There was a time when being a database vendor was easy money. Today database management systems have become dime-a-dozen commodities, thanks to widespread availability and the number of competing vendors peddling their products. This sea-change is of course not just limited to databases. Commercial software in general is rapidly marching towards the open source model. To quote Greg Stein of Apache Software Foundation, "… over time, you aren't going to be paying for software anymore."
To put things in perspective, oracle, the king of databases, offers a free version of its database engine, Oracle Database XE, which is currently in beta. IBM has a free version of DB2, Microsoft has SQL Server 2005 Express Edition, and Sybase also offers a free version of its database product.
I have actually downloaded and experimented with SQL Server 2005 Express Edition and have found it to be a solid database. Okay, it doesn't have the bells and whistles of its pricey siblings, nor does it scale as much or has technical support attached, but it is still a great value.
I suppose MySQL and Postgres SQL still reign supreme in the freebie database world, but that might be due to the fact that many people may not be aware of the free versions of commercial products. The open source guys probably aren't feeling too happy about these free products flooding the market. How much more can you compete with free, short of paying users money to deploy your product?
The point is that the commercial software is finally seeing the writing on the wall and is beginning to adapt. As many have predicted, the future of making money in software is not selling products, but it is in providing support and services around such products.
There is however one free database product that is so versatile and so nimble that it would be difficult to uproot from its niche. SQLite is a beautifully crafted and versatile database product that is truly cross-platform. What it lacks in terms of terribly advanced features and power, it more than makes up in speed, ease of use, and flexibility. SQLite has my vote for one of the best database products available on the market.
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