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Thank you Michael, but no, thank you... by Charles H. Schulz
Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:05 AM EDT

Thank you Michael, but no, thank you...
~ by Charles H. Schulz
1

Someone wrote a long time ago that a fork was not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it is certainly one of the most vivid expressions of the freedom Free and Open Source software carries. On the second of October, a much mediated engineer of OpenOffice.org and long time contributor of the OpenOffice.org project, announced that Novell would host and distribute custom builds of Openoffice.org without the JCA. What's interesting here is that many people would not have paid attention to this news if the press article reporting it had not carried a headline explicitly stating, "Sun refuses the LGPL, Novell forks".

To this widely spread but utterly inaccurate assertion, two things should be said in response. First, OpenOffice.org *is* released under the LGPL. Second, and perhaps more interestingly, Novell did not deny that it was forking, aside from Michael Meeks trying to nuance and to minimize this claim.

In this article I would like to give some insights into what the real issues are between Novell and and rest of the OpenOffice.org project, the now famous JCA, what I think a solution could be, and where I think OpenOffice.org is heading.

*****************************

Novell and OpenOffice.org

The history of Novell and OpenOffice.org is a complicated one. Novell was certainly one of the earliest non-Sun, corporate contributors to the OpenOffice.org project. The contributions of Novell are substantial, especially in terms of patches and specification writing. It should be noted that to this day, "i-teams" formed of Sun, Novell and other engineers are defining specs for the OpenOffice.org suite. But the most significant contribution of Novell is perhaps their own build system, dubbed "ooo-build". This system allows you to compile and release OpenOffice.org under a binary form. It is thus a central piece of the development process of OpenOffice.org. But it is not the only build system for OpenOffice.org. Most of the other builds are either custom or compiled like "Sun" with another build system. And that's where you find the summarized ambiguity of Novell's role inside OpenOffice.org: they are contributors with another build system. So when Michael Meeks announced that builds would be released on go-oo.org (a web site that has existed for years) it was, as he wrote himself, hardly news.

That being said, the ooo-build is being used (as a technology) by several, if not all the Linux distributions out there. And this was never considered a fork. Rather, it was a complementary approach. While the 'vanilla' builds were reputed to be stable, the ones built through the Novell method could integrate more patches quicker but were also problematic. As a consequence, vanilla builds started to appear as .rpm and .deb packages recently.

The Joint Copyright Assignment (JCA)

The JCA [PDF] is basically an agreement whereby the contributor shares the code ownership (copyright) with one, major copyright holder which acts as the copyright clearinghouse and steward. Similar agreements exist for other major projects, such as the Apache project, the FSF, Fedora, MySQL and others. The difference is that in some of these agreements, the contributor gives the entity a perpetual copyright license and other things, but retains ownership. If you look at the SCA, the newer Sun Contributor Agreement you'll see it's not identical to the JCA.

There are two main advantages to such agreements: first, the project can enjoy a true legal protection and second, this avoid the kernel "babylon" where you have hundreds of contributors that make it nearly impossible, in practice, to change the license.

Where things become more complex is when the prominent copyright holder is a commercial entity. In the case of OpenOffice.org, it is Sun. This allows Sun to sell StarOffice, that is, to create one proprietary product based on Free Software. This would also allow Sun to change the license overnight, say from LGPL to BSD or even to a proprietary one. So far Sun should be credited with having been extremely reasonable in regard of the license. In the future for instance, OpenOffice.org can switch to the (L)GPL version 3 quite easily. That could not happen without Sun's joint ownership, but for that matter, Michael Meeks' reaction was less than warm.

The issue some developers have with the JCA is thus understandable: you actually give joint ownership of your copyright to Sun; you may share it, you may contribute to Free Software and enjoy all the benefits that come with it, including using your own code for your own purposes, but essentially one big company benefits from the code you wrote (not that Sun does, actually -- they're not making much money with StarOffice).

For the record, several developers have found this a bit hard to swallow. But the great majority of them, independent developers and corporate ones such as IBM -- and, may I remind you, Novell itself -- have signed it. But then you may ask, what's the whole point of the issue?

