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Originally published December 3, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 3, 2007 at 1:53 PM

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Brier Dudley

MySQL might steal spotlight

It probably won't slow the amazing growth of Microsoft's SQL Server database, a cornerstone of the company's earnings in recent years. But a quirky Swedish...

Seattle Times staff columnist

It probably won't slow the amazing growth of Microsoft's SQL Server database, a cornerstone of the company's earnings in recent years.

But a quirky Swedish company with a big Seattle presence may steal a bit of the limelight when Microsoft's new database is released next spring. MySQL develops an open-source database widely used by Internet companies such as Google, Amazon.com and Zillow and downloaded about 50,000 times a day.

Similar to Linux, the MySQL software was hatched by visionary hobbyists in Finland, in this case two Swedes and a Finn who met at Helsinki University of Technology in the 1980s. Twenty years later, after the software was widely used and refined by companies and enthusiasts, MySQL started growing as a company.

In 2001 it opened U.S. headquarters in Seattle, where today it has about 30 employees, including its technology director, Brian Aker.

The founders hired college pal Marten Mickos as chief executive, and he moved the headquarters in 2003 to Silicon Valley, but its 400 employees are spread all over the world, with 70 percent working from home in 30 countries.

Now the company is preparing to go public, a move big investors are eager to see because it will provide another benchmark of the open-source software industry, according to a Business Week story last June.

The timing is a mystery, but during a visit to Seattle last week to meet with customers, Mickos said MySQL is in a preparatory quiet period so he couldn't discuss financials.

Sounds like an IPO could happen as Microsoft builds buzz for the launch of SQL Server 2008 next spring, but Mickos said he's not playing games with Microsoft.

MySQL would actually like the companies to partner, similar to the way Microsoft has formed ties in recent years with others involved with open-source projects.

Even though MySQL is one of the strongest open-source projects, he said, "at the same time, we are a rational, nonreligious, for-profit company."

Microsoft also seems to be particularly keen on MySQL, judging from the "staggering volume" of downloads Mickos sees from Microsoft domains.

"It's a great database, it's free and open-source — why wouldn't they use it?" Mickos said.

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Perhaps Microsoft is trying to figure out what makes Google tick.

MySQL is a key component of the search company's architecture, and they recently disclosed a partnership to work on new features and testing of the database.

Mickos scoffed at speculation that Google is trying to modify the software to get more leverage over Web companies that use MySQL.

"That's crazy," he said. "We worked with Google for six, seven years, there's nothing new ... from our perspective it's business as usual with many customers who give us changes and features, not just Google. We get stuff from Amazon, Nokia, the other guys."

So it's not helping Google to put in hooks to take over the world?

"The question is relevant for any closed-source software where you cannot see what the hooks are," Mickos said, in a way that makes me wonder about the future of that Microsoft partnership, "but our software is open-source — you can see the hooks, you can even remove them if you don't like them. I can guarantee you we don't put hooks in the software."

Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
bdudley@seattletimes.com | 206-515-5687

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