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Oracle-Sun deal renews calls for OpenOffice.org's independence

Question remains about best role model: Mozilla, Apache or Linux Foundation?

By Eric Lai
April 28, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Oracle Corp.'s purchase of Sun Microsystems Inc. announced last week is reviving calls for Sun's open-source OpenOffice.org suite to be spun out into an independent foundation.

Oracle is one of the top corporate contributors to Linux and many other open-source software projects.

However, that has long been overshadowed by the tens of billions of dollars Oracle reaps annually from proprietary enterprise software, as well as brazen attacks it has made on open-source stalwarts such as Red Hat Inc.

According to some insiders, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's iron fist could actually help OpenOffice.org by helping to streamline software development or by improving its competitiveness against Microsoft Office -- two longtime complaints leveled against Sun, which remains the group's primary financial sponsor and the source of most of its programmers nine years after making it open-source.

"I started writing about OpenOffice.org/StarOffice 10 years ago, and I would have expected that now, there would be far more name recognition and adoption," wrote Solveig Haugland, a documentation author for OpenOffice.org. "I hope that Oracle sees the value in focusing more on both."

Or, OpenOffice.org might benefit Oracle as a valuable weapon in its never-ending war against Microsoft. The latest version, OpenOffice 3.0, has been downloaded more than 50 million times in its first six months. Microsoft Office's profits, meanwhile, have been slumping.

"It's a no-brainer that any company that wants -- like Oracle -- to make inroads on Microsoft's desktop hegemony and economic strength should do whatever it can to support and turbocharge further development of OpenOffice.org," said Andy Updegrove, a Boston lawyer and an open-source advocate.

If you love it, set it free?

Updegrove said he thinks that Oracle would be wise to consider putting into motion the long-stymied spin-off of OpenOffice.org.

"It would provide even greater credibility and greater incentives for additional developers to join the project, from both the independent community as well as from major vendors like IBM and Google," Updegrove said.

Michael Meeks, a developer at Novell Inc. who is overseeing Novell's custom branch of the OpenOffice.org software, is more blunt. "We need to fix the deeply conservative, entrenched group think around development process in the project," he said. "Currently, we have a total mess in this regard."

Bruce D'Arcus, a college professor and co-lead for OpenOffice.org's bibliographic project, said he thinks the Oracle-Sun deal is a "good opportunity" for the project to be completely spun off.

Even John McCreesh, head of marketing for OpenOffice.org, leans towards the organization's emancipation. "Philosophically, I am bound to agree that this feels the 'right' model for an open-source community," McCreesh wrote in his blog last week.



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