This story actually goes back to 1979 when MySQL’s inventor, Michael Widenius (a.k.a. Monty) developed an in-house database tool called UNIREG for managing databases. UNIREG is a tty interface builder that uses a low-level connection to an ISAM storage with indexing. Since then, UNIREG has been rewritten in several different languages and extended to handle big databases. It is still available today, but is largely supplanted by MySQL.
The Swedish company TcX began developing web-based applications in 1994 and used UNIREG to support this effort. Unfortunately, UNIREG created too much overhead to be successful in dynamically generating web pages. TcX thus began looking at alternatives.
TcX looked at SQL and mSQL. mSQL was a cheap DBMS that gave away its source code with database licenses—almost open source. At the time, mSQL was still in its 1.x releases and had even fewer features than the currently available version. Most important to Monty, it did not support any indexes. mSQL’s performance was therefore poor in comparison to UNIREG.
Monty contacted David Hughes, the author of mSQL, to see if Hughes would be interested in connecting mSQL to UNIREG’s B+ ISAM handler to provide indexing to mSQL. Hughes was already well on his way to mSQL 2, however, and had his indexing infrastructure in place. TcX decided to create a database server that was more compatible with its requirements.
TcX was smart enough not to try to reinvent the wheel. It built upon UNIREG and capitalized on the growing number of third-party mSQL utilities by writing an API into its system that was, at least initially, practically identical to the mSQL API. Consequently, an mSQL user who wanted to move to TcX’s more feature-rich database server would only have to make trivial changes to any existing code. The code supporting this new database, however, was completely original.
By May 1995, TcX had a database that met its internal needs: MySQL 3.11. A business partner, David Axmark at Detron HB, began pressing TcX to release this server on the Internet and follow a business model pioneered by Aladdin’s L. Peter Deutsch. Specifically, this business model enabled TcX developers to work on projects of their own choosing and release the results as free software. Commercial support for the software generated enough income to create a comfortable lifestyle. The result is a very flexible copyright that makes MySQL “more free” than mSQL. Eventually, Monty released MySQL under the GPL so that MySQL is now “free as in speech” and “free as in beer.”
As for the name MySQL, Monty says, “It is not perfectly clear where the name MySQL derives from. TcX’s base directory and a large amount of their libraries and tools have had the prefix ‘My’ for well over ten years. However, my daughter (some years younger) is also named My. So which of the two gave its name to MySQL is still a mystery.”
A few years ago, TcX evolved into the company MySQL AB, at http://www.mysql.com. This change better enabled its commercial control of the development and support of MySQL. MySQL AB, a Swedish company run by MySQL’s core developers, owns the copyright to MySQL, as well as the trademark “MySQL.” Since the initial Internet release of MySQL, it has been ported to a host of Unix operating systems (including Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X), Win32, and OS/2. MySQL AB estimates that MySQL runs on about four million servers.