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01.01.09

Novell’s OpenOffice.org FUD Rallies Disruptors

Posted in Fork, GNU/Linux, Mono, Novell, OpenOffice, Patents, Ubuntu at 6:19 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Broken bridge
Novell & Microsoft: building bridges

WHILST one person pushes Novell's Mono into Ubuntu, another lobbies to push Novell’s fork [1, 2, 3, 4] of OpenOffice.org into Ubuntu. Why? We wrote about this phony controversy earlier.

I was considering filing a bug for package request or creating a spec
for Go-Ooo.org for inclusion in Ubuntu, or possibly as a replacement
for OpenOffice.org vanilla. Start-up time is faster and feature set
is expanded.

There seems to be some contention between the world in general and Sun
over OOo; people have forked or threatened to fork the project several
times, and Go-OOo seems to be the most active as far as I can tell.
I’m not sure where this will lead in the future– possibly to a
stagnating OOo from Sun and then to a completely different office
suite, or possibly to a new fork, or possibly to Go-OOo, or possibly
to some improvement in community view and/or management of Sun’s OOo–
but I think the current political atmosphere and the availability of a
more featureful fork warrants some investigation.

Has anyone else tried this thing? I’m curious to know any opinions
(political and technical, but please if you must pick one than go more
technical than political) on the software, as well as any “better” or
“more active” forks out there, or other viable alternatives entirely.

The followup states:

Aaaand some more googling around brings up claims that the version in
Ubuntu’s repositories -is- Go-oo …

https://answers.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/openoffice.org/+question/14965

That threw me, because Go-oo purports to not be Sun branded, and
Ubuntu’s OOo splash screen uses Sun’s branding last I checked…

Ah well. The question still stands.

It’s important not to give Novell control of the office suite in Ubuntu. Novell already has virtual control of many applications in Ubuntu (through Mono, on which they are built) and Mark Shuttleworth does not respond to known risks, despite the fact that Groklaw's editor, for example, says: “What Shuttleworth may not understand is that a patent troll can be a proxy for someone else who does have something to lose.”

To an extent, Mono is a questionable first step because it 'wraps' many vital applications with an underlying layer whose evolution Microsoft pretty much controls (.NET is a model for Mono to follow) and legal terms are volatile.

“What if Novell was acquired? What if it was a hostile takeover?”One must remember that Microsoft need not necessarily sue as it can apply the “it’s too similar” [1, 2] argument (like SCO with UNIX versus Linux) to openly accuse Linux users/vendors of “stealing” Microsoft’s “innovations” without providing appropriate “compensation”. Evidence is less of an issue this way because less work is required to produce some, even if the evidence is largely perceptual.

It must never be forgotten that Microsoft continues paying Novell a lot of money (100 million dollar this year, depending on how one views it). Novell’s Linux business is still just a fragment of its overall picture (less than 20%) and Novell is operating at a considerable loss, so it very much depends on those payments and any strategic lifts it can receive from Microsoft.

Should we trust Novell? Short term? Long term? What if Novell was acquired? What if it was a hostile takeover?

On the other hand we have Sun. It’s no saint, but those who defend Novell typically resort to just exaggerating the issues with Sun simply because they find themselves unable to defend some of Microsoft & Novell’s shameless actions. Let’s remember how Novell marketed itself by offering "IP peace of mind" (for SUSE)?

Microsoft will try to put Novell in (greater) control of GNU/Linux distributions because Novell plays by Microsoft’s rules, namely software patents, Microsoft protocols/APIs and so on and so forth. This is dangerous and Jose_X explained why, independently expressing a similar point of view:

Sun is no angel, but in this particular battle of “evil” corporations (Sun vs Novell rivalry), they are the one offering checks on the biggest threat to FOSS by far (on Monopolysoft), and they aren’t doing too bad of a job with OO.o, either. Keep perspective, people. Let MicroScrooge spend real monopoly money. Give free help to other Office suites if not to OO.o (if you want to contribute to such software/community). If you don’t like Java, OO.o, Sun, etc, there are alternatives less influenced by Monopolysoft than what Novell produces.

