OpenOffice 2.0 and Java

Craig Adams craigaa at
Tue Mar 29 16:36:18 CST 2005

Hi Henrik,

Please see inline.

On Tue, 2005-03-29 at 21:26 +0100, Henrik Nilsen Omma wrote:
> OK, let's do that, but let's grab both: contribution and ownership. Yes, 
> Sun is the largest contributor both historically and currently, but they 
> are also in the best position to take advantage of OOo. Sun released OOo 
> under a FOSS license, but they still retained _copyright_ of the code 
> (is it also the case that they assume copyright of all new 
> contributions? Correct me if I'm  wrong.) They also own the OOo 
> trademarks, domains, pay for the infrastructure and the key developers 
> (ie. decision makers). That means they have a large degree of control.

Yes, Sun does retain the original copyright to the portions of OOo that
they donated and develop. As with all software, including FLOSS, the
original copyright always belongs to the original developer, contributor
or owner of the code, who may then do with it as they please, including
release it under multiple licences or assigning copyright.

In the same manner as GNU, Sun has setup a method for joint copyright
assignment (JCA), whereby all code contributors assign a *joint*
copyright to Sun Microsystems. The reasons for this are varied and very
much the same for which GNU do it (Continuity of code, legal
representation etc.).

The real issue with the JCA is that it requires a developer to *trust*
Sun Microsystems, which many for varyingly valid reasons are fearful of

Sun does, therefore, effectively exert control over the project, but
only by virtue of the resources (people, code submitted, sponsorship of
costs) that it commits in comparison to any other party. If we were to
hypothesise for a moment that another party provided a comparable or
even greater amount of resources, the effective dominance by Sun would
be significantly reduced an apportioned.

In terms of the "ownership" of domains, trademarks etc. In simplistic
terms, these are retained by Sun as there is no other formal body which
represents the OOo community which can take ownership of the same. As a
side note, when projects are established it is usually the founding body
or people who take ownership of trademarks, domain names and hosting.
For the vast majority of projects, this effectively continues until the
founders agree to transfer these to other parties or to a representative
body, if they ever do.

> Because they own the code, they are in a unique position to license it 
> any way they want. They can link it in with any proprietary libraries 
> they choose and sell it as a superior product called StarOffice. Nobody 
> else can do that (though  commercial operators like Red Hat and Novel 
> will always get licenses for a price). If OpenOffice becomes 
> increasingly dependent on Java (or any other proprietary bits) it will 
> become more difficult for independent vendors to build competitive versions.

By virtue of the JCA, Sun could relicense the code to any proprietary
license, if they wish to do so. To a degree, this is actually a moot
point as OOo is also licensed under the SISSL, which allows anyone to
develop a proprietary product from the OOo code base provided that
certain compatibilities are maintained. At this stage there are several
proprietary office products on the market (Sun StarOffice, Saplia
Officeware, IBM Workplace[?] and others) based on the OOo.

> If you wanted to take an outdated product, release it for 10 years as 
> open source to have the community help you make it cutting edge, only to 
> close it up again and sell it as a proprietary solution for profit, then 
> this is how you would do it (not that I'm the cynical sort of course). 
> Someone who was really cynical would say that this would be a good way 
> to spread Linux/Solaris at the expense of Windows, spearheaded by the 
> killer app which is the office suite (always), but making sure that you 
> retain control of the way the suite interacts with the OS so that when 
> the time comes, you are in a position to offer the only solution where 
> those two work truly well together (because you own enough of both 
> parts; sound familiar?)

By virtue of the GPL and LGPL, the code can never revert
to a closed proprietary product. At worst, Sun could take the code base
and start to develop a new proprietary product. The down side to this
for Sun would be immense. Whilst they do contribute the vast majority of
code to OOo, they do benefit from the community and can still release a
proprietary product utilising the SISSL as they do with StarOffice.

Of course, you must remember that the SISSL allows anyone to take the
existing OOo code and start a new proprietary product but doing so, in
my opinion doing this is really foolish unless you do something
drastically different like IBM has.

> I really don't want to turn up the temperature needlessly here, but I 
> think that if we are talking about realities, we should cover them all. 
> Sun and the FOSS community are currently working together in an uneasy 
> trust. The FOSS community appreciates that Sun released OOo and 
> continues to support it, but also recognizes that Sun holds all the 
> strings, and has nearly all the power. Even the forking option is very 
> weak because Sun will always own most of the code.  The FOSS community 
> has only one power card and that the possibility of withdrawing support 
> and goodwill (which would kill the momentum that Sun needs).  However, 
> most people will be reluctant to go that far because we really do need a 
> good office suite and if relations start breaking down everybody looses.

No heightened temperatures here. ;-)

To reiterate:

OOo is multi-licenced. Many people are under the impression that Sun can
"take away" OOo, but they cannot by virtue of the GPL and LGPL. The
source is out there and cannot be put back in the box.

Sun do provide a proprietary office suite, StarOffice, based on the OOo
code, but by virtue of the SISSL, anyone can also do so.

Forking *is* an option, the GPL and LGPL do allow this, but I personally
feel that it would be counterproductive to do so.

The strings that Sun holds are only by virtue of being the largest
contributor to the project.

> So I think we should appeal to Sun to play nice: ask them to make it 
> possible for us to compile and distribute OOo in a way that is 
> compatible with our principles and we will be happy to promote our 
> common product. But to do that, we might have to make it clear that we 
> understand where the different power elements lie. When we are asking 
> them to separate OOo from Java or open source Java we must demonstrate 
> that we realize what the true cost will be for Sun in terms of future 
> options (and earnings; Sun is a for-profit company). Only then can we 
> hope to have our requests listened to.

You must remember that Sun itself has an agenda iro their commitments to
OOo and Java.

I do not see them telling their developers not to use Java, and I expect
quite the contrary.

I do not see them freeing their Java tools (JRE, JSE etc) and libraries
in a hurry.

I do expect that they will co-operate in terms of allowing "feature
inhibited" versions of OOo to be built, packaged and distributed.

The onus is on the Free Software development community to weigh in by
contributing code and writing replacement code for Java components and
modules. Only by active contribution by Free Software developers and
interested sponsors can the domination of by Sun be

I can guarantee that the presence of more contributors and sponsors
would be welcomed by the OOo community as a whole. The learning curve is
steep, the resource demands are high and getting into the community can
be tough, but it can be done.

> >Until there are enough independent developers contributing to
> >, the Sun way of doing things will prevail. 
> >  
> >
> This is made slightly difficult by the ownership issue though. No large 
> organization wants to make huge contributions to a project that will 
> always be controlled by a competitor, and it might dampen the enthusiasm 
> of volunteers too.

As discussed above, ownership is not really an issue except when it
comes to trusting Sun to use the JCA to the benefit of OOo.

If there was another large organisation who were willing to pitch in to
the same degree that Sun does, the OOo community would be able to change
the manner in which the JCA works and I expect that Sun would gladly

> >Personally, I would prefer that either Sun release the various Java
> >components as Free Software (probably will not to happen in the
> >foreseeable future) or the Java dependencies be replaced by other code
> >(possible, depending upon the efforts of independent developers).
> >
> Yes, that would be great for us, but what would Sun gain by that? In the 
> current situation it would only erode their position of control. Frankly 
> I don't see them doing either of those unless the pressure from the 
> community is vocal and clear (and then only the second version seems 
> likely).

I also do not see the Java components being released as Free Software
but the reasons for not doing so are valid when seen from their business
perspective, even though you and I may disagree with them.

Kindest Regards

Craig A.

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