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"A Strong OpenOffice.org Community is the Key," Says Sun's Danese Cooper

"A Strong OpenOffice.org Community is the Key," Says Sun's Danese Cooper

Related Links:
  • Sun's Bloggers Make Their Blogging Debuts

    You may have read some of the articles, blogs, and newsgroup postings about excerpts from Sun's settlement with Microsoft that appear in our SEC filing. The discussion centered around the protection we secured for the StarOffice brand, and implications for the OpenOffice.org community.

    Well from my perspective Sun loves OpenOffice.org and has been a good steward. When we open sourced it nearly 4 years ago (can it really have been that long?) I was personally concerned that Sun would lose interest in the project before it had a chance to really take off, but I was happily mistaken. OpenOffice.org is in some respects our best open source community, because it shows that code isn't the only valid contribution and that people want to increase their freedom by breaking away from vendor lock-in to open standards, even at the desktop productivity level. After 4 years we still develop one of the most popular F/OSS software projects in the clear, even though it takes more time to do it that way. We want people to use it. We're trying to build a community here.

    In many ways I think a strong community is the best hedge against legal troubles, too. All of F/OSS is still virtually untested legally, so participation is about revolution, not business as usual. What really keeps big companies from suing F/OSS projects is the negative PR impact. And notice that OpenOffice.org is widely adopted in Europe, where Microsoft has also been having other troubles of late. A strong community behind OpenOffice.org makes it harder for to pick on, period.

    The funny thing about open source community is that one party cannot unilaterally push their agenda forward - even if they originally donated the code. Five years ago we hired an engineer to work on the Tomcat team and since we'd hired him to write code, of course we gave him commit privileges the day he started work. The community was outraged. They pointed out in no uncertain terms that it wasn't fair for a new engineer to automatically get commit privileges just because he worked for Sun! Ever since then every Sun F/OSS project requires new engineers from Sun to go through the same process of building reputation as any other community member, because like Tomcat they are now shared resources.

    Doing things in F/OSS ways is a sea change for proprietary software companies. For years Mozilla.org was legally still part of Netscape. They actually wanted to separate it but they couldn't figure out who would pay (and provide health insurance) for the employees if they did. And most of the engineering was coming from inside Netscape, despite their many efforts to attract outside committers. But the Mozilla community continued to press on through negative press predicting their demise and supposedly scandalous stories that most of the committers worked for Netscape. They ultimately even survived losing their corporate steward, and lost some developers in the process. But true F/OSS people are stubborn and work continued on Mozilla until finally they are getting results! And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

    I believe we would have loved to protect OpenOffice.org from future lawsuits by Microsoft in our settlement with them but F/OSS software is by definition a shared resource and we have no explicit control over all the elements of that community. The language of the settlement takes OpenOffice.org as an example and makes it clear that Microsoft reserves the right to bring suit against any F/OSS project against which it has a claim (whether or not the project is stewarded by Sun). This isn't really news, is it? Nothing has really changed, except that in our settlement with Microsoft we managed to get some protection for our brands.

    There are many individuals, companies, and government agencies who benefit from the use and the growth of OpenOffice.org. Many of them also give back to the project by validating builds, serving on one or more of the groups that have formed to advise the project, or through free-form evangelism (telling their neighbor or their church or school or even their employer about the benefits of using OpenOffice.org). We are always looking for more people (and companies) to join the community. That's why we sponsor a yearly conference, and why, when Microsoft applied to have a booth there this year, we were happy to oblige. I'm still holding out a hope that they will see the light and join the standardization process for OpenOffice.org's XML file formats.

    Think about what M.K. Gandhi said about the stages of change...first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. I'll be at the OpenOffice.org conference next week, working for community. Hope to see you there!

    Related Links:
  • Sun's Bloggers Make Their Blogging Debuts
  • More Stories By Danese Cooper

    Danese Cooper is head of Sun's Open Source Programs Office.

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