By stefanhinz on Apr 28, 2009
There have been ongoing rumors about a license change of the MySQL documentation. Karen Tegan Padir even asked the audience during her keynote at the MySQL Conference last week. Some liked it, but we didn't experience any overwhelming positive feedback. Currently, the MySQL Reference Manual and other MySQL documentation are released under regular copyright. Note, however, that Sun grants permission to use the docs in many ways that don't require written approval.Most people in open source land believe that if the software is free then also the documentation should be (this is, for example, stated by the Free Software Foundation, in the preamble of the GNU Free Documentation License).
I agree with that point of view, except for the MySQL docs, and here's why: The MySQL docs are hugely popular, so they attract copycats who put copies on their websites, usually plastered with Google ads all around. That's not bad per se, but those people normally don't care about the docs at all, they're just interested in the revenue stream. So what they don't do is keep "their" docs updated. We already have hundreds of outdated copies out there (despite the fact that they're currently illegal), and the MySQL documentation team frequently gets complaints about "our" docs being out of date. Now imagine making copying legal – this would result in many more copies out there, causing many more problems:
- Users would be confused. Lots of users find MySQL documentation through a Google search. Unsurprisingly, the official MySQL docs on the Developer Zone rank high in search results. This ensures that users always find the most recent and complete documentation. With the docs under a free license, this would change dramatically. In fact, we'd do our users a huge disservice.
- Our reputation would be damaged. With outdated documentation all over the place, people would not only have a hard time finding out what applies to their respective MySQL version(s), but this would also be a constant source of uncertainty and doubt about the abilities of MySQL.
- MySQL forks should have their own, specific, documentation. Developers love to code, but they rarely love to write documentation. So it's not unlikely that we'd find unaltered copies of the MySQL Manual distributed along with forks, with (implicit) disclaimers saying "good luck finding out the differences". This would confuse the situation even more, not just for the fork, but also for the "regular" version of MySQL.