Where things go wrong

This part is going to be a bit speculative, mostly because the logic of events is a bit confusing.

What the press and Michael Meek's blog report is that Kohei Yoshida refused to sign the JCA and thus had its solver software for Calc rejected by the development team. This is a sad story, because I think that a better communication between developers could have helped here. But where it becomes really strange is that Kohei Yoshida , a respected contributor of OpenOffice.org signed the JCA when he was an independent developer, got then hired by Novell, and then refused to contribute code under the JCA. I and others are still lost in conjectures as to why Kohei (or Novell?) had a problem with the JCA. In a similar fashion, one could wonder why Michael Meeks started to criticize the JCA after having praised it so often and encouraged contributors to sign it. One could also wonder, by the way, about the silence of Novell Corp. As of today, nobody else from Novell aside from Michael has confirmed it was a fork or said anything else.

Some have found a compelling argument in showing the connection between the Novell team's twist of thought and the agreement signed between Novell and Microsoft.

What the Novell decision could mean

Once again, it is safe to remember that we do not have Novell's official opinion about Michael's decision to fork.

What Michael Meeks did announce was that the former "sandbox" website, go-oo.org would be used in conjunction with Novell's ooo-build to produce builds integrating patches and contributions that are not covered by the JCA.

So is this really a fork?

My answer is: Not yet. For the moment what these new, Novell builds could integrate would be the Calc solver. But there the connection with the Microsoft agreement becomes really compelling to me. A much overlooked part of that agreement refers to a common interoperability lab stemming from both Novell and Microsoft. Part of this work by that lab involves cooperation on OpenXML.

Bear with me now: The OpenOffice.org project is developing import filters for OpenXML, but not export filters. Why? Because, I believe, it does not want to make a service to Microsoft by being the second major office suite to produce OpenXML documents on the fly. Novell sees this issue from a different point of view, but let's not get carried away. Working with Microsoft on interoperability, as Novell claims, includes working on OpenXML filters and plugins. While Novell contributes quite normally to OpenOffice.org's import filters, it is also developing an OpenXML export filter that won't be available in OpenOffice.org-- that is, if you choose to use OpenOffice.org and not "Open Office, Novell Edition". And since these export filters are supposedly developed in collaboration with Microsoft, this technology would logically include Microsoft's sacred intellectual property that Sun and many others don't want to see covered by the JCA. This could, perhaps, explain Michael's odd questions on this list of OpenOffice.org

So these new builds from Novell would thus include new features, but features that will carry sometimes an unverified intellectual property. And that's certainly an issue if Microsoft joins the game. Would that mean Michael's move was made in order to serve some corporate interests?

My perception is that regardless of what the truth is on that, Novell's builds will end up containing Microsoft technologies. I also think that as a consequence of this, Novell builds of OpenOffice.org may never switch to the third version of the LGPL or even GPL, as Michael and other Novell engineers were very reluctant to discuss that point on some mailing lists of the project.

And that, aside from losing some very valuable contributors, is the worst logical consequence of what happened this week inside OpenOffice.org

What lies ahead

The future looks uncommonly bright for OpenOffice.org these days. Several contributors have joined the project: IBM, RedFlag just joined the community and in doing so, they just took away the perception that somehow there's "only Sun contributing" to OpenOffice.org.

The community of independent contributors has gained access to much more say in the project, people work better between each other, and Novell won't leave the project in such a fast and clearcut way. Whatever its engineers might say, Novell cannot address the complexity of the entire OpenOffice.org code. In other words, they may well fork, but they will still be dependent on OpenOffice.org.

Yet, the community is left with a bitter taste in its mouth. Autonomy, influence, and work habits built over years of working with Sun may change by the integration of new corporate heavyweights. It also renews interest in finding a new balance between corporate resources and the community representativity. Contrary to some of Michael Meeks' claims in one of his older blog pieces, one should not evaluate its might just by counting the number of developers declared to be contributing to the project. This strangely martial view of things does not take into account the commits on the CVS, nor does it take into account the diversity of tasks aside from pure development: today, for instance, it is safe to assume that the Quality Assurance of OpenOffice.org is largely a community task, just like localization and native-language communities have made the success of OpenOffice.org and the largest part of its community.

