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Why Would Novell Want to Fork OOO?

Posted in Fork, Formats, Free/Libre Software, Intellectual Monopoly, Interoperability, LGPL, Microsoft, Novell, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice at 11:51 am by Shane Coyle

Regular readers of this site, the ones that remember way back when I had time to contribute more, may recall the hub-bub regarding Novell possibly forking OpenOffice.org shortly after their infamous deal with our friends from Redmond – something that was heatedly debated in the community.

Well, now let’s look at the present times – all over the web, reports abound about the Novell-Sun rift and Michael Meeks forking of OpenOffice.org. Some say it is a fork, some say it is not, and this all sounds very familiar but a little confusing – again.

Charles H. Schulz has written a piece that was published on Groklaw which attempts to shed some light on the background of the dispute, and offers some conjecture on what Meeks’ motivation may be:

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?

So, it looks like Novell is indeed intent on making available a fully OOXML-compatible, yet likely IP-encumbered, version of Novell OpenOffice.org – features that will not or cannot be sent back upstream. Of course, they cannot rightfully be expected to pay Microsoft their per-unit royalty on all copies of OOO that is distributed, as their thirty pieces of silver just doesn’t stretch that far, so fork they must.

Hey, who knows, perhaps over in that joint-interoperability lab of theirs, Microvell is also working on full native ODF support for Microsoft Office. (I’m still pulling for you to be right, Stafford, and sometimes I wish I was more often wrong.)

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  1. David said,

    October 10, 2007 at 12:01 pm


    Here is Michael Meeks’ response to this which he posted yesterday which you didn’t link to (perhaps you haven’t read it?):


    “Categorically, as of now, this is false; we’re not actively working on native export filters to match the import filter. ”

    I’m confused about this this, as I’ve tried the Novell edition of OO.o, and you can save documents as .docx.

  2. Shane Coyle said,

    October 10, 2007 at 1:30 pm


    Hadn’t seen it yesterday, but there are alot of qualifying words peppered throughout all of Meeks’ statements – ‘as of now’, ‘actively’, and even ‘native’ and ‘to match’. Top that off with this (emphasis mine):

    In other words, Meeks’ comments seem less a declaration of independence than a renewal of longstanding internal disputes within the OpenOffice.org community. Asked by Linux.com whether recent events constituted a fork, Meeks replied firmly, “Novell is not forking OpenOffice. It’s that simply. We’re working closely with OpenOffice; I spent most of the day working on code that will go into the general OpenOffice. If it’s a fork, then we’re working on both sides of the fork. The punchline is that we’re still heavily invested in OpenOffice, we’re still working with Sun, and there’s still projects on which we’re working jointly with Sun.”

    So, we’re not forking, unless of course we are. Where is Novell’s official statement?

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