I had an interesting discussion with Marten Mickos at JavaOne last week that I’ve been meaning to blog about.

I was disappointed that MySQL decided to put encryption and compression backup into MySQL Server (GPL license), versus including those features only in MySQL Enterprise (commercial license). Most of you will recall the outrage from “the community” that began when MySQL considered adding these enterprisey features only inside of MySQL Enterprise.

I wanted to discuss this situation with Marten.

I do not believe that Support and/or Monitoring around an OSS product are viable long term value propositions that will convince users to become, and stay, buyers. This has more to do with human nature than OSS leaders have yet acknowledged. Sure you’ll get some portion of your users to pay for Support etc., (which I call Category “C” users). But good luck growing beyond that group.

I know that Simon will disagree. During his JavaOne pitch, Simon mentioned that Sun is benefiting from a large number of adoption-led deals. However, I’ve spoken to many customers who are saying “we bought support for 2 years and realized we just didn’t use it as much as we thought. Also, with the source code being available, my software developers can support our use of product XYZ internally”. It could be that Simon is seeing Category “C” users still and will sing a different tune when trying to convert Category “B” users.

I’d suggest that the MySQL decision described above highlights challenges of trying to grow an OSS business faster than the rate of customer conversion from Category “C” users.

The solution I favor is to sell products that can’t be obtained in any way but through payment. MySQL was walking down this path before “the community” had its say.

Marten reassured me that MySQL may yet decide to add features only inside of MySQL Enterprise (and not in the open source MySQL Server) in the future. I fear that MySQL will be faced with the same outrage from “the community” if and when they try to make this change. This will help proprietary vendors maintain the feature/function gap vs. OSS vendors. Recall that for the majority of single-vendor backed OSS products, there is virtually no cost savings vs. developing closed-source software. To close the feature/function gap, OSS vendors need faster revenue growth to fund this development expense.

The OSS vendor community needs leaders who will stand up to “the community” and make the tough business decisions needed to ensure that OSS isn’t relegated to a small revenue slice of the software industry pie.