« Security is difficult; open source security sometimes even more so | Main | The death of dual-licensing as a commercial open source strategy »

How did MySQL become so successful?

May 15, 2009

We often talk about business models, technology, open source and other similar topics that are unavoidable for anyone interested in starting a business today, but we sometimes forget the real reason why products become wildly successful. It's actually rather simple:

  1. You have to have something that people really need.
  2. You have to essentially be the only choice on the market.

Get those two things right, and everything else will follow. MySQL was there, in the right place and at the right time, to fill a critical gap that existed back in the early days of the Web: everyone needed a lightweight database engine that could be used to power Web sites. The fact that MySQL was not open source1 did not matter, and neither did the fact that MySQL lacked many of the features needed to be a proper database2. The features MySQL did have were right for the job and so people used it.


  1. MySQL was initially free for end-users, but you had to pay for redistribution; ISPs were in a grey zone.
  2. The message from MySQL was, rather amusingly, that only wimps needed transactions (paraphrasing).