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Why Sun should GPL StarOffice - page 3

All software should be free?

  • October 14, 1999
  • By Zach Frey

Giving other free office suites credibility

Both the KDE and GNOME projects are working on developing truly open source office suites. KDE has KOffice, and GNOME has the GNOME Workshop. While both have their strong points, one feature that both are currently lacking is good importing and exporting of Microsoft Office documents.

Under the terms of the SCSL, while it is possible to get the source code for StarOffice, it is not allowable to incorporate StarOffice source in other programs. So, any KDE or GNOME developer who wants to keep the free office suites unencumbered by legal challenge needs to avoid looking at the source code for StarOffice, so that there can not be a claim of copyright infringement or license violation.

If Sun truly wants to crack the Microsoft monopoly in office software, one of the best things it could do is to give the KOffice and GNOME Workshop projects a tremendous boost by permitting reuse of StarOffice's Microsoft Office file filters.

How does Sun make money?

Well, the counter-question is "how does Sun expect to make money by offering StarOffice free for download?" The answer is that it expects to make it up on sales of Solaris boxes and/or future StarOffice revenue.

Putting StarOffice under GPL ought not affect the revenue from increased Solaris sales. If anything, if it gives more IT shops the confidence to adopt StarOffice, that should increase Solaris sales.

But what if people use the freedom that the GPL provides, and port StarOffice to other Unixes (HP-UX, AIX) besides Solaris and Linux? Well, freedom is not without risk. Besides, I think it quite likely that Sun's share of a large, multi-vendor StarOffice pie will be larger than a whole, but smaller, Sun-only pie.

Furthermore, there are ways to make money with GPL'ed source code. Red Hat is only one example, but it could provide a good model for Sun. Sun could sell "Official Sun StarOffice" that would consist of tested releases plus a certain level of support. You can be sure that a number of home users would do without this (as they do for Red Hat Linux), but most corporate accounts want that security of a vendor to point or crook fingers at if something doesn't work.

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