Perhaps the balance can be found in this view on OpenOffice.org, not without some irony: without Sun, it would be nothing. Yet without the community, it would still be just one out of many other corporate internal projects.


1 Charles H. Schulz is one of the founders of Ars Aperta, a consultancy firm providing strategic insight and expertise on Open Standards and Free Software, and he is also a longtime volunteer of OpenOffice.org. He is the lead of the Native-Language Confederation of OpenOffice.org but the views expressed in the article are his own. He introduced ODF at the Linux Solutions 2006 expo in Paris. Ars Aperta is a member of OASIS.


  


Thank you Michael, but no, thank you... by Charles H. Schulz | 273 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Thank you Michael, but no, thank you... by Charles H. Shulz
Authored by: JimDiGriz on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:19 AM EDT
You Go Charlie Brown!

JdG

[ Reply to This | # ]

Thank you Michael, but no, thank you... by Charles H. Shulz
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:20 AM EDT
go-oo.org has been around with different builds for years. It is not something
new. You paper overlooked the fact it hosts changes for various linux
distributions. However, you seem to be more interested in showing go-oo.org as
a Novell-only thing which is wrong.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Corrections Thread
Authored by: JimDiGriz on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:20 AM EDT
N/T

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off-Topic Thread Here
Authored by: JimDiGriz on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:21 AM EDT
Off Topic posts here

JdG

[ Reply to This | # ]

News Picks Discussion
Authored by: JimDiGriz on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:23 AM EDT
You comments on the latest breaking news.

JdG

[ Reply to This | # ]

But maybe this is why Yoshida took a different view
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:40 AM EDT
You refer to Kohei Yoshida changing his position on which licence to use for his
latest contribution. Few articles have addressed (in summary) the reasons for
his change - yours included.

When I read over this topic the other week it struck me (and I could be very
wrong) that his previous work had been core-development or changes or fixes.
Code which is intimately embedded into the normal operation. His recent code -
the improved (?) solver - is something which even in M$'s product is implemented
as a (replaceable) plugin.

So what he has produced - apparently in his own time, not novell's (as I read
it) - is a single separate module of code which performs a particular task. So
analytically it is a plug-in-module even if it was not implemented that way.

It very different from changing a few lines in various functions for which
copyright assignment is a very sensible thing - even in say the kernel. I
gained the impression that he had put a lot of work into the module and wanted
it to remain his (in the GPL sense).

It seems crass for Sun to take such a hard line when the guy has done such good
work on it (and before). Kindof what's your's is mine - what's mine is my own.
And its a modular component.

Perhaps we should hope that they do not copy his code to closely!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Fork expected
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:46 AM EDT
I think many in the FOSS community expected a Novell fork of something one they
signed the deal with MS and GPL V3 was rolled out.

As Mr Schulz says, Novell is dependent upon OOo for support of much of the code,
so I will be interested to see what they would do if the licence went to LGPL
v3. THis may leave Novell with a bit of a problem.

The other problem from Novells point of view is that is that they become the
sole developer of their fork and so thir version of open office will fall behind
the community edition.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Greeks bearing gifts
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 07:53 AM EDT
I have suspected ever since the Microsoft-Novell announcement that MS would use
Novell to try and inject as much proprietary stuff as possible into open source.
This lays the ground for much FUD and maybe lawsuits down the line.

We know that Office is MS's greatest profit maker, so it makes sense to try as
hard as possible to pollute OpenOffice.org. I don't see how seting up a clear
fork to put the pollution into helps though, as long as OOo remains clean. Maybe
they are just manouvering and making waves to try and get the pollution accepted
into the original project. Either way, I don't trust what they're doing any
more. Poison is never served up clearly labelled as such.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Please compare what is comparable
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 08:08 AM EDT
Disclaimer: I've signed the Fedora CLA, and from my point of view both SUN and
Novell have made valuable FLOSS contributions as well as engaged in FLOSS
community attacks.

Please remove the Fedora CLA from the article. It's not remotely comparable to
the SCA.

