need to do that.

It is only in the English language that free has two meanings, as in free lunch and the freedom of speech. Other languages have different words to describe each concept. Americans have taught us that there is no free lunch, and proprietary vendors aren't offering a free lunch with their free express versions. They're also not offering freedom from being locked in to a proprietary product.

With free software and open source, you get something you can build on and can continue to modify. That software has and takes on a life of its own.

How do commercial open source vendors' channel partner programs differ from traditional proprietary vendors' programs?

Mickos: In the '80s and '90s, channel partners were primarily product resellers. There was a lot of excess in prices, so just getting a small percentage of the price was big revenue for resellers.

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Generally, the vendors and resellers took advantage of the customers not knowing better. They got them to overpay for crappy software. Customers then started bypassing the middleman and buying direct, but they weren't getting the services provided by the resellers. That's how vendors built up huge services organizations, like IBM Global Services. Still, there was and is a lot of price padding going on.

Prices have started going down, and open source software has helped force prices down to reasonable levels. There's no room for channel partners to make money on product price. Customers are much more critical today and will only buy something when there is sheer value.

MySQL's channel partners program is designed to make sure that we have long-lasting value in the industry. They're not just focused on meeting their vendor's sales quota in order to get a fat paycheck. Our partners, who are not defined as resellers, deliver MySQL as part of a complete multiple-product solution tailored for specific businesses. We get some money from that and, best of all, we don't have to spend money on a big services organization. That means we can focus on improving the software; or lean back, eat our pizza and do some more coding.

Users have told me that they'd like MySQL to build up its roster of channel partners more quickly. Is there a hold up?

Mickos: It takes a lot of work to get and keep the channels up to speed. Our partners have the responsibility of giving customers what they need, not what a vendor wants to sell them. That means they have to be honorable and knowledgeable. Getting partners with both traits and helping them become more knowledgeable is not something we take lightly or do too speedily.

Our partners help us educate customers, too. Customers can never get away from the responsibility of knowing what they are buying. Look at those people who bought ERP systems years ago and spent 10 times the purchase amount on integration, because they didn't know what they were buying.

RightNow and other hosting, or software-as-service, providers are using MySQL. Are service providers now the primary target market for MySQL? If so, will there be less emphasis on the end users?

Mickos: We get some revenues from the hosting providers. We are not afraid that that will cannibalize our business. MySQL has an enormous, growing base of users, and when those users' implementations go mission critical, they will need support from us. We don't think there is any reason that we would run out of market opportunity with users. We also don't think that everyone will go with the hosting model, but many will and MySQL will be working behind the scenes for them.

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