On serving two markets and mistakes

Zack Urlocker wrote an article today on InfoWorld titled Serving Two Markets where he comments on Matt Asay’s The open-source community’s double standard on MySQL (which is a piece of work itself) and says:

Part of the issue is that often discussions about the business of open source is seen as a “zero sum game” between community users and paying customers, meaning that in order for one group to benefit, the other group must lose. To me this polarizes the discussion in an unhealthy way.

I have to admit, I haven’t seen it that way at all. And I don’t see why anyone would. When RedHat split into Fedora and RHEL, I evaluated the design of the split and said “OK”. It made sense to me. These days, I use Fedora quite a bit for personal projects, desktop machines, toying around, and testing the newest things. On the business side, I often recommend RHEL1 to customers because it “just works” and has proven itself to be quite stable. RedHat produced not one, but two products I found to be useful for different purposes.

With RedHat, there was absolutely some discontent initially—largely from the casual users who didn’t understand the RHEL issues anyway, whining because something was being “taken away” from them. Nonetheless, the split has been by all accounts highly successful. Nothing was in fact taken away from the community, actually I think Fedora is much stronger and more promising now than RedHat ever was. At the same time, they’ve also managed to appease the commercial side of things with RHEL being a fantastic and very stable server OS.

When MySQL originally discussed the split into Community and Enterprise with me, I told them all of my concerns, which apparently were in large part identical to the concerns of several other key MySQL players that they asked. Nonetheless, they went ahead with things exactly as they had discussed, with none of our concerns addressed or even acknowledged. One of the key concerns we all had was actually not that they were taking anything away from Community. Rather it was that the release structure between Community and Enterprise made no sense for Enterprise. That is, we were (and still are) concerned that MySQL is spinning its wheels and not creating a useful product we would buy or recommend our customers to buy. And I, at least, told them as much.

Jump forward to the most recent announcements. Once again we got an early look at the changes, and once again, we voiced our concerns. This time it basically amounted to “Is taking away the Enterprise source supposed to convince people to buy Enterprise?” Their answer was “Yep”. Our only response could be “Uh, good luck with that.” Once again, our concerns mostly centered around whether the Enterprise product made sense, and once again we said that it didn’t. We told them flat out that a single person mirroring the code would nullify all the “force people to buy” effects of their removal of the source, while nullifying none of the good will they lose by hiding it.

The issues around Community this time around were basically moot because nothing had really changed. We get a similar number of actual Community builds as before, and new stuff gets pushed into a far future version, when basically nothing new was being accepted anyway.

I find it ironic that Zack ends his article with:

At this stage, I think we’re all exploring different approaches to building open source businesses and communities. But the good news is, if we make mistakes along the way, folks will tell us.

Yes, we’ll certainly tell you when you make mistakes. That doesn’t mean you’ll listen or try to correct them. Horses and water and all that.

1 More accurately, I generally recommend RHEL if you’re interested in the support part of the equation, and CentOS if you’re not. Quite a lot of our customers choose RHEL, if for nothing else than to give back to RedHat for creating a great product. Let’s not talk about up2date for now. ;)

3 thoughts on “On serving two markets and mistakes

  1. Jeremy,

    I agree Matt and Zack either do not understand why there are complains from community or specialy missrepresent them as whining, “want everything free” etc.

    I’m too looking forward to see MySQL making money and what I’m complaining is

    – It barely makes sense for community
    – It does not really help enterprise needs
    – It is still mostly done on Marketing level (opposed to real work of making – different products in RedHat case)
    – It is presented to community in marketing form, comming out with fake reasons instead of real one

    Regarding removing sources I understand MySQL logic here – if you put sources somewhere it is not the same as MySQL puts them out. Enterprise users may be concerned of that being genuine enterprise sources, of security around them (what if your site is haked and sources changed) – this surely allows some room for sales guys to play on customer fears.

    I do not think however this will give significant boost in enterprise sales and on the contrary looks desperate to me.

  2. Hi Peter,

    I don’t think the move was supposed to convince real “enterprise” customers to buy, just ones that were using the pre-built e.g. Ubuntu or CentOS builds of MySQL Enterprise. So, people that were already getting their builds from somewhere else. I don’t think those people will actually notice the change much, since the maintainers for those packages can just switch their source to mirror.provenscaling.com now.

    I agree that it looks completely desperate!

  3. Jeremy,

    You’re so right. We’ve been floating between using the GPL version and paying for the Enterprise version (for support reasons), using binaries from MySQL, binaries from Red Hat, community binaries, Enterprise binaries, holding back on old-old-old versions, jumping on the GA bandwagon, and no approach seems to provide a consistently reliable, good-value solution. This picture is just way too mixed for even a relatively involved and experienced customer/user to make sense of, so I can only imagine that people new to MySQL and trying to make sense on what to use for their project or organisation must be horribly confused.

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