A new version of open-source database MySQL will be released next month, aimed at attracting more businesses.

Version 5 is the most significant update in the database's history, the company behind it said. It adds a number of features considered important for companies that have long been available from market leaders Oracle, IBM and Microsoft. Chief among them are triggers, views and stored procedures.

MySQL has also changed the way it performs some common tasks, such as error checking, to make it behave like other databases. The idea is to make it easier for a sysadmin to switch from another platform. The "old" ways of doing things will still be an option, and the vast majority of current MySQL applications will run unchanged on version 5, according to David Axmark, a MySQL co-founder who has the job title "open sorcerer".

The price for MySQL Network, its subscription support service, will not change, Axmark said. It ranges from €495 to €3,995 per server per year, depending on the level required. The database is available free under GPL and under a commercial licence for redistribution with other products.

MySQL has always denied it competes directly with Oracle and IBM, preferring to call its product "complementary". Although that view may have been due to the limitations of its software or because it was unwilling to stir up its bigger rivals.

MySQL isn't laying claim to Oracle's high-end business, but the new features will make its database suitable for a wider range of enterprise tasks, including running ERP applications, according to Axmark. "We won't attack the data centre installations, but there are thousands of other platforms out there for which, in some cases, an enterprise database may be too much," he said.

Axmark positioned MySQL 5 as a no-frills product for a wide range of data management needs. Other executives likened databases to DVD players, suggesting the category has been commoditized and that one database can easily substitute for another.

That may be true for some basic tasks, but Oracle, IBM and even Microsoft continue to offer capabilities that keep their products far ahead of MySQL, said Gary Barnett, an industry analyst with Ovum. "Ask Larry Ellison if databases are a commodity while he's sipping a cup of coffee and you'll have coffee all down your shirt."

Barnett was skeptical of whether MySQL will drum up much new enterprise business, at least soon. Licence and maintenance fees are only a small part of the cost of owning a database, and MySQL will have to show other clear, tangible benefits if users are to migrate to its platform, he said.

Customers also have other open-source options, although MySQL may be the best known. The Apache Software Foundation offers Apache Derby, the Cloudscape database that IBM contributed to the open-source community last year, and several companies offer databases based on PostgreSQL.

In addition, Oracle and IBM have released low-cost versions of their database for smaller customers, and both have released source code for noncore products in a bid to court the open-source community.

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