The Fedora CLA is only there to clarify the status of all the little glue bits
Fedorans contribute to the distribution without bothering to mount a separate
project with a separate FLOSS license. The vast majority of what Fedora ships is
not subject to the CLA, whether because it has been created by others, and is
only redistributed by Fedora, or has been created by Fedorans, in an
Fedora-hosted project, with its own license.

The kind of work Novell proposed to SUN and SUN rejected would be accepted by
Fedora without any CLA signing because being LGPL is sufficient to us.

The only bit subject to the Fedora CLA would be the glue added to integrate the
Novell bit to Fedora, and only if it was not integrated in the Novell
contribution in the first place.

If the Fedora CLA was to cover more stuff, most Fedora contributors would
require creation of a legal entity separate from Red Hat to manage the
contributions. Right now the CLA application perimeter is small enough that's
not necessary.

So don't use Fedora to defend SUN. We don't require copyright assignment to a
central entity, except for stuff no one wants to bother tracking separately.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Thank you Michael, but no, thank you... by Charles H. Shulz
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 08:23 AM EDT
More pathetic infighting that end-users don't care about. This is precisely why
Office will reign supreme for the next 20 years.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Looking for conspiracies where there are none...
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 09:17 AM EDT
this is not a troll,

but I think it's very sad.

People are looking for conspiracies where there are none.
and not even the implication of one or even a hint.

the "article" itself mentions several times (I'm paraphrasing)
"we don't have the facts on this, but here's how *I* think it
happened..."

this is the stuff that grand conspiracy theories are made of... usually the more
lofty ones.

this has a simple explanation, without any supposed "twists of
thought" or other nonsense.

and certainly nothing to do with the Microsoft deal.

If the people here weren't so busy trying to bash Novell and find conspiracies,
maybe they'd figure it out.

I don't think it's possible for this group to see the obvious. it's very simple.
None of you have obviously done any development for a corporation before.

Did you know, for example, that when you go to work for a corporation and do
coding for them you sign an NDA and a non-compete (among other things) ?

and that maybe, just maybe when the calc guy joined up, read the contract he was
advised that he couldn't contribute the code under JCA because of copyright
issues - that whatever he wrote belongs to Novell, not him?

that's what happens when you join a company, the code you write is not your own
any longer. This isn't just Novell, it's anyone.

oh well, I'm expecting a few flames from the peanut gallary on this one. but the
truth is so obvious, it's just... sad

[ Reply to This | # ]

A more subtle troll.
Authored by: waltish on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 10:20 AM EDT
Seems like today's trolls are more subtle than the usual lot we get.

So I am guessing they aren't the brain dead angry ones we get when some thing
goes bad for SCO, or the glib psudosavy ones we get when Redmond cops a hit, nay
these trolls seem to be a new breed, more intelligent and a bit less belligerent
...coming from where I wonder.....?

Who is it we are talking about today? I seem to have lost track. {:))

---
"They say if you play a Microsoft CD backwards, you hear satanic messages. Thats
nothing, cause if you play it forwards, it installs Windows."

[ Reply to This | # ]

My take
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 10:38 AM EDT
Sounds like the development of the converter to MSXML will require access to
the MS IP. By forking the development, Open Office stays unincombered. I don't
see a problem with this decision.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Could it be....
Authored by: TemporalBeing on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 10:58 AM EDT
What the press and Michael Meek's blog report is that Kohei Yoshida refused to sign the JCA and thus had its solver software for Calc rejected by the development team. This is a sad story, because I think that a better communication between developers could have helped here. But where it becomes really strange is that Kohei Yoshida , a respected contributor of OpenOffice.org signed the JCA when he was an independent developer, got then hired by Novell, and then refused to contribute code under the JCA.
Could it simply be that Kohei Yoshida didn't see a need to resign the JCA, and thus didn't want to do it again since he already had?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Thank you Michael, but no, thank you... by Charles H. Shulz
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 11:07 AM EDT
..., "Sun refuses the LGPL, Novell forks". To this widely spread but utterly inaccurate assertion, two things should be said in response. First, OpenOffice.org *is* released under the LGPL.

