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Larry Ellison has his $1 billion-plus bank account, his 450-foot yacht, and his five-acre private lake on the grounds of his sprawling, $200 million faux Japanese palace. But he no longer has OpenOffice, and what a satisfying development that is. Oracle's decision to give up on commercial exploiting of the open source productivity suite and turn over the code to "a purely community-based open source project" is a fitting end to the ugly coda that followed the death of Sun Microsystems and a triumph of creativity over greed.
Ellison's treatment of open source since the Sun acquisition has been nothing short of reprehensible, and it made me really mad. The man who promised to be a good steward to Sun's treasure trove of technology tried to pull a fast one by taking OpenOffice, a very viable and free alternative to Microsoft's bloated, way-too-expensive Microsoft Office, and turning it just another commercial product.
[ Relive the rise and fall of Sun in InfoWorld's slideshow. | Get the inside view on open source from Savio Rodrigues. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog and InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]
Maybe, just maybe, you could find an excuse for that. After all, Oracle did pay $7.4 billion for the faltering Sun in 2009. But there was absolutely no excuse for the way OpenOffice developers were treated -- or for pulling the Sun ODF plug-in. The free plug-in ensured document capability between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice. Instead, Oracle released Oracle ODF Plug-In for Microsoft Office and slapped a $90 price tag on it, with a minimum order of 100 units -- a move that effectively orphaned users who didn't want to pay the premium.
Think of the problems that caused for IT shops that had pushed OpenOffice as a money-saving alternative. (Links to the Oracle plug-in, as well as to other Oracle Open Office links, now appear to be dead.)
Even Microsoft isn't this greedy
Even Microsoft doesn't do that. Users of old versions of Office can simply down load a free compatibility pack and work reasonably well with documents created in new versions. When a company makes Microsoft look like a shining example of corporate responsibility, that's a shocking image.
OpenOffice is an outgrowth of the StarOffice suite made by the German company StarDivision. Sun bought StarDivision in 1999 and launched OpenOffice.org -- based on StarOffice -- in 2000. In those days, then-CEO Scott McNeely was fanatically anti-Microsoft; he even forbade Sun employees and contractors (I was one of them) from using Microsoft Office at work.
To be fair, some developers felt that Sun could be terribly bureaucratic in its management of open source projects, and there was sentiment in favor of forking OpenOffice even before its acquisition by Sun. But the tension between Sun and the open source community wasn't in the same league as the unpleasantness (that's the polite term) at Oracle.
The end of Ellison's stranglehold on OpenOffice really began last year, when key contributors formed the Document Foundation and forked the suite, creating LibreOffice (check out InfoWorld's comparison of Open Office and Libreoffice). The new group was supported by key companies such as Red Hat, Novell, Google, and Canonical. Although the move was clearly a reaction to Oracle's management of the open source projects it inherited, Oracle was still invited to join the Document Foundation. Not surprisingly, it declined.