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Oracle and OpenOffice: The Final Insult

By Katherine Noyes LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Jun 6, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Things are never dull here in the Linux blogosphere, but there's no doubt they would be a whole lot less entertaining without Oracle.

Oracle and OpenOffice: The Final Insult

How else, after all, would we get the opportunity to ride on a thrilling emotional roller coaster such as the one Oracle's had us on since it acquired Sun?

Regarding OpenOffice.org, in particular, it's been one hair-raising twist and turn after another. The latest was felt last week, when Oracle decided to snub the Document Foundation and give the software suite to the Apache Software Foundation instead.

"Donating OpenOffice.org to Apache gives this popular consumer software a mature, open, and well established infrastructure to continue well into the future," said Luke Kowalski, a vice president with Oracle's Corporate Architecture Group. "The Apache Software Foundation's model makes it possible for commercial and individual volunteer contributors to collaborate on open source product development."

Eschewing the Obvious

We've known for some time, of course, that Oracle had decided to relinquish OpenOffice to non-commercial status. What we didn't know, however, was which group would be the lucky recipient.

Given its LibreOffice fork, the Document Foundation would certainly have been a logical choice. But since when does logic necessarily come into the picture?

Doing her best to leave her disbelief in a state of suspension, Linux Girl took to the streets of the blogosphere to learn more about what had just happened.

'Giving the Community the Finger'

"What just happened here is that Oracle couldn't resist giving the community the finger one more time," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza told Linux Girl. "It's better than Oracle trying to retain it, but it's far worse than simply giving it to the Document Foundation.

"The longer the schism between the versions goes on, the more users will ultimately suffer," Espinoza added.

Indeed, "Oracle is playing the spiteful child, smashing their toys instead of sharing," blogger Robert Pogson agreed. "A thriving community has sprung up around LibreOffice, and even though Oracle decided there was no money to be made from OpenOffice.org, they would not set the code free."

'Free, But Just Barely'

The Apache Software License (ASL) "is a Free Software license, but just barely," Pogson pointed out. "It seems to permit binary-only distribution. Perhaps that fits with what Oracle and IBM do with OpenOffice.org code."

The timing is particularly interesting, too, given that "Oracle just had an argument with Apache over Java," he added. "Is Oracle trying to make a bit more trouble for Apache by throwing a complex web of licenses at them?

"Who knows?" he mused. "Organizations having a temper tantrum don't usually make much sense."

'Small-Minded Spite'

In the end, if the code shifts to ASL licensing, "that will likely mean LibreOffice will drift further away from the code-base," Pogson predicted. "That could divide effort or improve the situation by competition."

The world "is big enough for yet another WYSIWYG office suite," he opined. "Oracle does not own all the code, so they cannot make it all ASL."

Either way, "it all seems rather pointless," Pogson concluded. "A contribution to LibreOffice would have meant more happiness to more people, so the thing seems like small-minded spite."

'Oracle Simply Couldn't Compete'

It's "pretty obvious that Oracle was taken aback by how quickly LibreOffice gained both credibility and traction," opined Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site.

"The distributions that have already switched to LibreOffice are a 'who's who' of linux, including OpenSuse, Ubuntu, Fedora and Mint," Hudson pointed out. "I expect the rest to switch in their next release, now that OpenOffice is heading towards irrelevancy."

There's been speculation that "having OpenOffice under a more 'business-friendly' Apache license will help keep it alive, but there's a difference between 'alive' and 'relevant,'" she added. "LibreOffice is obviously going to be the leader when it comes to new features, improvements and overall user base.

"Oracle simply couldn't compete, and having OpenOffice under the Apache Foundation was the best it could do to avoid just giving it to the LibreOffice group," Hudson concluded. "Sour grapes?"

'A Long, Slow Death'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet saw it differently.

"What happens to OpenOffice? The same thing that will happen to LibreOffice, I'll wager, which is a long, slow death," hairyfeet predicted.

"The simple fact is developers of real quality don't have much if any spare time, and they certainly aren't gonna want to spend a year or two getting up to speed on such a massive monolithic chunk of code like LO/OO, and without the big bucks of Sun/Oracle to pay the bills," hairyfeet added.

'The End of the OpenOffice.org Brand'

Others weren't so sure.

"This is going to depend heavily on whether the large businesses that still support OpenOffice switch to LibreOffice," asserted Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

"In the end, user community and developer community are the only things that matter," Travers opined. "It is not clear how this move will address these issues."

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack saw doom, but just for OpenOffice.org.

"I suspect we're going to see the end of the OpenOffice.org brand," Mack predicted. "The developer mindshare has already moved away, and the new move by Oracle won't reverse that."

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