Imagine Microsoft losing their huge leverage and huge MSOffice market! Free OO.o is a real threat. Neutralize it? Allow Microsoft to leverage it? Not a chance. Avoid Monopolysoft’s embrace and extensions. Petition Novell to dump their “partner”. They should be competing against Microsoft and not with them. Novell can play the same game Sun is playing by opening up Netware and beefing up their services. [One of evil Sun's saving graces is OO.o and Java to the extent these really do help free Linux/FOSS and/or dent Monopolysoft's levers and revenues.]

It all boils down to trust. A community divided against itself is the best thing Microsoft could hope for. It is the best thing Novell’s ally could hope for. It is the best thing Novell’s big funding source could hope for. It wants infighting and it wants to have a hand on the spigot of patches, even if only an intermediately does this trick. At least one journalist has described Novell as the role player who commits GPL code 'on behalf' of Microsoft, or for their own benefit.

“A community divided against itself is the best thing Microsoft could hope for.”As stated earlier on, we urge everyone to go to the go-oo Web site and read the first sentence. It’s all about OpenXML [sic] (OOXML) and VBA. Microsoft understands that by controlling mindshare and standards — usually de facto ones — it can win the war. Why else have Microsoft bloggers begun promoting Moonlight and — to a lesser extent — Mono too? Everyone ought to know that Robert Scoble, a former Microsoft evangelist, once wrote: “I saw that internally inside Microsoft many times when I was told to stay away from supporting Mono in public. They reserve the right to sue.”

Is OpenOffice.org without flaws? Of course not. But better the small devil whom we know than an ally of the Big Devil, who competes head-to-head with OpenOffice/StarOffice and has billions of dollars at stake. Office is one of the few Microsoft products that are actually profitable and by far the most profitable.

This is just the beginning of Novell & Microsoft, whose relationship gradually grows. Here are a couple of statements made in 2008. Ron Hovsepian, Novell’s CEO, said that their partnership with Microsoft continued to expand and more recently he said that “[the partnership with Microsoft is] going very well insofar as we originally agreed to co-operate on three distinct projects and now we’re working on nine projects and there’s a good list of 19 other projects that we plan to co-operate on.”

One’s trust in Novell must never be seen as totally separable from trust in its partner, which gets closer to it as time goes by.

“I have lost my sleep and peace of mind for last two months over these distasteful activities by Microsoft.”

Professor Deepak Phatak

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33 Comments

  1. Mike Brown said,

    January 1, 2009 at 6:54 am

    Gravatar

    From the first paragraph on GO-OO home page:

    “If you expect your spreadsheets to calculate compatibly”

    Calculate *compatibly*? WTF does *that* mean?

    I expect my spreadsheets to calculate *correctly* thank you very much. There should be no compatibility issues with 2×2=4.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 7:04 am

    Gravatar

    http://www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=55613

    “The first reported problem revolved around “77.1 x 850,” according to Microsoft. But the Excel team’s testing, along with additional reports from outsiders, soon revealed this was not the only instance where Excel 2007 would return a value of 100,000 instead of 65,535.”

  3. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Gravatar

    Mike: Microsoft Office has a number of known (long-standing) bugs wrt calculation as Roy pointed out above.

    Unfortunately, some spreadsheets have grown to rely on Microsoft’s faulty math and so to some people, compatibility is more important than getting the correct answer.

  4. Will said,

    January 1, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Gravatar

    Oh, god, here it goes again…

    Mr Schestowitz, you are a troll and a pretender.

    1) Ubuntu has had go-oo as its OpenOffice.org-edition of choice for a long time. That’s neither a secret, nor pushed by a single individual, nor is it news at all. Stop pretending you don’t know that.

