When Sun and then Oracle bought MySQL AB, the company behind the original development, MySQL open source database development governance gradually closed. Now, only Oracle writes updates. Updates from other sources — individuals or other companies — are ignored. MySQL is still open source, but it has a closed governance.
MySQL is one of the most popular databases in the world. Every WordPress and Drupal website runs on top of MySQL, as well as the majority of generic Ruby, Django, Flask and PHP apps which have MySQL as their database of choice.
When an open source project becomes this popular and essential, we say it is gaining momentum. MySQL is so popular that it is bigger than its creators. In practical terms, that means its creators can disappear and the community will take over the project and continue its evolution. It also means the software is solid, support is abundant and local, sometimes a commodity or even free.
In the case of MySQL, the source code was forked by the community, and the MariaDB project started from there. Nowadays, when somebody says he is “using MySQL”, he is in fact probably using MariaDB, which has evolved from where MySQL stopped in time.
Open source vs. open governance
Open source software’s momentum serves as a powerful insurance policy for the investment of time and resources an individual or enterprise user will put into it. This is the true benefit behind Linux as an operating system, Samba as a file server, Apache HTTPD as a web server, Hadoop, Docker, MongoDB, PHP, Python, JQuery, Bootstrap and other hyper-essential open source projects, each on its own level of the stack. Open source momentum is the safe antidote to technology lock-in. Having learned that lesson over the last decade, enterprises are now looking for the new functionalities that are gaining momentum: cloud management software, big data, analytics, integration middleware and application frameworks.
On the open domain, the only two non-functional things that matter in the long term are whether it is open source and if it has attained momentum in the community and industry. None of this is related to how the software is being written, but this is exactly what open governance is concerned with: the how.
Open source governance is the policy that promotes a democratic approach to participating in the development and strategic direction of a specific open source project. It is an effective strategy to attract developers and IT industry players to a single open source project with the objective of attaining momentum faster. It looks to avoid community fragmentation and ensure the commitment of IT industry players.
The value of momentum
Open governance alone does not guarantee that the software will be good, popular or useful (though formal open governance only happens on projects that have already captured some attention of IT industry leaders). A few examples of open source projects that have formal open governance are CloudFoundry, OpenStack, JQuery and all the projects under the Apache Software Foundation umbrella.
For users, the indirect benefit of open governance is only related to the speed the open source project reaches momentum and high popularity.
Open governance is important only for the people looking to govern or contribute. If you just want to use, open source momentum is far more important.
Also published on Thoughts on Cloud.