February 23, 2019

Why Sun should GPL StarOffice - page 4

All software should be free?

  • October 14, 1999
  • By Zach Frey

There are other free software licenses besides the GPL. What about them?

First, let's consider the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). The LGPL is almost exactly like the GPL (any changes to source must be redistributed), but unlike the GPL, software under the LGPL can be combined with binary-only software.

Putting StarOffice under the LGPL could encourage vendors of add-ins for StarOffice, much like the companies which market VBX/OCX/ActiveX controls for Windows and Office users. The existence of such companies would help make the case that StarOffice is a "safe" choice for office software deployment. So the LGPL would be a good choice.

There is also the Mozilla Public License (MPL) with the companion Netscape Public License (NPL). These licenses were created when Netscape chose to open the source code for Netscape Communicator. They are very similar to the LGPL, with the exception that the NPL gives special licensing rights to Netscape.

Essentially, while anyone is free to begin with the Mozilla source base and create their own modifications, only Netscape is allowed to incorporate Mozilla source in a closed-source product. The reasons given for this are that Netscape shares some of the Mozilla browser source with its server products, which have not open-sourced, and that the Netscape Communicator browser incorporates third-party libraries, for which Netscape does not have the rights to distribute source.

Since it's possible that StarOffice contains third-party code which Sun does not have the right to release, the NPL/MPL strategy might be the only available way to release StarOffice under a truly open source license.

Finally, there are the BSD or X11 style of license, which basically say that you can do anything you want with the source code, including develop a product that is shipped without source code. As this would allow competitors to freely borrow source code from StarOffice, or even use StarOffice as the base for a competitive product, without having to contribute any improvements back to Sun, this would be counterproductive.


Unless Sun has dreams of competing head-on with Microsoft in its strongest market (by attempting to sell StarOffice as a binary-only product in the future), it can best serve itself by truly open-sourcing StarOffice, and changing the marketplace so that office suite software no longer determines what operating system is installed.

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