Are you deliberately misunderstaning? OpenOffice.org is *released* (ie. licensed to others) under the LGPL, but if anyone wants to give something back the LGPL isn't accepted! Sun requires the JCA (which in effect makes the LGPL license uneffective, as it gives Sun the possibility to license the contribution however it chooses). This is the problem right there! Why don't you accept the same terms as I have to? If you want me to give you ownership of my contributions why don't you give me ownership of yours?

Additionally you seem to try to make the point that Novell is not giving you the "Solver". That's unfair, as Novell doesn't own the solver and *can't* give it to you.

I once saw a picture that showed a pie diagram of contributions, where Sun was obviosly the biggest piece but then there where bigger pieces of Novell, IBM and community (voulunteer) then I would have thought. To the right was the ownership pie - 100% Sun. To me that's just unfair. Why should everybody litterally give away their stuff to Sun? Why shouldn't other contributors to OpenOffice.org get the same benefit as Sun of being able to sell their stuff under a proprietary license to people who don't want to accept the LGPL terms?

As to the comparisons of others, I can only see something similar with MySQL. All others are pretty different, if not only for them being a non-profit organisation without an agenda. MySQL has gathered alot of negative critisism and comments about not being "open source" about their licensing terms as well... I don't understand why Sun gets upset when it meets the same critisism.

Anyway.... I'm happy I'm nowhere near the OpenOffice.org project and to me Sun still has a very long way to go before it can be considered an "open source" company. Licensing your software under an OSI approved license it just a small first step. Then comes the hard part of actually "letting go" and understanding that it is together that we can build a better product as a community.

//fatal

[ Reply to This | # ]

LGPLv2 -> LGPLv3 switch ...
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 11:13 AM EDT
Charles says:
> In the future for instance, OpenOffice.org can switch
> to the (L)GPL version 3 quite easily. That could not
> happen without Sun's joint ownership,

Has he bothered to read the LGPLv2.1 and it's implicit upgrade clause - does he
have any understanding at all about licensing ? Has he ever even written or
contributed any code to OpenOffice.org ? :-)

[ Reply to This | # ]

things will sort out, this way or another
Authored by: AndyP on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 11:29 AM EDT
whats the point with that fork? Some contributors (might be novell, might be
some devolopers) are not happy with the way the maintainer (SUN in that case)
handles things and start maintaining their own set of patches, build environment
etc. If things are handled differently for a while, and some contributions go
only into one of the trees then it might become a real fork. This fork may
flourish, it may also dry out, starve and finally die, or both sides reconsider,
fix their issues and rejoin. Has happened before, will happen again, nothing
special, nothing to worry about.

And those "uh i knew it, Novell will fork so they can pollute OO with some
nasty MS intellectual property" should remind themself for a second that
this would work for MS only in a fraction of its market (mostly USA and some
smaller countries) and probably have a counter effect in other areas? I bet
Nelly Kroel would be delighted by such a MS strategy ..

Maybe you guys over there should start thinking about fixing your patent law
instead of complaining about bad bad Novell ...

[ Reply to This | # ]

LGPL 2.1 allows to relicense under GPL3.
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 12:07 PM EDT
My perception is that regardless of what the truth is on that, Novell's builds will end up containing Microsoft technologies. I also think that as a consequence of this, Novell builds of OpenOffice.org may never switch to the third version of the LGPL or even GPL, as Michael and other Novell engineers were very reluctant to discuss that point on some mailing lists of the project.

I find this paragraph a bit hazy: what is intended by 'Microsoft technologies', how can Novell embed them in a LGPL2.1 product, what Novell will get by staying with LGPL2.1, since anyone can relicense LGPL2.1 code to GPL3 in accordance to Section3 of the LGPL2.1:

3. You may opt to apply the terms of the ordinary GNU General Public License instead of this License to a given copy of the Library. To do this, you must alter all the notices that refer to this License, so that they refer to the ordinary GNU General Public License, version 2, instead of to this License. (If a newer version than version 2 of the ordinary GNU General Public License has appeared, then you can specify that version instead if you wish.) Do not make any other change in these notices.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Michael responds:
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 01:05 PM EDT
http://www.gnome.org/~michael/activity.html#2007-10-09

[ Reply to This | # ]

