Free for all

The free database looks to be the latest weapon being used by established proprietary database vendors to win back the minds and hearts of customers currently being wooed by open source upstarts.

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By  Colin Edwards Published  March 12, 2006

|~||~||~|The concept of free databases is not new. They have been coming out of the open source world fast and furiously for several years and global downloads are running into the hundreds of thousands for products such as Sleepycat, which Oracle recently acquired.

What is new to the freebie database arena is the presence of the stalwarts of the database world — IBM and Oracle. They have now joined Microsoft, which has been giving away free versions of SQL Server for several years. (See feature Freedom Express)

Just to make it easy for end users, all three vendors — plus Sybase — have named these stripped down, though fully functional, versions of their databases, ‘Express’.

Now it might be a bit cynical to say that the big players look to be running scared of open source upstarts such as MySQL, but the fact is that the proprietary systems from the Big Three, despite having considerable more functionality and features, are losing customers to their open-source counterparts.

It is the open source community that is not only winning customers through a cheaper route to database implementation, but it is also getting to the next generation of developers before the big boys and that seems to be worrying them going forward.

So, they too have now adopted a “catch-them-young” and keep-them-for-life strategy. While it is early days yet, their free to market strategy appears to be working wonders at winning the minds and hearts of people who previously might not have considered implementing a full version of the database. And that’s got to be good news for them.

IBM reports that in the first two weeks of launching DB2 Express in January, it notched up 50,000 downloads and Oracle claims hundreds of thousands since it introduced its 10G Express last October.

There are also reports that, currently, sales of SQL Server how-to books are surpassing those of MySQL, though this cannot be directly related to the release of SQL Server Express.

It is all fair in love and war and the Big Three certainly have a powerful argument to support eschewing open source in favour of products that have proved themselves commercially for many years.

Of course they want to preserve, protect and grow their markets, which is why they have to take such measures to make sure the likes of MySQL don’t get ahead of themselves. But how far are they prepared to go to make sure that open source databases remain outside the enterprise?

There are conspiracy theorists who claim that Oracle’s acquisition of InnoDB and Sleepycat Software could be a step too far in the war against open source. Far from embracing open source, Oracle’s move is seen as a means of taking two major open source database players out of the market. Once in the Oracle fold they will get lost forever in a void. I don’t believe Oracle would do such a thing. Do you?


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