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Strip mining of

by Richard Hillesley

Oracle’s donation of the to the Apache Software Foundation does no favours for the users or developers of open office suites, says Richard Hillesley…

Speaking at the time of Sun’s decision to release Java under the GNU General Public License (GPL), Marc Fleury, the founder of JBoss, claimed that “IBM reacted negatively” to the Sun announcement because “IBM’s approach to open source is what we call ‘strip mining’, which is to let the open source community do things – then IBM comes and packages them, adds proprietary code, and markets the result,” and concluded that “they have this dual strategy of proprietary products and low-end open source.”

These remarks find an echo in Oracle’s decision to donate the code of (OO.o) to the Apache Foundation. Oracle could have donated the code to The Document Foundation and LibreOffice, the free implementation of, but didn’t. Oracle has no interest in maintaining an open source office suite, but IBM does have an interest, and has been very public in its support for Oracle’s move.

One of the reasons for IBM’s advocacy of Apache licensing for OpenOffice is that IBM includes the bulk of code in Lotus Symphony. Under Sun’s stewardship of OO.o IBM was able to re-use OO.O code in Lotus Symphony – even though the code was licensed under the LGPLv3 – because ownership of the code was assigned to Sun, and copyright assignment gave Sun the right to redistribute contributed code under any other licence. Free software licenses depend upon the framework of copyright law. Copyright depends upon the ownership of the code, and ownership can be re-assigned. Re-assignment of copyright can be used for positive ends when assigned to a non-profit foundation, but can also be used to render the purpose of a copyleft licence null and void.

IBM is unable to re-use LibreOffice patches in Lotus Symphony because the Document Foundation doesn’t use copyright assignment, and LibreOffice code belongs to the individual developers.

Apache licensing is permissive and allows an end user to take the code, repackage and relicense it, and pass it on in any form they wish without any obligation to feed code changes back to the community. IBM is allowed to re-license and re-use code that was originally written against the LGPLv3 in its proprietary implementation of Lotus Symphony.

We now have two implementations of the same code and two communities working to different licensing regimes, and the outcome is potentially divisive and bad for everyone except IBM.

The attraction of open source to corporate enterprise is that it gives access to communities of users and developers who brings with them reductions in cost, collaborative opportunities, software libraries, and opportunities for high quality input from all kinds of sources.

Open source also reduces the cost of development of commodity components which have a secondary usefulness to the enterprise. The most obvious manifestations of this are projects such as the Linux kernel project. GNU/Linux reduces development costs and encourages open standards – providing an enterprise level operating system that scales from mobile to mainframe.

Open standards are useful because they reduce barriers to entry for technologies that were ‘not invented here’. Corporations, however, tend to be in favour of proprietary standards when they operate in their favour, and it follows that very few corporations take a consistent stance in standards committees, just as there are companies that make generous contributions to free software and also enforce software patents.

It is the nature of corporate culture that the primary objective is to maximise the return on investment for shareholders and to take an unsentimental view of open source components, and communities.

Fleury’s take on this was that strip mining of open source “is taking open source software built by a community and ‘Bluewashing’ or ‘Blending’ within proprietary, closed source offerings; forking/changing the open source code as needed in the process. The community does not benefit from this, but … shareholders”, which he identified with IBM and BEA, JBOSS’s main competitors, “absolutely benefit.”

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    • free

      Spot on!

      I have been saying this for a while myself. Its funny, the vast majority of people don’t see it as plainly as you.

      Big software/hardware vendors have it made, they have people doing their work for free… A free workforce;)

    • Richard

      I feel this is a well-written and reasonably objective article. It is sometimes difficult to be objective about open source since it is just that, open. And subject to free interpretations as well. :)

      I have felt the statements in this article to be true ever since I began helping in 2001.
      It became even more obvious when Sun began selling their own rebranded version.
      I felt then that their main interest was not in making OOo better, but in making their product better.

      However, I was also happy to have a free, open office suite that I could use in Linux and be semi-compatible with MSFT’s version. To that end, I appreciate what Sun did for the community.

      Once they were obliged to sell, and Oracle being the buyer, I felt it was the beginning of the end.
      Oracle proved me right by refusing to work with the community leading to the fork to LibreOffice.

      My opinion is that it is immaterial what Apache does or does not do with the code.
      The Document Foundation and LibreOffice will continue to provide a viable product. LibO 3.3.2 is
      such a beast. I will use it until the August release which promises to clean up the pending problems
      with xml and other irritations. Even though these problems do not affect me, they are present in LO34.
      But LO332 is adequate. And in Debian testing.

    • lokin

      I don’t think the Oracle move to Apache is entirely a bad thing. There is some code in Oracle OpenOffice that was closed source and LibreOffice project will take this code and improve the LibreOffice product.

      In the long turn, time will tell which product is going to be better. The Document Fundation must take it serious to become organization something like Mozilla. Mozilla has one big advantage a Google “donation” in millions of dollars. We will see in coming months/years how the organization will be governed. I wish the best.

      In the other hand IBM involvement in Apache Office is nothing special. IBM will transfer some internal developers to work on Apache Office, no big deal. The big deal is how much of community and other corporations will it attract. If other companies like Red Hat, SUSE (I doubt for SUSE), Google joins the project then LibreOffice has slim possibilities to survive.

    • 4wardobserver

      OK. So this form of dual licensing/copyright assignment is not good. However, the basic question is can the Open Source or FOSS community overcome this? Would they even want to? Can a new generation of FOSS licenses work around this?

    • Mieke

      Code couldn’t be donated to The Document Foundation because legally it doesn’t exist… :)

      Why do all this people always forget this? To launch a cheap attack on IBM? You would have better luck to pick up the ‘holocaust’ stories and how IBM helped in the holocaust than with those petty arguments…

      Why doesn’t The Document Foundation exists as a juridical person thats something that only them can answer… :)

    • veeresh B

      OOPS!! The document Foundation does not exist legally!! I seriously did not know this.

      But the other point being, do you think Oracle would have given the OO.o to TDF if it did legally exist?

    • LeMoyne

      TDF does have a legal basis now and will complete incorporation this summer in Germany.

    • KKell

      As a general end-user these are the types of things that concern me. As a small business owner, I’ve adopted Ubuntu and LibreOffice. They work well together, however I’m finding it increasingly difficult to remain with open source because (like one of the postings said: “If other companies like Red Hat, SUSE (I doubt for SUSE), Google joins the project then LibreOffice has slim possibilities to survive.”).

      I’m beginning to think it may be safer to just bite the bullet and put Windows back on my PCs and install MSOffice or the Corel WordPerfect Suite and be done with it. I cannot jump back and forth between office products like this.

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