What’s in a name?

June 2, 2011

During my time working in IT in big corporates, I would occasionally come across places where the use of open source software was ‘against company policy’ for one reason or another. I refrained from asking them to investigate their firewalls, routers, digital cameras, printers, photocopiers, etc. etc., but I did occasionally ask them which webservers they used. There was a good chance that IBM shops would be using IBM Websphere Server, and Oracle shops OHS (Oracle HTTP server). Both of these are of course re-badged versions of the Apache Software Foundation’s Apache HTTP Server – “the Apache webserver” – one of the flagships of the open source world.

Indeed, the ASF has achieved two amazing success stories – it produces the world’s most popular webserver, despite competition from commercial giants likes Microsoft; and it has succeeded in straddling the gulf between the open source communities and commercial software houses without upsetting either camp. For this reason, the announcement yesterday by Oracle (with a little help from IBM) that it was putting forward OpenOffice.org for adoption by the ASF is a fascinating development.

History lesson: Oracle acquired the OpenOffice.org software as part of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Within a few months, the volunteer community (which had been such a feature of OpenOffice.org) upped sticks and announced the formation of The Document Foundation as a home for the continuing OpenOffice.org project – which they had to rebrand as LibreOffice as Oracle had hung on to the OpenOffice.org trademark. TDF has succeeded in establishing credibility, releasing new versions of LibreOffice, and raising substantial funds in an appeal to supporters.

So, this latest move by Oracle could be seen as a move to wrong foot the volunteers in TDF. Alternatively, it could be seen an eminently sensible step for them to take. If OpenOffice.org passes the ASF adoption process, then there will be no question about whether it is a ‘genuine open source project’. You can’t get much more open source street cred than ASF branding. Oracle and IBM can continue to release commercial derivatives of OOo for their customers (as they do with the Apache Web Server), and might even persuade Red Flag to join the party. And the ASF can make the leap from the world’s server rooms to the world’s desktops.

But what about the folks at The Document Foundation? they have invested huge amounts of time and energy in establishing their new baby. It would not be easy to get back into bed with Oracle and IBM, as their initial response suggests. But maybe it’s time to set aside history, set aside the personality issues on all sides, take a deep breath, and decide which route is most likely to create great software that can continue to challenge Microsoft on the desktops of the world.


Leaving home

September 28, 2010

Our house is very quiet this morning – for the first time since we moved here, there’s just my wife and me in residence. Our offspring, both in their twenties, have flown the nest. Our friends report this is happening later and later in their families, with adult children finding it more and more difficult to make the break.

This seems to be a good analogy for the news that I’m hearing from my former colleagues at OpenOffice.org, where I worked for many years as a volunteer. OpenOffice.org was created ten years ago by Sun Microsystems, then one of the big names in IT, with a mission to challenge Microsoft’s domination of the office software market. Under Sun’s generous sponsorship, it proved highly successful, attracting thousands of supporters and around 15% market share.

However, there were increasing calls that it was time for the Community to move out from the parental home and stand on its own two feet. While you’re living at home, it can be difficult if you want to strike up relationships your parents don’t approve of, but which may actually be for your own good. Without wanting to stretch the family analogy too far, if your parents then have relationship problems of their own, this can prove the last straw – and for some key OpenOffice.org volunteers, the acquisition by Oracle of Sun Microsystems last year was indeed the final straw.

So, today, the OpenOffice.org community has declared UDI, and has set up an independent foundation – The Document Foundation – where they will be free to live their own lives. They are optimistic that Oracle Corporation will not be too upset with developments, and will agree to pass on to their grown-up children the belongings they have had to leave behind – such as the OpenOffice.org trademark. In the meantime, they have announced that their future releases of OpenOffice.org will be known as LibreOffice.

I wish them every success in their new, grown-up world.


After the launch was over

May 12, 2009

So, OpenOffice.org 3.1 with all its lovely new features is well and truly launched, with the official announcement last Thursday. I’ve reset the download counter on the Marketing Planet – as you can see from the detailed stats page, we were just a smidgeon short of 60 million downloads for OpenOffice.org 3.0.

The first reviews are also starting to appear in the press – it’s worth keeping an eye on the reviews page for a summary – we don’t just list the good ones ;)


Musical interlude

October 26, 2008

All together now (with apologies to Charlie and Craig Reid):

But I’d download five million times
And I’d download five million more…

Which is a musical way of proclaiming that as of midnight last night UTC, OpenOffice.org had recorded over five million downloads since the official announcement of the availability of version 3.0:

OpenOffice.org has recorded five million downloads via the Bouncer since 3.0 was released

And no, we’re not havering!


Beware of the para-sites

October 22, 2008

One of the side effects of the huge popularity of OpenOffice.org 3.0 is a growth in the number of para-sites – sites which look like official OpenOffice.org sites, but actually have nothing to do with the OpenOffice.org project.


This is how it works. A company builds a plausible looking website which could easily be taken for an official OpenOffice.org site. It then pays search engines, so that when people search for e.g. ‘Open Office 3′, its site appears at the top of the search results (as a sponsored link).

Visitors to the site are then lured into making a payment (or worse still, signing up to regular payments) in exchange for a download link, or a promise of an email with a link to a download site.

At best, the gullible customer receives a genuine current copy of OpenOffice.org 3.0 – which they could have downloaded for free from the official OpenOffice.org download site. At worst, they receive nothing, and spend months trying to get a regular payment cancelled from their credit card.

OpenOffice.org is open-source software, so it is quite permissible to sell it, and we do encourage genuine companies to build business models around the software (and we appreciate those that contribute back to the community). However, we know from regular emails and phone calls that there a lot of unhappy customers of these ‘para-sites’. What can we do?

  • we can prevent people using our registered trademark, OpenOffice.org
  • we can encourage people to report clealry fraudulent sites to consumer protection agencies in their countries

Search engines are well aware this is going on, but are unwilling to do anything about it – even those which claim to be active proponents of open-source.

However, it is worth remembering that every time someone clicks on one of these search engine links, it costs the advertisers money. There are millions of enthusiastic OpenOffice.org users out there – a few clicks each every day would soon drive the para-sites out of business.