Sun Urged to Give up OpenOffice Control
February 8, 2006 Leave a comment
Sun is being asked to create an independent foundation with OO.o, similar to what IBM did with Eclipse and what has been done with the Mozilla Foundation. One of the key reasons behind this, is that IBM is not willing to give code back to the project under the current situation (which requires you to sign rights over to Sun, presumably so they can include it in Star Office as well as OpenOffice.org). At this point, IBM has what basically amounts to a fork in its Workplace product. It's quite easy to see both sides of this one. Sun purchased Star Office for very real money and then turned around and LGPL'd it in less than a year. They employee about 80% of the contributors, with most of the remaining 20% being employed by Novell. Interesting that one of the highest profile Open Source projects doesn't have all that much community participation (although at a code level either does Firefox, to be fair). I've heard multiple reasons for this, but I'm honestly not close enough to the OO.o community to definitively verify. One recurring theme that I see is that the build system is convoluted and the code is overly complex. Basically bad enough that you'd need to be paid to be interested in working on it. The other reason I often see is the aforementioned requirement that contributions be licensed to Sun.
So, Sun has a vested interest in keeping control of the code, so they can recoup their Star Office investment and justify the number of employees working on the project. IBM, understandably, is not interested in paying developers to write code only to have it show up in the commercial Star Office. Sun is in a bit of a pickle it would seem. Now, I don't think they've gotten enough credit in the OSS world for what they did so far with OO.o, but this decision really comes down to what they want to do with the product long term. If they want to continue down the current path, slowly improving the product but bearing most of the associated cost, and selling Star Office in the current manner – we probably won't see a OO.o foundation any time soon. If they are willing to slightly change their paradigm, I think it could work for everyone involved and the only loser I could see would be Microsoft (some of the IBM changes really look nice, especially with regards to performance which is one of the biggest OO.o complaints I hear). A unified and energized OO.o foundation backed by both IBM and Sun could really put a hurting on Office sales. The one thing we often forget in the OSS world though, is that the code is by all rights the property of Sun. Acting like they are the bad guy in cases like this only make the OSS community seem fickle and hard to work with. I think all too often, that scares many companies away. Commendably in this case, project leader Louis Suarez-Potts could not be handling things in a more professional and poised way. He's not making demands, ridiculing Sun or making a huge stink. He's simply pointing out why he thinks it would be advantageous. I think there's a lesson to be learned in that…regardless of how this situation plays out.
Sun, OO.o, OpenOffice.org, IBM, Open Source, Microsoft, Office