For anyone interested in seeing just how different and game-changing open source can be, there's really no need to look beyond MySQL, the open-source database leader. Jeremy Zawodny, formerly of Yahoo, and now of Craigslist, takes a hard look at the changing face of MySQL, reaching some surprising conclusions about MySQL in the process:
Nowadays MySQL has a much slower release cycle than it used to. It's still available in "commercial" and free ("community") releases. There's still a company behind it--a much larger one in fact. But one that also has a vested interest in showing how it works better on their storage appliances or 256 "core" computers and whatnot...
Meanwhile, all the cutting edge stuff (at least from the point of view of scaling) is happening outside Sun/MySQL and being integrated by OurDelta and even Drizzle.
Zawodny details the importance of these forks to MySQL ("The single most interesting and surprising thing to me is both the number and necessity of third-party patches for enhancing various aspects of MySQL and InnoDB"), and it's here that one sees the strength of the open-source model, but also the potential fragility of open source as a business, as I've written before. These forks provide a robust MySQL database...for free.
This is good, right? Well, it is, but perhaps not if you're MySQL (or, rather, Sun), the company. For all the benefits such forks and additions provide to MySQL, they absolutely depend on Sun doing the core development on the MySQL database, core development which becomes ever more difficult to fund if such peripheral projects siphon away Sun's return on the MySQL investment.
It would seem to me that the best way for this vibrant community around MySQL to become good for the corporate MySQL would be for the community to become so active and diverse that the MySQL database begs for standardization at the core again. Sun can provide that, making enterprise customers happy and, in turn, making Sun happy.
One thing is clear: Sun needs to immediately start releasing its own "fork" of the MySQL database, one that is tuned to enterprise requirements, and one that includes functionality/tools that customers can't find elsewhere. If it's fair for Drizzle, OurDelta, Percona, etc. to enhance and extend the MySQL experience, then it's fair that Sun do this, too. Only as Sun creates differentiated value will it ensure an ongoing, rising revenue stream that will enable it to fund MySQL development, development upon which these forks critically depend.