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 OpenOffice.org. First I would like to say I am appalled at Groklaw's reaction to Novell's announcement.
http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20061204130954610
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 OpenOffice.org project. As a result, end users will be able to more easily share files between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org, 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
http://tieguy.org/blog/2006/12/05/quick-thoughts-on-novell-blogs-as-journalism-etc/

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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the concern about adopting any M$ format is the repercussions it could possibly have in the form of patents. Many vendors have provided 'standards', only to turn around and seek licensing fees later on. Cisco's VRRP is a very good example of this. 'Open Standard' doesn't necessarily mean 'free as in beer use' if you implement it. I'm sure this is why many developers are shying away from any 'Open' Microsoft file format they call a 'standard'. Especially when there's already one available (ODF) which doesn't have any 'looming' patent lawsuits around it. Maybe Microsoft should adopt someone else's standard for a change, rather than expecting the world to adopt theirs ? Let's face it...Microsoft is WELL known for vendor lock in, no matter which way you slice it...so proceed carefully is the standard approach.

Anonymous said...

MS put OOXML into their "Open Specification Promise" whereby they promised not to sue *anyone* (not just Novell and Microsoft customers) for using it.

swiftnetcomputers said...

MS OpenXML is not truly 'open'. MS owns the format, and can change it at any time. Since the format is owned by MS, the licensing terms may also be changed to suite MS's best interest.
ODF is an ISO standard. It is supported by several different programs. The format is truly open, without the licensing restrictions that OpenXML has.
ODF is the way to go for all, but MS wants their own format, for the sole reason of being able to lock users into it. Remember that the bulk of MS profits are from MS Office. If competitors (less expensive) office suites can read and write the same format as MS Office with no formatting issues whatsoever, many users will defect from MS Office. That is what MS fears, losing its office user base. The way to keep users is to either create software that is much better than the competition or create software that locks the user into a proprietary format. MS chooses the latter.

My 2 cents,

Alex Chejlyk

wnpaul said...

Both "anonymous" t 5:10pm and "swiftnetcomputers" at 7:04 assert things that are o.k. to assert, but they don't answer the thrust of the post.

Victor disagrees with Luis Villa's assertion that supporting OXML gives legitimacy to that format as a standard, and he says the OOO's success is based on the fact that it handles MS Office file formats relatively painlessly.

And that is the crux of the matter: most of us use an office suite not in order to make a political or ideological statement, but to get work done. And in this world, at this time, the only way to get work done most of the time is to be able to work with Microsoft file formats.

Therefore I want OOO to support DOC, XLS, PPT, OXML, etc., because it is totally naive to believe that I will be able to convince everyone I have to work with to make a living to switch to a program which supports ODF.

Microsoft's motivation, Free Software ideology, and any number of other considerations do not even enter the equation, or are at best secondary.

Chris Thomas said...

the problem I see here is not whether the file format is supported or not, but where the code that allows the support comes from.

Just how exactly are the OOO team going to accept the work, think about this, the company that produce the code are under a patent pledge from microsoft that they will not sue, etc, etc.

So if you are looking at a code submission from that team, would you accept it without thinking? or would you think that MAYBE, just MAYBE you'd be accepting code into your project that someday might come to be the result of a patent claim.

after 5 years, what happens then? microsoft starts shooting people at random? What about if redhat starts to use the OOO product and finds that the code novell produced was covered by the patent pledge and therefore since redhat doesnt have an agreement, it's not covered, so now they cannot use OOO because it includes code from novell and they would be sued.

This goes not just for redhat, but anyone else. Would you put your project in that position? At a time in the future, you'd be up against the wall? I sure as hell wouldnt.

So I guess it's not a question of whether the code is produced and submitted, but whether it'll be acceptable to the project team who govern OOO.

I think thats a far more important question

Loki said...

Chris, you're just spreading flame here, as you got the facts wrong in the first place.

There is a "patent pledge from microsoft that they will not sue", but it is about Novell's customers, not Novell itself.

The GPL clearly forbids publishing code that violates patents that are not granted for everyone to use in the first place (and so does the LGPL -- the license OpenOffice.org is under).

So Novell may not publish patented code as LGPL, except if the patents are granted for everyone's use (IBM did that for some Linux kernel contributions).
And Novell doesn't even want to do that in the first place. The SUSE engineers and other developers from Novell have a strong position against software patents and that didn't change with the deal.

Sorry but you're just spreading fear and paranoia about Novell's contributions.
Novell is one of the leading FOSS contributors, by having a lot of developers involved in a lot of FOSS projects on their payroll (KDE, GNOME, Linux kernel, gcc, glibc, OOo, Samba, ....) -- much more than Ubuntu for example.

Novell's position is very clear -- you may choose not to believe it, but pulling hypothetic consequences not based on any facts out of your head is definitely not worth more than Novell's official statements.

Anonymous said...

I see eye to eye with you Cigan. Personally I believe one should put as much distance between themselves and Microsoft as possible. But to the extent that some of their applications rule much of the software roost, you sometimes have to work with them as a matter of necessity.

Although open source is I think the great disrupter of the software world and possibly even the "king-in-waiting" so to speak, it is not a religion. It is a piece of software that hopefully allows some user somewhere to do some useful work. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The minute OSS becomes a religion or its supporters in various forums (e.g. Groklaw) start treating it like the "Holy of Holies" you have a recipe for disaster. People will stay away from it like the curse afraid that they too will suffer similar antics if they were to "step out of line".

Now don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that people should not feel strongly about their OSS but rather that as strong as they feel about it, this does not give them the right to denigrate others in the OSS world who see things differently. And maybe, even, do not share their passion.

I certainly cannot imagine OSS progressing any further in the rest of the world out there as long as the alleged supporters of the movement behave like hired thugs every time some commercial entity does some "allegedly disagreeable" things with their beloved OSS.

I also heartily agree with you that Groklaw has recently become untenable and largely unreasonable. Once upon a time Groklaw was a great site, dedicated to helping the masses out there "Grok the Law" especially as it related to the SCO-IBM saga. Now with the slowing down of things in the SCO arena it seems like either the owner has become bored or allowed the site to be taken over by others who do not like OSS. Almost as if it is now being run by someone who wants to show the rest of the world how fanatic, unreasonable and childish the OSS crowd is (and to a great degree they are succeeding there). I might add that they also want to show off to the rest of the world that they can take down any company they want.

I'll tell you this. I used to visit that site daily. It really used to be a good resource. Nowadays it is a shell of its former self. Somewhere between Utah and New York, between ethical, decent behaviour and boundless ego it seems that Grolaw lost its ethics and the purity of its spirit.

I wonder if it will ever regain it.

Maybe now that the SCO-IBM saga is no longer as relevant as it was Groklaw should consider closing down or moving on to other things.

My 3c.