Time for an OpenOffice.org Foundation

Foundation would ease worries about Oracle's control

A lot of people are still trying to figure out what the heck Oracle is up to regarding their lawsuit against Google.

Among the excellent analyses I have read to the date are:

Meanwhile, OpenSolaris developers, despite having seen the handwriting on the wall for some time, are coming to terms with the effective end of the OpenSolaris Project.

The most common reaction seems to be looking to Illumos as the savior of the open aspects of the Solaris code. Illumos, a derivative of Sun's OS/Net (ON) was designed to be a pure open source version of ON. ON is basically the OpenSolaris kernel and supporting programs, so essentially, Illumos was to be Nexenta's "distribution" of OpenSolaris.

Now, Illumos' role is much more involved. Nexenta's Garrett D'Amore blogged Friday that Oracle's closure of the OpenSolaris Project has dramatically changed the role Illumos will play:

"While I would have vastly preferred for Illumos to have a cooperative and collaborative relationship with Oracle, it appears that Oracle doesn't value this. In fact, the exact words were from the management at Oracle were as follows:

'Solaris is not something we outsource to others, it is not the assembly of someone else’s technology, and it is not a sustaining-only product.'"

Indeed, D'Amore concluded that it may be necessary for Illumos to fully fork OpenSolaris--a course of action that was erroneously tagged on Illumos by the media when it was first announced, because somehow after all these years, tech media doesn't seem to understand the difference between "fork" and "distribution."

Now, though, "fork" may be the right term for Illumos, though that's not D'Amore's main goal.

"I once said I never intended for Illumos to compete with Solaris. That was true, but if Oracle forces the issue, then even despite their vast economic resources, I say, 'Bring it!," D'Amore wrote.

I have already raised concerns for other open source projects that were once part of Sun Microsystems' portfolio, such as OpenOffice.org and Virtualbox. Given Oracle's historical squeeze-the-sponge-dry attitude about free and open source software, I think it's fair to start voicing such concerns.

OpenOffice.org's problem involves some history: when Sun ran the project, non-Sun developers often complained that Sun's insistence copyright assignment discouraged external contributions, and that Sun's (and now Oracle's) tight control of the project inhibits developer initiative. So third-party developers already have a problem with Oracle, as more than one developer involved in OpenOffice.org has privately indicated to me in just the past few weeks.

Now, along comes Oracle with lawsuits and lock-downs that could adversely effect existing open source projects. Even if you can make an argument that right now, the OpenOffice.org community and project is doing just fine, just exactly how long would you expect this to be the case?

If I were an OpenOffice.org contributor, especially one not employed by Oracle, I would start to be very worried about the future of the project, at least until I heard Oracle publicly state what their plans were.

This may seem unfair to Oracle to assume the worst, but given their stealth-mode attitude regarding OpenSolaris, it's fair to start getting more details, beyond market-y optimism.

For my part, I would start putting the bee in outside contributors' collective bonnet, urging them to start building a soft landing spot for OpenOffice.org. Past calls for an OpenOffice.org foundation have been largely ignored by Sun/Oracle, but given that so many Linux distributions use this office suite as a big part of their offerings, they might be remotivated by Oracle's recent actions to renew their efforts.

A new separate foundation could be created, or perhaps OpenOffice.org could be stewarded by the Linux Foundation in much the same way they steward the MeeGo Project. IBM and Novell, which I believe are the biggest non-Oracle corporate contributors to OpenOffice.org right now, could flex a little community muscle to try to make this happen.

Not only would such a foundation settle everyone's nerves, it should also increase participation and innovation in OpenOffice.org, since a lot of the barriers (percieved and actual) to entry would be removed.

Even if Oracle does turn out to be a positive caretaker for OpenOffice.org, recent events drive home the point that some sort of foundation for OpenOffice.org is clearly needed, if only to abate the uncertainty that arises whenever one company controls such a large and important free software project.

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