Yesterday I hosted an InterBase 2007 seminar. Some of the new features of this database are quite interesting. The price of InterBase is also interesting if you compare it with Microsoft's SQL Server and other closed-source databases, once you've decided you don't want to pick an open source database like FireBird. During the seminar we discussed the various database pricing strategies, along with open source alternatives.

Today, I was reading the December issue of Dr. Dobbs's Journal and found the following statement: "The MySQL open-source database is widely used to manage corporate data, handle transactions, and run e-commerce and warehousing applications". I know this is a fact. But the article that showed how to recompile MySQL with an optimized compiler failed to mention the MySQL license, which keeps spreading the misconceptions about it. MySQL is free only for GPL projects (plus some other FLOSS licences, if you want to be precise). This means you have to release the source code of your application if you don't want to pay for the DB. Now how many of those "corporate" applications come with open source code? MySQL AB claims "over 4 thousand paying customers who have chosen the commercial license and over 4 million who have chosen the open source GPL license". I wonder how many of the 4 million are using it legally.

Now, if you look at the price, it seems (I'm not sure because the MySQL is quite confusing on this respect) that the starting cost is 595 US dollars/a server/a year. I've not been able to find a flat license, only the yearly license with the support fee included. At this price, if you keep your InterBase running a few years, the price seems similar, although having to buy license for the number of clients it is hard to do a comparison (you can get InterBase with 4 users for about that price (595 USD), but this is for unlimited time... while an InterBase server with unlimited clients should cost 4,200 USD). By comparison, Microsoft's SQL Server costs 3,899 per processor in the Worksgroup edition, 5,999 per processor in the Standard edition, and a whopping 24,999 USD in the Enterprise edition.

The real comparison for MySQL should be with open source offerings, though. For example with FireBird. This is an open-source database with a MPL license. It is free as in "free speech" and also free as in "free beer". You download it, and use it. Period. No one is even going to ask you for money for a license, although some companies do offer services and support. (Maybe CodeGear should offer support for FireBird as well, but that is a different story I don't want to get in now).

The moral of the story? A seemingly free database that doesn't even clearly list its license price on its site is taking a huge market share only because of a misconception about its price. And notice, it takes some effort to find their license (and figure out it is not totally free) when visiting their web site, which (for me) means they are spreading the misconception as well. A different moral? FireBird needs some marketing to let people know... it is the only really open source DB. InterBase needs a lot of marketing as well, as its own company downplays it technical qualities and should let everyone know about the relevant price difference with other closed-source database vendors.