Linux row boils over to MySQL, other projects

A looming deadline following a dispute between two prominent open-source developers has forced database vendor MySQL AB to consider a change to the way it develops its software, and will also force scores of other open-source projects to consider a similar move within the month.

Open-source projects that have been able to freely use the BitKeeper source-code management software since 2002 have until July 1st to either begin paying license fees or stop using the software.

BitKeeper is used by more than 100 open source projects including MySQL, the Xen virtual machine monitor, and the ReiserFS journaling filesystem. Originally developed to as a way to make Linux kernel leader Linus Torvalds more productive as he managed the thousands of source code contributions being made to his project, the software is now the flagship product of a small South San Francisco company called BitMover Inc.

Unlike the Linux kernel, BitKeeper is proprietary software that has been funded by sales to corporations like IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. Until recently open source developers had been allowed to use the software free of charge.

That all changed in April, following a dispute between BitMover’s founder and Chief Executive Officer Larry McVoy and Samba developer Andrew Tridgell.

Tridgell, the founder of the Samba file and print server project, had written an open-source tool that could work with source code stored in BitKeeper, and used as an alternative to the BitKeeper client. McVoy claimed that the client had the potential to compromise the integrity of BitKeeper’s server-side data and would ultimately represent an unwarranted support expense for his company.

Unable to convince Tridgell to abandon his BitKeeper client, or to convince Tridgell’s employer, Open Source Development Labs Inc., to pay the extra support costs, BitMover pulled the free version for open source developers. Torvalds’ kernel developers have already begun work on new software, called “git,” to replace BitKeeper, but others like MySQL are still weighing their options

MySQL is contemplating a move away from BitKeeper but has yet to make a final decision, Zack Urlocker, vice president of marketing with MySQL, said last Friday. “There are plenty of ways to do it, but we think that BitKeeper is well suited to the kind of complex distributed development that we do.” The company had still not reached a decision as of this Friday. It has been in talks with BitMover and is also exploring alternatives such as Subversion, a MySQL representative in Sweden said.

As the July 1 deadline approaches, BitMover is trying to work with as many projects as it can to either come to licensing terms or move their source code onto another system, McVoy said. Still, some may be in for a nasty surprise a month from now, when they can no longer add software to their source code repository. “As July 1 approaches and people start to realize that it’s not just about the kernel, it’s about these other projects, there’s going to be some crap hitting the fan,” he said.

The changes may not be easy, but they are par for the course in the open-source world, said Red Hat Inc. Chief Technology Officer Michael Tiemann. “The open-source community by its very nature lives in disruption,” he said. “Anybody who doesn’t like change is not going to be a happy camper.”

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