    2) All the ‘what if’-questions are devoid of meaning. Now take your conspiracy theories and your phoney concern about a split in the community – which you are trying to write into being here – and stuff’em where the sun don’t shine…

  5. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Gravatar

    Will: indeed, in the thread Roy pointed at, Chris Cheney (the Ubuntu OOo maintainer) states:

    I maintain OOo for Ubuntu.

    The OpenOffice.org in Ubuntu is the go-oo.org version.

    go-oo takes the original sun tarballs then patches it heavily with
    somewhere around 500 patches. Pretty much all Linux distributions use
    the go-oo.org build system and patches, except for Fedora, which just
    takes a few of the patches and does the build differently. Of course we
    have a few Ubuntu specific patches as well which are actually located in
    the go-oo (ooo-build) repository at svn.gnome.org. We add things like
    the Human icon theme and launchpad integration. And we also use a
    different splash screen for the Ubuntu version which has the Sun logo on
    it by Sun’s request.

    Chris

  6. Will said,

    January 1, 2009 at 8:58 am

    Gravatar

    Every package has a maintainer, so what?

  7. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 9:28 am

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    I’m merely pointing out that you are correct, that Ubuntu ships Go-OO rather than vanilla OOo

  8. Will said,

    January 1, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Gravatar

    Ah, I’m so sorry, on this blog I expect the worst.

  9. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Gravatar

    1) Ubuntu has had go-oo as its OpenOffice.org-edition of choice for a long time. That’s neither a secret, nor pushed by a single individual, nor is it news at all. Stop pretending you don’t know that.

    I did not pretend and I made it very clear, I hope.

    Unfortunately, some spreadsheets have grown to rely on Microsoft’s faulty math and so to some people, compatibility is more important than getting the correct answer.

    You mean, “the INcorrect answer.” ;-)

  10. AlexH said,

    January 1, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Gravatar

    Interesting that Sun asked for the Ubuntu Go-OO to be branded as Sun….

  11. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Gravatar

    Sun is a strong brand that also stands behind lots of the work.

  12. AlexH said,

    January 1, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Gravatar

    Strange that they would want their strong brand on a fork :D

  13. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 10:55 am

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    Heh. Well, yeah…

  14. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Gravatar

    You mean, “the INcorrect answer.”

    No, I meant exactly what I said.

    For some people, compatibility is more important than getting the correct answer.

    I don’t have any spreadsheets that rely on any Microsoft calculation bugs, but no doubt some do.

    In any event, I would hope that there is some sort of config option for the compatibility mode or make it such that compatibility is enabled/disabled depending on the file format. This would probably require a bit in the ODF file format to specify whether the compatibility mode should be enabled (e.g. in case someone converts an old xls document into ODF format or some such).

    I don’t write many spreadsheets, but when I do I would expect/prefer to get the correct mathematical results :)

    (Note: I use OpenOffice and so would always be saving to ODF formats)

  15. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 11:21 am

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    We had this long discussion some months ago.

  16. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 11:34 am

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    AlexH: yea, I was intrigued by that as well.

  17. fred said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Gravatar

    Go-oo is a very bad choice for ubuntu, not only because it incorporates non-free file formats in a free office suite. My experience with openoffice in ubuntu has been nothing but a pain until i noticed the installed version is actually a fork. as soon as i replaced it with the original version Everything worked fine.
    I use openoffice for my daily work and at university quite regularily. With gooo i experienced many crashes of the suite, damaged files which i could not open anymore and very severe font issues (missing fonts, mixed up letters, wrong interface fonts, and also crashes). It saddens me to see the reputation of an excellent office suite being damaged by this messed up fork in a main stream distro. I think i will soon file a bug report at launchpad and urge the maintainers to switch to the official version .

