Questions & Answers with MariaDB’s Michael “Monty” Widenius- Founder of MySQL AB

9 min read

1. Packt: Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking part in this Q&A and we expect great things from the MariaDB community in the near future. How important do you think the various communities of Open Source projects are to the progression and growth of its software?

Monty Widenius: In most cases Open Source project will succeed or fail totally depending on how they manage to grow their community. To succeed you need to spend a lot of resources to work with your community and ensure that their needs are taken care of. This is why developers at Monty Program Ab spend up to 50 % of their time interacting with the community and creating things that they need.


2. Packt: For those that do not know, tell us about your background. How long has MariaDB been around? How did the creation of MariaDB come about?

Monty Widenius: I created MySQL in 1994, based on code that I had developed since 1982. When we released MySQL to the public in 1995, the intention was to do something good for the Free software community (Open Source was not yet coined then) and do it in such a way that we would get enough revenue to be able to do it “full time and continue forever”.

I think we were quite successful with MySQL and when it was sold to Sun in 2008 I was sure it had found a good home. However when Oracle announced it would buy Sun In 2009 and the sale was conditioned that ‘if they didn’t get MySQL, the deal would be off’ I got worried about the future of MySQL as a free database and created MariaDB. This was done to ensure that the MySQL project would continue, even if under another name and that the people that had created MySQL and didn’t want to work at Oracle would have a good home to come to.

MariaDB was thus created in April 2010 and is driven by my company Monty Program Ab. Currently Monty Program Ab employees are mostly made up of the original top core developers at MySQL AB, including the full optimizer team and all MySQL architects, so we are quite confident that we are able to keep on developing MariaDB in a good phase.  


3. Packt: How would you describe the growing MariaDB community and the MySQL community that came before it?

Monty Widenius: First some background; The problem with competing with MySQL is that it’s very hard to get a new name out as everyone that is using MySQL uses as their first step when they want to find out what is happening in the MySQL world. What we have done is to ensure that MariaDB is represented in all MySQL and Open Source conferences (which causes a lot of traveling for the MariaDB team). Now, after almost 2 years, we have seen a growing usage of MariaDB at the grassroot level and it’s starting to spread more rapidly.

We are now part of SuSE linux, Centos and we are working with the rest of the Linux distributions to get into there too. We have also seen several big users of MySQL switching to use MariaDB, some of which can be found at The release of MariaDB 5.2 in December caused a big growth in our downloads; We now have +10,000 per week from our website in addition to those that are using MariaDB from Linux distributions or other mirrors. The future growth of MariaDB is largely depending on the threat Oracle poses to MySQL.

The fact that Oracle has lost all the main developers of MySQL and is not capable of doing any notable new development is starting to take its toll. Oracle is also planning to introduce close source features into the MySQL enterprise version and license changes to the MySQL community version will also assist in the growth of MariaDB. The MySQL community was largely an end user community and the developer community was largely forgotten (at least since 2001).

What we are doing with MariaDB is to make it easy for other developers to join the MariaDB project and that way make MariaDB again a ‘practical database’ that is developed together with the community. In other words, with MariaDB we are going back to the roots that made MySQL successful.


4. Packt: What would you describe as the current strengths and weaknesses of the MariaDB community?

Monty Widenius: The MariaDB developer community is already stronger than the MySQL developer community; we have people from many companies developing MariaDB together and we can do development more rapidly than MYSQL as we have the best people leading the development. Our weakness is that we have smaller end users base than MySQL and will have a hard time getting funded projects because the decision makers in the big companies are not aware of us yet. This is something that is slowly getting corrected, but is still holding us back from our true potential.


5. Packt: How many code contributors does the MariaDB project receive on a monthly/yearly basis?

Monty Widenius: We have weekly code contributions from different contributors to MariaDB. The 5.2 release was very large and parts of the release are completed by outside contributions. You can find my blog here for more details.


