In many ways, MySQL embodies the ideals of the populist software movement known as open source, in which a programs creator releases it to the world for free and legions of volunteers contribute improvements that are also freely shared.
The start-up company came out of nowhere, building a database application beloved by vibrant, young Internet companies. Logging in from homes scattered around the globe, its workers seemed more a part of a virtual commune than a corporate Borg, and they relished taking on proprietary software giants like Microsoft.
But like most open-source companies, MySQLs sales, tied to support deals, never matched the astronomical number of downloads for its product, about 60,000 a day. In January 2008, the founders decided to sell the company for $1 billion to Sun Microsystems. And this year, Sun agreed to sell itself to Oracle, which makes database software aimed at larger companies and tougher jobs, for $7.4 billion.