MySQL founder tries new software licensing model – TechCrunch

When it comes to open source licensing, developers have their fair share of choices (GPL, BSD, MIT, Apache, etc.), each with their own pros and cons. The same goes for commercial licenses. MySQL founder Michael “Monty” Widenius and his co-founder David Axmark, however, proposed a different model a few years ago: the Business Source License (BSL).

This new license offers an alternative to the open-source and open-source licenses that many startups choose for their software, and, for the first time, Widenius’ new company, MariaDB, is now using it for one of its products. .

In some ways, the BSL is akin to a freemium model for software licensing (with an open source twist). As Widenius explained to me, the BSL allows developers to set a limit for the number of servers/CPUs/etc. their software can run in production (there are no usage limits for test environments, only production usage). Use beyond this incurs license fees.

It looks like a fairly standard commercial license, but the problem here is that all source code is available at all times and the BSL license has an expiration date. After a certain period of time (say three years), the license expires and reverts to an open source license like the GPL or any other license chosen by the developer.

“It can create a whole new ecosystem,” Widenius told me. “And even if you don’t get open source right away, we’ll be making many more open source apps in the future.” These are strong words; given his background in the open source world, it’s worth taking a closer look at how and why he and Axmark created the BSL.

This can create a whole new ecosystem. And even if you don’t get open source right away, we’ll be making many more open source apps in the future. Monty Widenius

Widenius has a good licensing background and to a large extent made a fortune out of the licensing choice he made for MySQL. “For some products like MySQL, GPL is actually the ideal license because MySQL is something companies want to build into their own products,” he explained. To integrate a GPL-licensed product into your own product, you must also open the source code of your software. For these users, MySQL AB, the company founded by Widenius and Axmark, offered a commercial license.

By the time they sold MySQL AB to Sun in 2008, 70% of the company’s revenue came from licensing. “That’s why MySQL had a huge valuation,” Widenius said. “We were a product company and people had to pay for it in certain situations.”

Widenius actually wanted to use a variant of BSL earlier, “but at the time the management team weren’t as far-sighted as our current team, so they decided to go with closed source.” Then, a few years ago, he noticed that a lot of startups were coming to his venture capital firm Open Ocean and they wanted to do open source for end-user products. For these companies, the dual licensing model that worked so well for MySQL was not going to work, because these users were not going to integrate the software into their own products and therefore had no reason to pay for a license.

What most companies that want to do open source do in this case is try to grow their business by offering services around these open source tools. Widenius does not believe in this model (although he acknowledges that it has worked for some companies). “It works for companies that support a project – people support Ubuntu and make money from it,” he said. “But companies that don’t have licenses can almost never make a product.” Why? Because if you get 10% margin on a good support person, you need 10 support people to pay a developer. According to him, this model is not to scale.

So, at MariaDB, the team decided to license the latest version of their MaxScale database proxy under the BSL (MariaDB itself is a fork of MySQL, so it’s forever tied to the GPL open license source under which MySQL is licensed).

As far as Widenius knows, two or three other companies have already used the license as well, but he thinks many more are sitting on the sidelines waiting for a big company to follow suit. The team is also working on documents that will give developers a framework for moving their software to the BSL.

Developers who wish to adopt BSL for a new project need only fill in four lines: the name of the product, the restrictions that set limits on when users will have to pay, the change data when the license becomes open again – source license and to which license it belongs.

Because you end up moving license dates with each update, developers will be incentivized to keep their software up-to-date and innovate. But if they don’t – or if the user is happy to use an old product – the new license will apply once the changed data arrives. It also means that when a developer goes out of business, the software will become open source after the modification date and the community can get back to work.

“A lot of people will criticize this for the wrong reasons,” Widenius told me. “But I think it’s a chance to change the future of open source for the better by producing more open source – even if there’s a bit of a delay.”