However, the time between updates may increase by a large margin.

That’s what I take from the current problems that are causing fear and loathing in the open source camp. Many are afraid that Oracle is going to become as big a problem for OpenOffice as it has for OpenSolaris.

The difference is that OpenOffice has safety in numbers, being estimated at garnering a full 10% of the office productivity market. OpenSolaris is a miniscule part of the overall small operating systems market, usually categorized as “Other”.

The article from today’s PC World tells why Oracle has become a penny-pinching enemy of open source, as they absorbed Sun, they certainly must have seen many places where they thought that Sun could have been profitting, but was not, due to its largesse towards the computing community. Oracle apparently has very little of the same spirit, and will try to profit from every bit of code ever begun by Sun.

Back in January, the Amsterdam-based consultancy Software Improvement Group warned government entities not to deploy OpenOffice.org until Oracle proved its commitment to treating the software as well–and with as much investment–as Sun Microsystems had.

At the time, of course, Oracle was in the process of acquiring Sun, which had long been the primary sponsor of the open-source productivity software.

Fast forward seven months, and it’s looking like there was good reason for what may have seemed back then like overcautious advice. Not only is the database behemoth Oracle suing Google over its use of Java in Android, but it’s also snipped the cord on OpenSolaris, the open source version of Sun’s Solaris operating system.

Oracle is effectively declaring war on open source software, in other words, and business users are right to be worried.

The difference with OpenOffice is that Sun got as much as it gave, using OpenOffice as the basis of each version of Star Office, and so if Oracle wants for Star Office to continue and be profitable, it is going to either have a hands-off policy towards the current OpenOffice team, and then use the changes provided for Star Office, or undertake the job of continuing the project within.

Is Oracle ready to do this? In my opinion it would be “like cutting off your nose to spite your face” and not very wise.

The ‘Fork’ Factor

OpenOffice.org is not Oracle’s only other open source undertaking. There’s also MySQL, for instance, which will likely feel the effects of Oracle’s revenue-minded wrath as well.

A key difference, however, is that MySQL has already been “forked” several times, meaning that there are already equivalent versions under the care of multiple projects independent of Oracle. Drizzle is probably the most notable example among them; others include Percona and MariaDB.

Similarly, the newly announced Illumos project, led by Nexenta, promises to become an independent fork of OpenSolaris, thereby continuing development on that technology as well.

More Than 40 Million Downloads

For OpenOffice.org, however, the future does not look nearly so well-assured, despite the fact of its global popularity. Back in early 2005 the software surpassed 40 million downloads, and its community estimates that it now accounts for some 10 percent of the overall office suite market.

As is generally the case with open source software, the absence of purchase records means that it’s difficult to track and prove usage. Nevertheless, OpenOffice.org is included in many popular Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, and is surely the leading open-source alternative to Microsoft’s pricey Office suite.

So what does it all mean for business users of OpenOffice.org? Is it time to begin looking for something else?

Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

That would be premature.

I believe it is likely that Oracle will axe its support for OpenOffice.org, preferring instead to focus on technologies such as StarOffice that bring in new revenues. That, however, does not mean the open office suite will disappear.

Rather, one of the best aspects of the world of free and open source software is that where there’s a community of interested developers and users with the will to keep a technology alive, there’s no reason they can’t do that–and it’s a safe bet that some of them are, right now.

450,000 Contributors

The code is still out there, and anyone with the desire could download it, rename it, and give it new life. Some 450,000 contributors have already worked on the project, after all, so there are plenty of people with the skills and interest to keep it going–and keep it going they will.

Oracle may have decided that profit is paramount, but the world’s millions of open source users don’t have to be dependent on its good will. OpenOffice.org is simply too big and too popular to be allowed to die; the time has come to give it its independence.

The question then, of course, will be whether Oracle seizes such a move as new fodder for patent vengeance.

Something that the article does not mention is something that happened a while ago. The development community of OpenSuSE had begun to fork its own version of OpenOffice, preferring to doll it up for its OS a bit differently, and providing several changes that were not cosmetic. The versions were called Go Office. Part of their start page is something that these people saw a long time ago – politics should have little to do with developing software. The result is that they allow more freedom, and I’m betting that lots of OO developers will go to GO if Oracle gets heavy-handed or litigious.

There are simply too many people unwilling to see the effort go away on the account of some bad behavior by Mr. Ellison and company.

OpenOffice may switch its name, rather than fight, but it will survive, even if it has to go incognito.

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A Cat's Life

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