Thank you Michael, but no, thank you... by Charles H. Shulz
Authored by: tknarr on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 01:49 PM EDT

My thought is that there's something fishy up on the Novell side. Looking at the JCA, the result of signing it's a joint copyright. Sun holds copyright on the code afterwards, but so does the original author. This means the original author can continue to do whatevery they want with the code, since they continue to hold copyright. Sun might argue that you'd need their permission to do anything with it not under the OOo licenses, but that would mean they're arguing that they need your permission to do the same too. They can't hamstring you without hamstringing themselves in the process, so simple self-interest says they won't try that. And, in addition, I believe Sun has a binding promise that any code contributed to OOo will always be available under LGPL terms regardless of what other licenses it's released under. If they try locking up the code, this gives you a second option to use to stop them. So in the end the only question is really whether you want your code available only under LGPL terms or whether you're OK with it also being available under more restrictive terms in addition to the LGPL.

But the above changes if you don't have full rights to your code. If you don't, if your code for example contains or is anticipated to contain things owned by a third party and only licensed to you, then you don't have the authority to sign the copyright assignment at all. I have to wonder, given the IP portions of the Novell/MS deal, if that isn't the real issue behind this flap.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Slow News Day at Groklaw?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 05:21 PM EDT
Disclaimer: I Am Not A Programmer, more the other side of the brain,
but I have contributed (useful?) bug reports, and I have paid for
shareware (mostly :-(

This whole episode seems just another zit on the sturdy adolescence
of FOSS. Sure, people are disagreeing on their rules of behaviour
towards one another, and that could be described as anarchy. What
is being rediscovered here is whether pure anarchy can progress
FOSS in the direction most of its members desire. Does being an
"open" system exempt it from the Second Law of Thermodynamics?

The miracle is that in spite of the disorder disguised as democracy,
FOSS "products" (to use a commercial term) are in many cases
more fit for purpose than the shrink-wrapped competitors.

[ Reply to This | # ]

It's not a fork until the community splits...
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 06:59 PM EDT
First off, forks aren't necessarily bad: they are a part of open source
tradition. In fact, allowing people to fork your code, under conditions you make
prior agreement to, is precisely what you're agreeing to when you write code
under an FOSS license. There's nothing wrong with people taking advantage of the
rights they've been granted, that's what they are there for. Forking is a right,
not a crime.

Second, it's not really a fork until the communities diverge enough that code
and idea sharing become a challenge. The build-ooo stream has in fact been
parallel and a bit off-center from the main Sun-JCA line for a few years. They
are still largely the same, and nothing I've read of this announcement seems to
indicate that this will change.

Finally, even if it becomes a fork, it won't even be the first fork in OO. Check
out NeoOffice, a commercial competitor to OO.org focused on the Mac port which
has adopted licensing specifically to prevent their code from being used by the
larger community. There's still lots of animosity on both sides between
NeoOffice and the mainline Mac porting community. NeoOffice is a true fork, but
there may be others as well.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Troll Thread
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 09:16 PM EDT
There are so many today, I thought they should have their own playpen...

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Troll Thread - Authored by: tiger99 on Wednesday, October 10 2007 @ 07:53 AM EDT
    • >< (n/t) - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 10 2007 @ 11:28 AM EDT
Where does the Sun shine?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, October 09 2007 @ 11:40 PM EDT

It seems some people may want to pit Sun against Novell in a battle for who treats FOSS better with respect to OO.o. To make this a fair comparison, let's review things from the Sun side of the ledger, which hasn't gotten much play here recently.

First, let's make clear just what the relevant part of the Sun JCA says.

"2. Contributor hereby assigns to Sun joint ownership in all worldwide common law and statutory rights associated with the copyrights, copyright application, copyright registration and moral rights in the Contribution to the extent allowable under applicable local laws and copyright conventions. Contributor agrees that this assignment may be submitted by Sun to register a copyright in the Contribution. Contributor retains the right to use the Contribution for Contributor's own purposes."
link

The agreement clearly calls out the establishment of a joint ownership of copyrights in contributed material. What joint ownership means is described in one article as:

"When the copyright in a work is jointly owned, each joint owner can use or license the work in the United States without the consent of the other owner, provided that the use does not destroy the value of the work and the parties do not have an agreement requiring the consent of each owner for use or licensing. A joint owner who licenses a work must share any royalties he or she receives with the other owners.

