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Ellison & the GPL Part III

If you’ve downloaded and installed a copy of OpenOffice.org recently, you’ve probably noticed Oracle’s red lettered logo on the splash screen. This caught my attention the first time I saw it because I didn’t remember ever having seen Sun’s logo on the splash screen, so I fired up an ancient PC running Windows98 and opened OOo, version 1.x. I was right, Sun’s logo was nowhere to be seen.

As much as I don’t like to see Oracle’s branding on an important open source project like OpenOffice.org, this might be a good thing for the office productivity suite, which has become the de facto alternative to Microsoft’s Office franchise. It means that Ellison & Company evidently places value on the OpenOffice brand and values the company’s association with it.


OpenOffice is licensed under the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), basically a less restrictive form of the GPL, which means the project should be immune to any copyright moves against it from Oracle. However, this is a huge project requiring many coders (one source indicates that as many as 450,000 people have contributed to its development). Over the years Sun, who gave birth to the project when they open sourced their proprietary Star Office suite, has funded much of OpenOffice’s development costs.

Now that Sun is a division of Oracle, will Ellison be inclined to continue funding development of OpenOffice?

Again, the fact that Oracle’s logo appears on the splash screen is probably a good sign. So too is the fact that Oracle is working to monetize their proprietary version of the suite, Oracle Open Office. An example is the Oracle ODF Plug-In for Microsoft Office, which allows MS Office users to open ODF (the Open Document Format used by OpenOffice and other applications) accurately. Sun had offered the same plug-in, under a different name, for free. Oracle’s asking price is $90 per user, with a minimum of 100 users – meaning that what Sun once offered free will now set you back at least $9,000. I may not think that’s a very good business practice, but if they’re selling some of these, they’ll probably continue to fund OpenOffice.

But will they continue to be the project’s major contributor? Probably not. Since OpenOffice also receives financial support from Novell, Red Hat, IBM, Google and others, I’m betting Oracle will play tightwad and force some of these companies to pick up the slack. To a greater or lesser extent, that will probably happen, even from whomever picks-up Novell’s interest in SUSE, since the continuation of the project is important to all of these players.

11 Comments

  1. Anon Anon September 24, 2010

    Sun’s logos were present on more recent versions of OpenOffice. I suspect the version you fired up was from before Sun got involved.

  2. Another Anon Another Anon September 24, 2010

    Anon wrote:
    “Sun’s logos were present on more recent versions of OpenOffice. I suspect the version you fired up was from before Sun got involved.”

    Really? When might that have been? There was no such thing as OpenOffice before Sun was involved. StarOffice was a closed-source product of German company StarDivision; Sun acquired StarDivision in 1999 and opened the source to create OpenOffice.

    Sun may have been inept in its dealings with open source, but it actually delivered a lot to the community. Rewriting history doesn’t change what really happened.

  3. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | September 24, 2010

    @Another Anon I was going to explain the history of StarOffice/OpenOffice myself, but you beat me to it. And I agree with your comments on Sun. They were never able to think outside the box Scott McNealy built so that open source worked for them business-wise. But they did respect the open source model, and they did give a lot to the community.

  4. Rambo Tribble Rambo Tribble September 24, 2010

    While those of true greatness generally acknowledge “standing on the shoulders of giants”, those of far meaner character assume the mantle of “self-made”. Mr. Ellison is one of several digital-age robber barons, whose relationship to the society is largely parasitic.

  5. Anon #3 Anon #3 September 26, 2010

    I have a copy of OpenOffice.org 2.0 which I downloaded from the openoffice.org website in early 2006. It’s splash screen has what I would consider a fairly discrete Sun logo in the lower right hand corner. There are also gracious words (again, IMHO) something to the effect of how it was developed in collaboration with others. (Sorry, but I am going on memory from about 24 hours ago, at which time your website was not available.) The jarring thing about OOo was how I had to “accept the license” (GPL or some such!!!) the first time I ran it. Not only that, but it recorded a times stamp of when I “accepted the license” in one of its files. It gave me a very creepy feeling, like I was using proprietary software or something. (The irony is that the license gave me the right to modify the source such that it wouldn’t throw up that license dialog. 🙂

    I also checked the splash screen on a copy of OOo that was running on an older version of Ubuntu. That splash screen did *not* contain any corporate logo but I have read that Ubuntu distributes Novell’s fork of OOo. Perhaps that accounts for not seeing a logo? Or perhaps Sun had not yet started putting their logo on the splash screen on your old version?