6. Packt: How has MariaDB encouraged its community to evangelize the software?

Monty Widenius: We have started several projects to get the community active:

  • The Askmonty knowledgebase is a knowledgebase project with the intention to work with the community to get everything related to MariaDB and MySQL documented.
  • We are about to launch the Community Ambassadors program to make it easier for the community to setup MariaDB and MySQL local groups.
  • Everything we do in Monty Program Ab regarding MariaDB is done publicly; the development email lists, our IRC channel, roadmaps and even our own company developer meetings are open to the public.


7. Packt: 2011 will be a big year for the MariaDB community, how does the project expect to grow in 2011 and build on the growth experienced?

Monty Widenius: In 2011, MariaDB should be in all major Linux distributions which will help us to reach more end users. We will also release MariaDB 5.3 and MariaDB 5.5 that includes major new speed improvements in the MySQL optimizer and new features, like microsecond support and dynamic columns, that people have waited years to get in MySQL. The launch of SkySQL is also helping us a lot as now we have finally a company who can do full front line support of MariaDB (in addition to MySQL support) while we do third level support for their customers. This will provide us with more revenue which will allow us to do even more development.


8. Packt: As you may know, we’ve recently announced that we’ve hit the landmark of over $300k donated to Open Source projects, how important are donations of this kind to the MariaDB community?

Monty Widenius: At this point in time Monty Program Ab is mostly living on donations, of which I am the largest donator. I have good reason to believe that 2011 will be a turning point where Monty Program Ab will finally be profitable. However, we are still hoping to get donations as this will allow us to grow more rapidly (which will directly benefit all MariaDB and MySQL users).

As Monty Program Ab doesn’t have any investors (the company is owned by its employees) and all money we get is used to pay developers and hire new ones to work on MariaDB, we are the logical choice for donations for anyone that wants to ensure that MySQL under the name of MariaDB will be kept alive and actively developed. When it comes to the future of MariaDB, I am quite confident that we at Monty Program Ab will succeed in driving this forward for a long time. If by some unforeseen reason we were to fail, all parts of MariaDB is in the community and it’s easy for someone else to take over and continue. Even for the MariaDB trademark we have made a provision that if Monty Program Ab would not actively develop MariaDB anymore it will be automatically transferred to a non-profit organization that the community can work with.


9. Packt: We specialize in refining and distilling advice provided by the community around Open Source projects, into easy to follow specialist information. How important do you expect the sharing of information to be for the MariaDB community? How do you plan to guarantee success of distributing information among MariaDB community in 2011?

Monty Widenius: I think that if you are working in the Open Source space it’s critical that you are transparent in what you are doing and are willing to share as much information as possible of what you are doing. You should also be helping others in the Open Source world to succeed! When it comes to sharing information about the MariaDB projects, we are heavily relying on the knowledgebase and our active participation in a lot of Open Source conferences and working with the developer community.

For the money I got from Sun for MySQL, I have been part of the founding of Open Source capital, an investment company that invests in technical innovated companies that work with large communities (often Open Source ones). We use the experience that we got in creating and growing MySQL to help these companies to reach their true potential. I am also giving talks in a lot of different conferences about Open Source entrepreneurship, to help others find profitable Open Source companies. The next one is on Garum day in Bilbao, Spain on the 16th February.


10. Packt: Thanks for your time Monty, lastly what projects, if any, are you/MariaDB working on at the moment?

Monty Widenius: 

  • We are working on getting MariaDB 5.3 and MariaDB 5.5 ready for a stable release.
  • The new major features (in addition to all the new features we already introduced in MariaDB 5.2) are:
    • Significantly better optimizer for complex queries (hash join, non materialized sub queries) that gives a 10x speed improvement for certain queries.
    • Better NoSQL features: Notable faster HANDLER support, HandlerSocket support and dynamic columns (allows you to store columns packed in a blob so that every row in your table can have a different set of columns).
    • Microsecond support
    • Better replication with group commit (reliable and faster)

You can read more about this at: This is the biggest redesign of the MariaDB optimizer in 10 years and it will finally make all sub queries usable in Maria

This is the biggest redesign of the MariaDB optimizer in 10 years and it will finally make all sub queries usable in MariaDB.


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