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MySQL AB’s open-source database license has long confused ISVs and others who want to support MySQL but aren’t sure whether they need to purchase a license. To remedy these licensing gray areas, MySQL is beta testing a new VAR program that will be rolled out at its user conference in April, officials said.

The program will allow ISVs to cost-effectively license MySQL’s server. MySQL Vice President of Marketing Zack Urlocker told that, eventually, the company is planning to install a driver that moves the burden of compliance onto customers.

As it now stands, the open-source company has a dual license that works on a quid pro quo basis—i.e., if you’re free, MySQL is free. If you’re closed, you need a license.

For most people, that works just fine, Urlocker said. But for others, it’s a muddle. “We have 4,000 commercial installations, and those people are clear [on the licensing terms],” he said. “But as we become more popular, there are ISVs that are saying, ‘Hey I want to support MySQL, and we’re not clear on [how that would work].’ We know there’s ambiguity in certain areas, like, ‘I want to support MySQL, but I don’t want to bundle it.’ We have some lack of clarity in our licensing.”

David Wall, a developer in Kirkland, Wash., recently posed some of the hairy questions to which this lack of clarity has given rise. “In our application, we don’t have to distribute any database, operating system, application server, Web server or the like,” Wall wrote in an e-mail exchange with “We license our technology, and the customer puts it on their server, with their application server, operating system and database. If they use Oracle, then we just use the Oracle JDBC drivers that came with their deployment of Oracle, and we’re ready to go. If they use PostgreSQL, then we use that. The same with Microsoft SQL Server. Does this mean if we have a customer who has their own MySQL deployment (let’s assume they have not bought a commercial license), that the customer doesn’t need to worry?”

Such uncertainty has motivated MySQL to rework the licensing language. After all, nobody wants to alienate ISVs, who could drive considerable business toward MySQL, Urlocker said. “We’re happy to address the issue because it means there’s interest on the part of ISVs for supporting the software. That’s good,” he said.

The unclear language pertains to who exactly has the responsibility to purchase a license in a VAR setup: the VAR, or the end user? The GPL is ambiguous in regards to these matters, Urlocker said, but it’s simply the best open-source licensing model that now exists.

The VAR program now being tested includes several ISVs as beta testers. With the program, MySQL is testing authenticated client libraries that VARs can include for a nominal charge as part of MySQL’s partner program.

The company expects to roll out the program at its user conference, April 14-16, in Orlando, Fla., along with a new MySQL Cluster product.

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