  18. Chris said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    Gravatar

    Strange that it works just fine here …(albeit not on buntu)

    But whatever floats you boat … :P

  19. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:18 pm

    Gravatar

    My only complaint about Go-ooXML has been poor integration with the desktop environment and fonts, but I hardly ever use Office suites, except for exceptional circumstances (being sent a file or having to do a spreadsheet that KOffice can’t handle). I prefer LaTeX.

  20. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:19 pm

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    If the quality of Go-OO is so poor, why does Sun want it’s branding on it?

  21. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Gravatar

    Poor integration with desktop integration? Uh… that’s one of the things that Go-OO attempts to fix by using Tango icons and other patches to better integrate with GNOME (not sure about KDE, but I think they have integration patches for that too).

  22. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    Gravatar

    Obviously KOffice is better integrated than Go-OO on KDE and Gnumeric/AbiWord are better integrated with GNOME than Go-OO, but Go-OO is better integrated than vanilla OOo.

  23. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:25 pm

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    Also, the font support in Go-OO is better than vanilla OOo as well, especially with CJK.

  24. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:30 pm

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    Yes, I was comparing it to KOffice and other tools I use for composition (e.g. Kate, LyX). I hardly ever use a full-bloat [sic] office suite .

  25. Will said,

    January 1, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Gravatar

    fred, I guess that’s why all the major distributions use go-oo; because it is so buggy and they so want to alienate their users. (And of course they are all bribed and forced into this evil-doing by evil Microsoft…)

  26. fred said,

    January 1, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Gravatar

    the problems occur mostly after a longer usage of the programs, so you wont notice them immediately. They are reproducible with fresh and updated installs of 8.10, even with the preliminary 3.0 packages from launchpad.there are especially problems with special chars (umlauts, math symbols etc. – and the pdf export). Sooner or later you come to the point where document files are damaged and can not be opened anymore.
    I first became suspicious when i could only open them in windows but not in ubuntu because the apps where crashingi

  27. twitter said,

    January 1, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Gravatar

    Applications not working in various window managers/desktop environments? I suppose that’s what we can expect from M$’s Gnome poison but I’ve never seen it. I happily use KDE’s kicker with Enlightenment 16 and have used it with Window Maker and even OLVWM. Every Gnome, KDE and other X11 program I’ve used works perfectly with this combination. Gnumeric, Pidgin, Kontact, Open Office, Gimp and Koqueror are good examples of how everthing just gets along under Lenny with every window manager I’ve tried.

    Shame on anyone who thinks spreadsheets should recreate M$’s bugs instead of giving correct answers. People who are more interested in agreeing with their peers than getting correct answers don’t need a spreadsheet.

  28. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Gravatar

    To be fair, OOo is not better in terms of integration.

  29. Victor Soliz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Gravatar

    I still don’t get this non-sense from Novell fans wanting to avoid calling gooo a fork, perhaps they actually dig Roy’s assertion that it being a fork would be a bad thing and such they try so hard to avoid it being called a fork.

    It is a fork, Ooo is free software, it has been forked, distros use the fork… Whether gooo is bad or not is a different discussion, but it is a fork. And no fork is necessarily a bad thing in Free software, as a matter of fact that’s supposedly the good thing about free software…

  30. Victor Soliz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Gravatar

    Unfortunately, some spreadsheets have grown to rely on Microsoft’s faulty math and so to some people, compatibility is more important than getting the correct answer.

    It is scary that people would think like that, I just hope these compatibility tweaks are only there when editing those binary office formats, it would be a little non-sensical that the bugs were inherited to OOXML, but hey, this is MS we are talking about anyway…

  31. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Gravatar

    Alex Hudson has already explained why this is a Good Thing®.

  32. What is Go-oo? said,

    January 6, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Gravatar

    It seems that the Go-oo team did exactly what the writers of the GPL intended. This is a Good Thing ™. Sun stagnated and Go-oo is picking up the slack.

  33. Dan O'Brian said,

    January 6, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Gravatar

    Exactly.

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