Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Novell "Fork" and Strange opinions in the OSS Community.

I have read a great deal over the past few days about a "Fork" in First I would like to say I am appalled at Groklaw's reaction to Novell's announcement.
Everything they are doing is being released back to the OpenOffice project, and they have maintained a separate version of OpenOffice for some time that they make widely available. Other distros do the same. Not only that but they show Novell's press release in the article where they accuse them of "forking" the project and in the press release is the following quote:

Novell will release the code to integrate the Open XML format into its product as open source and submit it for inclusion in the project. As a result, end users will be able to more easily share files between Microsoft Office and, as documents will better maintain consistent formats, formulas and style templates across the two office productivity suites.

Now I have never taken a law class, but I have been reading open source articles, and articles that take court cases and bring them down to a common level of understanding for a long time. Last I checked none of the words in this quote had been dramatically changed in definition by Websters. How Groklaw could write the article they did, accusing Novell of the things they have accused them of while placing this text in the exact same document is beyond me.

Then I read a bunch of fired up forum posts one of which linked to Luis Villa's Blog

He had a very even headed response to the entire thing, and feels about Groklaw about the same way I do. However he made one other point that I heartily disagree with. That is he says he thinks supporing Microsoft OpenXML is a bad idea because it gives legitimacy to the standard. Now I'm sorry, but one of the only things that has made OpenOffice a viable alternative to Microsoft Office is that when some average joe consumer sends you a file they made in Microsoft Office we have to be able to open it. So when Microsoft has a closed format it's appropriate to crack it, but when they make an open format and submit it as a standard it's unacceptable to use? Aren't we getting just a little bit childish here. If Microsoft changed their .doc format in an attempt to keep us from being able to read the files, or just because they wanted to, we would accuse them of playing unfair. We would have cracked that baby faster than my little sister used to break into the cupboard to eat all the raw sugar. Yet now they open it to use, as many flaws and absurdities as it may posses, and we say, no I'm sorry we wouldn't want to give you legitimacy.

Microsoft is not the anti-Christ. They are a corporation that happens to have a great deal in common with IBM from back in the day. Now who is one of our greatest supporters? IBM. Microsoft has some shady dealings, and many of the people who have made them despicable over the years are still there, but some of those people are fading out. Some day Microsoft is going to wake up and they are going to have as close to a functional management as a large corporation can have, and they are going to enter into a key meeting where they decide to do the next version of Windows or Office in a manner which is in some major way directly beneficial to Open Source. They will still be competition, but as with the Novell and Microsoft deal sometimes you have to work with your competition while still competing against them to get things done.

It's time for us to at least try and look at Microsoft's actions for what they are and at least turn the anti-Christ, nothing they do can be good tint down a little bit. If we don't the other 90-95% of the population that doesn't bow at the foot of the Open Source religion is never going to take us seriously.

Forget giving legitimacy, or who's evil. Just ask the people what they want, and then show them that Open Source can give it to them.