Marc Delisle is one of the lead developers of the very popular phpMyAdmin project, a web/browser-based tool for MySQL Administration. I talked with him about MySQL, phpMyAdmin (of course), and being a developer in general.
Arjen: Please tell a bit more about yourself, some background for those who don't know Marc the person?
Marc: I am a software developer and a network manager for Cegep de Sherbrooke, a College located in Quebec, Canada. I have been working there since 1980, this means that I experienced many waves of computer technology including interfacing Cobol with Oracle, developing User Interfaces in Basic for terminals, etc. Since 1998, I develop mainly for the web, in PHP. On the personal side, I am the proud father of four.
What got you started with MySQL, and when was that?
I started with mSQL [Mini SQL, by David Hughes], to teach a database course (I'm also a part-time teacher), and missed some features. That's when I discovered MySQL, in 1998.
What do you like best about MySQL?
Speed and stability.
Ha-ha, you've been listening to our marketing ;-)
Not at all! Speed and stability are just my two main factors.
No that's cool ;-)
But on to phpMyAdmin... how did it get started?
I first noticed and tried MySQL-Webadmin, but soon discovered phpMyAdmin, which was three months old and a successor to MySQL-Webadmin. But as I was teaching to French people in Québec, I wanted a French version so I offered to Tobias Ratschiller, the original author of phpMyAdmin, to modify the source code in order to make it easy to translate, then I made the French messages. The students liked the intuitive way it worked, making us almost forget that it's a Web app.
This was the first development phase of phpMyAdmin, from 1998 to August 2000, with the first multi-lingual version released in December 1998. But after August 2000, Tobias had no more time for this project. Then, in March 2001, a new team was formed and restarted the project, this time on SourceForge.net. I joined them in May 2001 and those months were very intense to develop version 2.2.0 in August 2001.
Which people are currently involved in the development of phpMyAdmin, and who now 'leads' the project's direction?
We are currently a team of eight people, of which two are "project administrators". We are all volunteers. The team members are Alexander Turek (Germany), Garvin Hicking (Germany), Robin Johnson (Canada), Michal Cihar (Czech Republic), Michael Keck (Germany), Marcel Tschopp (Switzerland). The project administration is done by Olivier Muller (Switzerland) and myself.
I presume there is some process (even if informal) by which the direction (roadmap) is decided, which features get implemented when?
For past years, we had a more defined roadmap, for example when the interface was redesigned for 2.6.0, or when we implemented MIME-based transformations. But in 2005, it's more informal. We know we have to implement new MySQL 4.1 and 5.0 features but there is no roadmap for those.
Why do you think phpMyAdmin has become such a success, and were you surprised by it? It really appears to have become the killer app in its realm (web-based MySQL administration), included in pretty much every Linux distribution, Novell NetWare, and other software bundles.
I think that it simply does the job and it contains extras, like being able to visualize a blob field when browsing a table, or the PDF relational schema feature. But I don't know if people like it more for its extras or for the daily tasks they perform with it. Of course, the web-based architecture is very important for a large segment of MySQL users.
I am pleased but not really surprised, because we try to listen to our community and we fix important bugs quickly. I was surprised in 2002 when I saw the download rate being 10/minute but now I got used to it :)
Another point though: since I am the one who started the translations movement in phpMyAdmin, I am surprised that we have reached 50 translations (and another one is coming ...)
What is the download rate now? I understand that would only provide part of the picture exactly because phpMyAdmin is already present on many systems and offered by web hosting providers.
You are right about this being only a part of the picture. A host provider or a school can install it once for hundreds of users, and it's part of many installation kits. But in 2005 we got between 220K and 320K downloads per month.
Wow. Impressive numbers.
Do you have any special plans for the future of phpMyAdmin?
Well, we have to respect the tradition and keep the interface more or less like it is now, but of course we would like to implement an interface to manage views. Also someone suggested that we do a graphical configuration mechanism, but we currently lack manpower for this.
Perhaps someone reading this interview can do that! Scary question perhaps, but how much time do you think you spend on phpMyAdmin each week?
This is only scary for my wife :) I spend from seven to ten hours per week. But last year was an exception, since I was also writing a book in English then in French about phpMyAdmin, which was not a volunteer work of course. It's been published in 4 languages now, and a fifth is coming in a few months. It's available via phpmyadmin.net.
I think that the book helped to give some additional credibility to the project in terms of documentation, because it's not likely that volunteers could write a 250 pages tutorial.
Are you also involved in any other OSS projects?
No, phpMyAdmin is my only baby :)
(Apart from your four real life kids, that is ;-) What would be your advice to users who want to contribute to phpMyAdmin or another OSS project? How can they get involved?
My advice... well, our team needs good bug reports, that's one great way to contribute, and also we need coders, just that, coders who start to familiarize themselves with the code base and submit small or bigger patches. But, it's no magic, a contributor has to spend time and be generous of his time, it's that simple.
What would you like to see improved or changed in MySQL?
You will find this surprising, but as a phpMyAdmin developer I would actually like less new features in MySQL, because those mean added (volunteer) work for us :)
I can imagine. But is there anything missing now that would be useful to you, developing phpMyAdmin?
Some things are inconsistent, like the output of
SHOW CREATE TABLE and
SHOW FULL FIELDS, but we learned to work around those.
INFORMATION_SCHEMA in MySQL 5.0 resolves this also?
Yeah, but keep in mind that we must support old servers with old versions that stay around forever!
Right. Is there anything MySQL AB can do for you to make your work easier?
I would like to say that, as a phpMyAdmin developer, I am very honored to be part of this team and also to have been contacted by an official representative of MySQL AB. For many users, phpMyAdmin is the only way to interface to MySQL but at places like MySQL Users Conference, I felt like this web interface thinking is not yet part of MySQL AB, as seen in the training documents.
What I dream about, is that the MySQL web site would clearly hint developers that there is a web-based product, even if it's not a MySQL AB product. The reason is, so many consultants work on so many web-based projects. I would guess that those are (in numbers) the biggest number of MySQL users.
This is very useful feedback. A comprehensive solution for this is in the works.
And continue to invite us to the LAMP booths at conferences/exhibitions :)
No worries there, I'm sure.
Thanks very much for this interview, Marc.
Arjen Lentz is the community relations manager at MySQL AB, program chair of the 2005 MySQL Users Conference, and lives in Brisbane, Australia.
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