  6. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | September 26, 2010

    #Anon #3 Thanks number three! I suspect the later, that Sun hadn’t yet started putting their logo on the splash screen. The version I looked at was on my roommate’s ancient PC running Windoze 98. I downloaded and installed OOo from the OOo site for her. It’s version 1.0, so Sun must’ve started adding their logo later. Funny, cause I’ve run several instances on version 2X, on both Linux and Windoze boxes, but I don’t remember it, probably because I never had many ethical questions about the way Sun did business, and I have a lot of questions about Oracle’s ethics.

    As to being forced to ok the GPL when you installed OOo, I’m surprised that bothered you. You’re just agreeing to the terms of the license, to make sure you understand. As you said – after that, it’s yours, do with it as you will. The the best of my knowledge, you always have to click to agree to the GPL, whether you’re installing a Linux distro or an application.

    Anyway, thanks for your comments!

  7. Anon #3 Anon #3 September 26, 2010

    The reason clicking “I agree” bothers me is because there is nothing to agree to. Free licenses allow you to run the software for any purpose, or, as in licenses that don’t specifically spell that out like GPLv2, they at least don’t stand in your way. The whole “I agree” tradition comes from the proprietary world where what you agree to makes very clear that the proprietor is the master and you are the slave.

    I have not installed a great number of distros (maybe 4 not counting different versions of the same distro, plus running some live CDs), but I am pretty sure that I have never had to click “I agree” to install. As, expected, I have never had to click “I agree” when I’ve installed from a distro’s repositories. I have seldom had to click “I agree” when I’ve installed free software by other means. The few times I have had to click “I agree” it has always left me with a bad taste in my mouth and shaking my head since it is so pointless. (Where the free licenses possibly add restriction is when the software is distributed. And you can do that w/o even running the software. The “I agree” button on free software is 180 degrees out of phase with reality.)

    You may remember a while back when there was a big row when (IIRC) Firefox inisted that a license agreement screen be displayed by distros. They eventually back off and allowed it to simply be an information screen. (Now that I think of it, I believe Seamonkey has an “I agree” requirement which always has left me shaking my head. Perhaps my strong reaction to it on OOo was because that was the first time I ran into it with free software plus the fact that they logged the time stamp.)

    Sorry for what is almost a rant. I have just gotten to the point of reacting against anything that even *smells* of non-freedom.

  8. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | September 26, 2010

    I like your attitude toward free and open software a lot. However, there are quite a few “restrictions” that come with GPLv2. You agree that if you distribute the software in binary form you’ll also make the source code available. You agree that if you make any modifications to the code, and then distribute the code with those modifications, that modified code is now GPL’d and can be used in any open source project that’s uses a licensed under the GPL. That being said, I can certainly understand your reluctance to anything that smells of an EULA, especially in these times when most EULAs only grant you use rights, not ownership, and even restrict use.

    Oh, and rant away! If FOSS is going to remain healthy and grow, we need open communication as much as we need open source code:-)

  9. Anon #3 Anon #3 September 27, 2010

    I am quite familiar with the obligations of GPLv2. My point is those obligations kick in when you distribute, not when you run it. (BTW, there is no obligation to “give back” as is frequently stated. The obligation is to “give forward”. 🙂 ) I would not have a problem with an advisory screen (similar to wha happens with command line GPL software). It is the “I agree” that is like fingernails on chalkboard to me.

    The only reason I am only passingly familiar with GPLv3 is because I haven’t gotten around to looking at it in detail yet. (Although I am familiar with the “Cliff notes” type summary.) I did finally get around to getting a local copy of GPLv3 a few monthgs back. 🙂

  10. Anon #3 Anon #3 September 27, 2010

    In my last post I should have added that GPLv2 specifically says you do not have to agree to it:

    “You are not required to accept this License, since you have not signed it. However, nothing else grants you permission to modify and or distribute the Program or its derivative works. These actions are prohibited by law if you do not accept this License. …”

    Since GPLv2 elsewhere states that is does not concern itself with running the program, then you are perfectly free to run it w/o accepting the license. Except that dialog makes it impossible (to the degree clicking “I agree” actually is legally binding). Unless, of course, you first modify the source code to get rid of the dialog!

    This is all offered as friendly comment. 🙂

  11. Christine Hall Christine Hall Post author | September 28, 2010

    Stated that way, I think you make a pretty good point, especially given that you can compile any GPL program from source and install it without having to accept anything.

    I haven’t read version three either, although I followed it pretty closely when it was being finalized. I kind of agree with Linus Torvalds take on it.

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