Many foreign countries (Germany and France, for example) require that all joint owners consent to the grant of a license. Generally, joint ownership is not recommended because of the complications it adds to licensing worldwide rights. In addition, it is unclear what effect the filing of bankruptcy by one joint owner would have on co-owners."
link

People can choose to sign the JCA to contribute to OO.o, or choose to not contribute. It seems to me the same people who object to the BSD license because it allows contributions to be taken into closed proprietary products might have similar objections to the Sun arrangement, but in general each developer gets to follow a path that's right for his/her own circumstances.

When viewing the situation of OO.o in particular, a few things should be kept in mind. One is that Sun has had a patent covenant agreement with Microsoft for a number of years. This agreement allegedly protected users of Sun's StarOffice product, but explicitly left out users of OpenOffice.

"Bishop reached his conclusion after an examination of a document called the Limited Patent Convenant and Stand-Still Agreement that was recently filed by Sun with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The document included previously undisclosed text from the legal agreements that codify Microsoft and Sun's recently forged partnership -- text that results in significant legal protection for customers of StarOffice, but that explicitly denies that same protection to users of OpenOffice."
link 1
""It's ominous, because it means that Microsoft is holding open their right to sue end users of Open Office for patent infringement. And Sun is protecting itself by exempting StarOffice from exposure," said Pamela Jones, editor of the Groklaw.net Web site, which covers legal issues relating to Linux and open source software.

"It raises questions about Sun's motives in agreeing to such a deal, but it really shines the spotlight on what Microsoft thought was important to exempt from the Sun-Microsoft patent truce," she wrote in an e-mail interview."
link 2

In addition, it should be considered that Sun likely views Linux to be as much a competitive threat to their business plans as Microsoft is. We shouldn't forget too quickly that Sun helped fund the SCOG litigation campaign against Linux. Nor should we ignore that Sun has recently been seen further expanding their working relationship with Microsoft.

"Microsoft and Sun Expand Strategic Alliance"
link

Finally, Sun has chosen license practices in the past that were explicitly biased against the GPL. Much like Microsoft's open-source licenses, the Sun CDDL license provided access to source code and even a number of Sun patents, but its benefits could not be realized by projects using the GPL. Sun seems to be more GPL-friendly today, but there are no guarantees that the corporate winds won't quickly shift again as they become more cozy with Microsoft.

"But some open-source developers are angered by the CDDL move because Sun has already integrated some GPL technologies into Solaris. Now, they said, Sun merely wants to stop its own technologies licensed under the CDDL from getting into GPL-licensed software projects.

"I suspect Sun would be overjoyed if open-source software continued to flourish, but Linux somehow vanished from the scene," said Con Zymaris, CEO of Cybersource Pty. Ltd., a Linux and open-source solutions company in Melbourne, Australia."
link

Although this rather lengthy post might seem like a simple attack on Sun based on recalling events from its somewhat checkered past, that's not really its intent. Rather, my aim was to highlight how complicated it can be to try and pigeon-hole big corporations into neat categorizations of good and evil. Sun, in my opinion, is no more evil or good than the majority of other corporate entities involved in IT today. They, like most companies, will do whatever they feel they need to do in order to become and remain competitive in the industry.

What I don't see right now is any significant difference between the Sun-Microsoft arrangements begun in 2004, and the more recent Novell-Microsoft agreement with respect to the health and viability of the FOSS community and its multitude of byproducts. Both Sun and Novell have done and continue to do a number of things that benefit FOSS in general, and other things that may have caused some pain to the FOSS movement. If some people have mellowed in their criticism of Sun and its Microsoft agreements after a few years of observing their impact, I would wager the Novell circumstances will prove similar after the passage of some time. If the original anger with Sun still burns brightly today in people's hearts, then I would wager the upcoming years will be relatively unhappy ones as more corporations agree that interoperability and cooperation are better for business than unending conflicts. Microsoft may be one of the last to finally acknowledge this, but eventually I think even they will be unable to resist.

