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OpenDocument Format (ODF) Shows That It Would Have Been Better If IBM Bought Sun

Posted in Free/Libre Software, IBM, ISO, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice, Oracle, Patents, SUN at 3:52 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Bay port sunset

Summary: Oracle’s attitude toward (or dedication to) ODF compares badly to that of Sun, IBM, and probably even Red Hat

LAST year was a fascinating year for Sun Microsystems. It was almost acquired by IBM, but the negotiations fell through at some stage. IBM’s hardware business, office suite, and many other software products (Eclipse comes to mind) nicely complement Sun’s portfolio and even IBM’s commitment to MySQL would have been better and more natural than Oracle’s.

“OpenOffice.org and many other office suites support ODF free of charge.”IBM is not perfect. Heck, IBM is far from perfect and the word “perfect” is rather silly to bring up. As the TurboHercules vs IBM case reminds us, IBM is not a friend when it comes to software patents* (malice from TurboHercules withstanding), but IBM is a big proponent of ODF, for example. It’s one of those areas where an IBM-Sun merger would be suitable. The FSF is strongly in favour of ODF as it probably should be.

Oracle has rightly come under some fire for putting a price tag on an important enabler of ODF. This is bad move in general (not prioritising ODF), but maybe it would give reasons to just abandon Microsoft Office altogether. OpenOffice.org and many other office suites support ODF free of charge. Microsoft does not support real ODF [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] or even OOXML, it only pretends.

Oracle start charging for Sun’s Office ODF plug-in


According to Oracle, the support cost is in line with Oracle’s support policy of approximately 22% of the license fee and is not mandatory. But the $90 per user license fee is required. As the plug-in was never open source, Oracle has not gone back on any open source assurances it gave. Oracle would not comment on the fact that the plug-in is almost as expensive as the cheapest edition of Microsoft’s MS Office suite.

Maybe if Oracle bought Novell (which is up for sale), then it would also charge $90 to download Mono. That would be nice.

Walt Hucks says: “I saw that coming back when Sun itself started requiring an account and mktg info to download the plugin.”

In better news regarding ODF, IBM’s Rob Weir points to ODF Fuzzer, which seems like a new tool that’s all about ODF.

ODF Fuzzer is a file format fuzzer developed to test star writer of Open Office.org. This will attempt to find security vulnerabilities, bugs and code flaw errors of the star writer. It uses byte mutation and insertion methods to create fuzzed files. ODF Fuzzer have a simple built in module to execute the star writer with the fuzzed files and monitor it’s behaviour.

There are also signs that Documents To Go will implement ODF support. The Product Manager says: [via Rob Weir]

Rest assured that many of the features you’ve mentioned (PDF, Google Docs integration, swirl zoom, localization, ODF support, etc) are being evaluated by our developers as we speak.

Here is what IBM’s Arnaud Le Hors wrote about Alex Brown’s [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21] attempt to pretend that he did not expect Microsoft to disobey ISO [1, 2, 3, 4].

Well, let me give you a link to a prediction I made! In my post What Microsoft’s track record tells us about OOXML’s future of March 25, 2008 I wrote:

They can, and I predict will, ignore all these additions which are optional and stick to what they have. The only reason they were added was to remove reasons for National Bodies to vote against OOXML.

So, here we are. Two years later, Microsoft has done exactly that and Alex Brown is finally seeing the light.

One can only hope that the standards community will have at least learned a lesson from this sad story: you simply cannot take control away from a vendor who has a monopoly and isn’t willing to give it up through a mere standardization process.

One area where IBM has been helpful is ODF. It’s a shame that Oracle is not so serious about it, not based on its actions anyway. OpenSolaris comes to mind in relation to this strategy.
* Here is another new analysis of the TurboHercules vs IBM case and more lobbying from Florian Müller, who criticises multimedia codecs with patents in them (he does not seem fond even of Ogg) and has harsh words for the film “Patent Absurdity” [1, 2]. From Müller’s new blog (for which he has just created a Twitter account):

I regret having had to say all of the above and I can only hope that someone else will do something better at some time, maybe with a more realistic goal, maybe with a bigger budget. But realistically, software patents won’t go away until the call for abolition is supported by some of the major players in the industry. Theoretically it could also work with small and medium-sized businesses but in my experience that just doesn’t work because those SMEs who oppose software patents don’t want to spend any significant amount of time and money on it. As long as it looks to politicians like mostly a cause for the FOSS community without major economic interests behind it, it’s hard to see how change could be brought about. Watching “Patent Absurdity” just reaffirms that view. Unfortunately.

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