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Forking OpenOffice.org

As many of my readers know, the community manager for Ubuntu, Jono Bacon, is a good friend of mine. One thing I love about Jono is that he’s a level-headed thinker–especially on issues that can stoke the flames of passion among the free software community. His recent post “Sensationalism takes a choke-hold” shows that clearly as he pleads for some sanity in response to a poorly researched Groklaw article about Novell “forking” OpenOffice.org.

Now one of my favorite Linux-enthusiast journalists, Steven Vaughan-Nichols, weighs in on the matter, as well. Perhaps I can add some fact-check on the matter while strengthening Jono’s orginal point about falling for the diviside-and-conquer tactic that is playing out in the community.

There are some who claim that Microsoft entered into the Novell deal as a divide-and-conquer strategy. To wit, recently the founder of Ubuntu and leader of Ubuntu’s backing company Canonical, Mark Shuttleworth used an openSUSE mailing list to recruit openSUSE community of hackers over to Ubuntu. This mis-step was quickly identified by many members of the openSUSE and free software community(ies) as divisive, and possibly playing right into Micrsoft’s hands. (Please note, I use this event as a way to illuminate the issue, not to project any ill feelings toward Mr. Shuttleworth, as much of the backlash could easily be argued to have been equally overblown. For your consideration, I link to a rather well-balanced summary article about the issue.) The point is that some of the loud protests against the Novell-Microsoft agreement (and, no, I do not overlook the agreement itself) have created a rift in the community where facts are unimportant, and conspiracy claims are king. Somewhere, a monkeyboy is smiling.

To Groklaw’s claim that, “There will be a Novell edition of OpenOffice.org and it will support Microsoft OpenXML,” I submit this fact:

  • There was already a Novell Edition of OpenOffice.org. In fact, those with any memory at all will remember “OpenOffice.org, the Ximian Edition.”

Michael Meeks’ team at Novell is often said to be the largest team contributing to OOo outside of Sun. The kind of large sub-projects that they have contributed are not easy to integrate quickly into upstream, and so, Michael’s team has been managing a minor-branch version ever since their Ximian days. However, they submit all of their contributions under the same license that upstream OpenOffice.org uses (and they continue to do so). Groklaw’s claim overlooked this, and in so doing, it perpetuates divisiveness through further misunderstanding. (Again, allow me to acknowledge that I fully recognize that it was not Groklaw who orginally opened this Pandora’s box. I cite it here as another example for why a monkeyboy would be having a good knee-slap right now. And, while we’re still within the parentheses, I remind my readers that the opinions expressed or implied in this blog are mine alone and not my employer’s.)

Whatever your feelings about the Micrsoft-Novell deal, none of us should let our passion for free software to precipitate the spawning of unsubstantiated claims or the recasting of history in order to construct the telling signs of a thinly-veiled conspiracy. It ventures dangerously close to becoming an attack on open source developers–actual people–who don’t deserve such contempt in light of their contributions to the free software meme pool .

To finish this short post, let’s put a finer point on it by examining a recent accusation from “Beranger,” who recently linked back to my post on VBA Macros in OpenOffice.org Calc (from the July 17th-released Novell Edition of Open Office.org) and opined that Novell may have planted an IP bomb inside of the VBA Macro execution code. To some, this may seem a righteous and deserved attack on Novell. However, it’s not an effective attack on Novell management at all. Rather, it directs unsubstaniated suspicion about the integrity of Michael Meeks and his team. In other words, it is a personal attack, and it comes simply because Michael and team happen to work for Novell. Thankfully, it is a rare few who would stoop to this approach in order to voice their objection to the Novell-Microsoft agreement.

So, back to the primary point: the important thing to remember, Neo, is that there is no fork.

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3 Responses

  1. Well said!

  2. Ted, you haven’t understood a thing!

    My post you’re referring to [http://beranger.org/index.php?fullarticle=1945] says “MS Lawsuit Exploit In OpenOffice: How Paranoid Should You Be?”, and the bottom line is that the patent system is broken, nothing more. The patent system generates all the FUD. The “paranoid” part in the title says it all: it is not really an exploit.

    Later, after having read PJ, I added: “Nay, this is NOT forking!” [http://beranger.org/index.php?article=2057]

    So: about the “Novell may have planted an IP bomb inside of the VBA Macro execution code” thing… I only linked to a Slashdot page [http://linux.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/18/1838229] that links to a Linux.com article [http://www.linux.com/article.pl?sid=06/11/08/1726205] …that pretends it’s about an IP bomb.

    If it is an IP bomb, this is because of the patent system itself in the first place. Moreover, it wasn’t sharing the “forking OOo” idea in any of my posts.

    I know that we disagree on almost anything that’s Novell-related, but you should pay more attention to what you read, and don’t blame me for saying things I never said.

    Yours,
    Béranger

  3. Béranger:
    I believe it’s more that I disagree with propagating suspicion about good people.

    I’m not sure that we “disagree about almost anything Novell-related.”
    –T

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