--bystander1313

[ Reply to This | # ]

We need a fork of OpenOffice!
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 10 2007 @ 08:55 AM EDT
As an OpenOffice.org contributor, I would encourage everyone to use and
experiment with the various forks and alternate distributions.

The simple fact is that OpenOffice needs a fork. Sun operates the OpenOffice
release process. They do this in order to get bug fixes and enhancements for
their commercial product, StarOffice. With rare exceptions, anything that will
not benefit StarOffice will not get incorporated into OpenOffice. (The rare
exceptions are when the "community" really pushes for a feature, like
the Python interface.)

In addition, Sun requires all contributors to assign copyright to Sun under the
JCA. While they have a lot of various justifications for doing this, the bottom
line reason is so Sun can include any contributions in StarOffice, and
potentially any other proprietary products they might produce or license. The
result is that many potential contributors will not write code for OpenOffice.
In addition, some companies like Novell and IBM that have signed the JCA
nonetheless limit their contributions because of the copyright assignment.

While Sun should be commended for initially releasing OpenOffice and taking it
this far, it is quite simply not going to reach the next level under the Sun
dominated process.

By supporting the alternate distributions users will be getting features that
Sun refuses to include in OpenOffice. Most importantly however, you will be
supporting a process under which Sun no longer gets to make every decision on
what is including in the release. The process will be opened up and become more
democratic and merit based, instead of simply being a feeder system for
StarOffice. This will attract additional developers and corporate support and
ultimately lead to improvements in the project.

Therefore, in summary, I encourage everyone to use and experiment with the
alternate distributions and to get involved in that process. This will be both
good for the community and the code base, and it is what the project needs in
order to survive and have a future.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Michael responds (but is he an hypocrit?)
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 10 2007 @ 12:17 PM EDT
Michael Meeks says (in his rebuttal):
my concern is that there should not be one company that doesn't have to accept the terms of the license
and also...
Wrt. why we changed view on the JCA, I addressed that yesterday: and yes, I was wrong to encourage people to sign all their rights over to Sun, sorry; mea culpa - obviously I learn only slowly & by experience.
Now I'd like to point out what Novell does with Evolution, and probably also Mono. Please read how you can contribute to Evolution. You'll find the link to a Copyright assignment form that you must sign if you contribute non-trivial (one liners or close to) changes to Evolution. Let's show as exhibits items 2 and 5 of said copyright form:
2. You have received good and valuable consideration, and you agree to assign and do assign to Novell, Inc. (“Novell”) your ownership of copyright in the Assigned Contributions, for the full duration thereof, and for any renewals or extensions thereof. To any extent that this assignment is ineffective, you grant to Novell a non-exclusive, royalty-free, and perpetual right to use, modify, and distribute the Assigned Contributions as it wishes.

5. Novell will make the Assigned Contributions available under an agreement approved by the OSI (Open Source Initiative), and may also make the Assigned Contributions available under other license terms.
What does that make of Michael Meeks if he doesn't criticise Novell just as well?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Michael's Latest
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 10 2007 @ 02:43 PM EDT

Michael Meeks has a newer entry up on his blog. In it he says this:

" * It seems I offended Pamela, for which I apologise, I was a little irritated & precipitate, my concern wrt. a pro-Sun bias was directed at Charles, not groklaw. I should also point out I guess, that on a second reading, Charles is at least slightly right on the export filter: we do include a 300 line filter infrastructure patch (for the CleverAge XSLT converter) & contribute to that at a low level: totally unrelated to the joint Sun/Novell import filter in the same sentence, and of course unrelated to copyright ownership, but perhaps useful to throw around in a mud slinging contest, thanks."
link

--bystander1313

[ Reply to This | # ]

Michael Meeks smear campaign
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 10 2007 @ 09:13 PM EDT
Looks like this has turned into a Michael Meeks smear campaign.

Thank you Charles! Yes, thank you for trashing a hard-working contributor to
openoffice.org and other free software projects. Can you say the same -- that
is actually contribute source code to openoffice.org?

Question is: who are you going to trash next?

[ Reply to This | # ]

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