There was once a time when Groklaw provided a valuable service to the Linux community. All the legal stuff coming out of the SCO case was tricky for people to understand, and so PJ at Groklaw took it upon herself to explain it all - and did a mighty fine job, too. But since the SCO case has quietened down, the site has started to post other "news" from the Linux world, and to be honest, now that it has strayed outside of its core competency of paralegalism, Groklaw is starting to suck.
Exhibit A as is this story, titled "Novell 'forking' OpenOffice.org". The gist of the story is this: Novell is wants to implement support for Microsoft's OpenXML data format in OpenOffice.org, which therefore means they are forking OOo.
To make it quite clear that the site makes only the occasional attempt at being objective and unbiased any more, here are some quotes from the Groklaw story:
- "Well, if there are any Novell supporters left, here's something else to put in your pipe and smoke it."
- "I am guessing this will be the only OpenOffice.org covered by the "patent agreement" with Microsoft. You think?"
- "So, while Novell may call this "Novell OpenOffice.org" I feel free to call it "Sellout Linux OpenOffice.org". Money can do strange things to people."
- "Novell, Inc. delivers A-Hint-Of-Not-Really-Open-Software for the Not-Much-Interested-in-Leaving-Microsoft Enterprise"
- "now the only question is when Microsoft will support ODF in earnest in Microsoft Office, if it ever will"
There are a few comments I'd like to make about this nonsense:
- If Novell were ever to fork OpenOffice.org, that's its right. That's a right and a privilege that we, as open source developers, grant to all our users, irrespective of who their business partners are. In fact, most people would agree that the ability to fork freely leads to "survival of the fittest" in software, so we generally encourage it.
- Novell is not forking OpenOffice.org. A project fork is when you split completely from the parent codebase, and go down a different path. If Novell were to decide that OOo was best running entirely on Java, or if it wanted to bin Impress and use something that forced people to use Compiz, that would be a fork. But adding support for a file format is not a fork. Sorry, folks!
- OOo already supports several Microsoft standard file formats, most of which are completely proprietary - Word .doc, Excel .xls, etc, are completely binary formats, and had to be reverse engineered. Some don't work quite right, which is why OOo still issues compatibility warnings when saving documents in Office formats.
- Once people start using Office 2007 - and they will, it's basically a dead cert - they will start using OpenXML for saving their files. At this point, people trying to migrate to Linux will say "can it read my Office documents?" and we'll all say "sadly, no." Or, we could encourage OpenXML support in OpenOffice.org, and help people migrate.
- OpenXML is a huge leap forward from the old formats, because it is completely open and readable. What's more, OpenXML is being standardised by ECMA, which means the specification is free for everyone to download.
- Microsoft has issued two, worldwide promises regarding OpenXML, both saying they will not enforce any patents on people who implement part of are all of the OpenXML standard in their software. You can read them here and here.
- Microsoft is funding a BSD-licensed Sourceforge project to create an ODF converter for Microsoft Office.
So, in summary: there is absolutely no patent threat from OpenXML, adding it would be a legitimate feature that people would want, and at this time Microsoft is actually making an effort to support ODF in its own software. Surely this is exactly what we all dreamed about happening years ago?
I still dislike Microsoft, and I still wish Novell had more brains than to ally with the beast of Redmond, but the OpenXML FUD - particularly from Groklaw - is stupid. Give it up.