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.