MySQL has published an 'end of life' timetable for its open-source database and will no longer provide free updates for some older versions of the product starting next month, it said this week.

The company has been relatively generous in the past in providing free updates for versions of its database as old as five years or more. Maintaining several releases at once costs the company money, however, and it will soon start charging for updates to the older versions, MySQL said.

"Keeping older versions alive for a long time is appreciated by our community and our customers alike. However, we are no longer in a position to maintain our older versions without remuneration," Kaj Arnö, MySQL's vice president for community relations, wrote in the company's blog.

Customers using MySQL 3.23 and MySQL 4.0 will have to buy a MySQL Network Subscription to receive binary updates for those products after 1 August (for 3.23) and 1 October (for 4.0), Arnö wrote. A basic subscription starts at US$595 per server per year in the US, or €495 in Europe.

"We are also evaluating whether we will continue hosting archived versions of old binaries, as well as the timeline for the support of MySQL 4.1," Arnö wrote. The source code for the 3.23 and 4.0 releases will still be available, he said.

The decision was made after "long internal discussions, that were not always easy," Arnö wrote.

The policy states that each major release will be developed and fully supported for two years after its release. At that point new developments will stop, and for the next three years the company will provide only security updates on an as-needed basis. After those five years the product goes "end of life," meaning no further fixes or support.

Paul Rochford, lead web developer with the Toronto consulting company TechSpertise, said he was "a bit surprised, a bit worried" at the changes. One of his company's clients is still running an application on MySQL 3.23.58, which effectively goes "end of life" at the end of this year, according to MySQL's timeline.

"We're still updating the application each week. I don't think they're going to be very happy about spending a whole lot of money for redeveloping, especially for 5.1," said Rochford, who also organises the Toronto MySQL User Group.

Andrew Poodle, of database consulting company Simplis-IT, in East Kilbride, Scotland, seemed less concerned when told of the changes. Most users are probably on a relatively recent version by now, such as MySQL 4.1, he said. In addition, releases as old as MySQL 3.23 are not updated often at this point anyway, he noted.

"I think they [MySQL] get most of their money from support rather than from the software, so it may be a way for them to generate some more revenue," he said.

Zack Urlocker, MySQL executive vice president for products, said the changes are necessary because it's become expensive for the company to support so many different versions of its software for the various hardware and operating system platforms.

Other vendors such as Microsoft and Red Hat also stop developing and supporting products after a certain number of years, he noted.

Big customers with "dozens or hundreds of servers" may be able to negotiate custom contracts for extended support, he said. Those extensions are unlikely to be available to smaller clients with a handful of databases, he acknowledged.

The goal is also to encourage customers to move to more current releases of its product because that way it's easier to provide high-quality support, he said. MySQL version 3.23, which was released in January 2001, is "getting a bit long in the tooth," he noted.

"We recognise that many people are running MySQL in business critical applications and we want to make sure we can support them the best we can. That was really the impetus behind this," he said.