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Oracle and OpenOffice: The Final Insult

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

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.”

8 Comments

  • Prior to this dispute, I have believed for many years that the Apache/MIT/BSD licenses are superior to any GPL variant, including LGPL. Under the Apache license, I, as a user or developer, have more rights, not less. I can even work real hard, add a bunch of things in that I develop myself, and create a commercial product. I don’t know why the Librefolks are moaning so much – if their community is so viable, so great, etc. then they can do more with the code as well. Meanwhile, the Apache Foundation is certainly a more stable and long lasting solution than an upstart such as the Document Foundation. Therefore, I believe that Larry Ellison made the right decision in this matter, and I will leave it to the trolls to try and pin the tail on the donkey of motivation.

    • I’m the thing that gives you nightmares…a retailer…dum dum dum…eeek! And as a retailer I frankly don’t care if you do it with an ABI or selling your first born to Cthulu all I want is for the fricking drivers to work after an update! Is that REALLY so damned much to ask for? I want my customer to take their shiny new Linux box home, see an update button show up in a week, apply said updates and….gasp! The machine CONTINUES TO WORK afterwards without spending a couple of days reading Man pages, or crawling around the back end of some forum with their hat in their hands going "please sir, can I has sound now?"

      So if you can’t even give retailers like me an OS that will either be supported long enough (minimum 7 years, which right now is on average HALF of Windows) that my customers don’t have to jump on the upgrade treadmill or conversely actually have updates…I know, this is a shocking thought, try to keep up…that actually DON’T BREAK DRIVERS when you apply them? Well then friend I think you have bigger things to worry about than yours truly. Oh and for the one that put herself when regarding me? I’m a he, quite happy about that as is my GF, thanks.

  • LibreOffice was born out of the need to protect this open project from the predicted demise of OO due to Oracles suspect motives.

    Mission accomplished.

    Anything that happens with OO now is Oracle’s business. Many worse things could have happened than passing it on to Apache.

    Apache provides open technology that everyone relies on. I believe it is just not "open enough" to satisfy zealots.

    Apache Foundations are allies not enemies.

    btw…Long live LibreOffice!

    • Just as you accuse (correctly) me of ignoring hairyfeet’s point, you also ignored mine. I even wrote early in my post that dissent and balance is necessary for a productive dialectic. My point was that hairyfeet is so far from correct and so unwilling to consider anything beyond his little world, he is disturbing the productive exchange of ideas rather than complementing.

      Read his posts. Read his history…. or just pay attention in the future. Although he claims to be a Linux admin of some sort, every post is that tantrum of a child demanding that linux be more like windows. he wants windows control, windows look, windows development style, windows cohesion and windows conformity. The only reason why he likes linux is because it is for free.

      I made the mistake of trying to tangle directly with hairyfeet’s ideas before. The veterans chuckled at me for my naivity. I now see why. Arguing freedom as in beer versus freedom as in speech to hairyfeet is like trying to get Bill Clinton to define the word "is".

      Yeah, I made ad hominem comments. That’s because the ideas are so wrong there is no answer for them… which was the point of my post. To spell it out… adding hairyfeet’s opinion is like asking a drunk auctioneer to deliver Aunt Martha’s eulogy.

      • Hi: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to address your points. I didn’t ignore your points … but I *do* disagree with them. I’ll take the time to explain in more detail.

        Yes, hairyfeet wants linux to "just work". One of the issues has been that hairyfeet has been using Ubuntu as the "test linux" to see if linux is "ready for the desktop" – and one of the well-known problems with Ubuntu is that it breaks on updates. This is a show-stopper for anyone who wants to be able to say "yes, you can use this" for the general public.

        Wireless is still an issue (*cough* broadcom *cough*). Flash playback getting broken on browser upgrades is still an issue. Multifunction printer/scanners are still an issue. Distros that break on in-place upgrades (Ubuntu is notorious for this – contrasted to opensuse, which is a dream come true on in-place network upgrades) are an issue.

        In hairyfeet’s test case (5 boxes that he tried updating Ubuntu on – they all broke), I pointed out that perhaps giving another distro a try (install an older version of, say, opensuse, then do an in-place network upgrade and see if everything still works), rather than tarring and feathering all distros with the same brush, might be worth a try, and hairyfeet agreed that it might be worth it at some future date.

        As for the whole "he wants Windows control, windows look, windows development style, windows cohesion and windows conformity", we could probably implement 90% of that with symlinks and some tcl/tk, python, or perl scripts to slap together quick-and-dirty gui widgets that would make Windows users feel right at home – they’d "see" the familiar Windows fake directory structure, etc. Right down to letting them stick a gazillion icons on their desktop. Just include an "if you want to know more …" rather than spouting "RTFM, you ignorant clod!" Those who are curious will learn, and some of them will see that the *nix way is often simpler and better.

        And if it is a troll, so what? A good troll is a brick in the face that forces you to address your weaknesses. A great troll is an opportunity for both further developing and expounding your position, as well as nuancing it to address the other party’s immediate concerns. After all, it ain’t really trolling if there’s a kernel of truth to it, and in this case, there is – there are plenty of people who are afraid of ANY change. They’re going to be our target in April 2014, when XP goes EOL "for real, we really mean it this time, no more extensions". Anyone who can slap that Fisher-Price UI atop linux will have LOTS of people kicking the tires.

        Just a thought … and btw, thanks for replying 🙂

  • The article is fairly complete and the number of articles of this quality is one of the reasons why this is one of the few blogs I read with any frequency. Good job.

    I do have a problem with anyone lending a voice to the notorious troll who calls herself hairyfeet. Dissenting opinion is welcome and helps to balance a discussion, but hairybrain is on the wrong side so consistently with such petulant substitute for rationale, it is difficult to distinguish her from Alan Colmes.

    We are not left with a improved dialectic, but instead are greeted with the contadic squonk of vitriol where silence would actually be an improvement.

    Does anybody really WANT to hear from a troll? Does anybody else think it adds to the discussion?

    • One thing I learned long ago is that when everyone agrees, there’s a good chance we missed something, so yes, I think that airing dissenting opinions such as from hairyfeet adds to the discussion.

      Rather than your display of ad hominems, don’t you think it would have been more constructive to address the questions that hairyfeet brought up, of continued funding for maintaining the huge code base, and attracting new developers who would have to devote a lot of time just to get their feet wet?

      These were legitimate issues before the fork. They’re even more pertinent now.

      You could have taken this as an opportunity to point out that the work of refactoring the source code to make it more modular (and easier for everyone, including new contributors, to learn and maintain) was stalled under both Sun and Oracle, but is now proceeding apace under LibreOffice.

      Wouldn’t that have been more constructive than calling someone "hairybrain"?

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