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Sun and OOo Are Dying--Again

  • January 12, 2009
  • By Bruce Byfield

On the other hand, Meeks seems less than forthright in his motivations. As Sam Deans points out, Meek's postscript, far from being an after thought, seems the main point of his criticism.

In addition, Meeks' analysis is suspect. Its methods are more than a little cavalier. For instance, explaining why he should choose to analyze contributions of a hundred lines of code, all Meeks will say is "Why one hundred? Why not?" The explanation is hardly adequate for anyone who wants the context for his conclusions.

But, even if you accept his data, it can be interpreted in more than one way. For example, as Matt Asay points out, the decline in OOo contributors could be interpreted as a sign that the community of developers has cohered into a team, with peripheral contributors falling away.

Perhaps just as importantly, Meeks does not consider where some of the former OOo developers have gone. Could they be working with OxygenOffice or NeoOffice? With Go-OO? In other words, Meeks might very well be among those who have contributed to the decline that he claims to document, even though Meeks himself continues to be involved with mainstream OOo.

You can't help wondering whether, consciously or unconsciously, Meeks worked back from his conclusions -- and whether his conclusions are biased by his loyalty to Novell and Go-OOo.

Anti-Novell truths and exaggerations

Much the same can be said of the main opposition to Go-OO. Meeks' bias seems far too unsubtle to deny, and his efforts to dress up his conclusions as statistical analysis, with a careful commenting on the possible limitations of his data and the offering of various alternative data, remain unconvincing.

Nor do you have to see Mono as part of a guerrilla war against FOSS to question support for it in Go-OOo. When nobody is asking for the ability to write add-ons to OOo in Mono and so many people disparage its use, why make it a priority? There are more pressing improvements, and courting needless controversy seems misguided. For whatever reasons, Novell is the only contributor interested in including Mono, and you have to wonder why its employees could not argue for its inclusion within the main OOo project. As one of the largest contributors to OOo even now, surely its goals would carry some weight.

However, by emphasizing only the Microsoft technologies in Go-OO, the anti-Novell lobby misrepresents the project. While Go-OO does include these features, it also includes support for SVG graphics, 3-D transitions in graphics, a desktop quick-starter, Gstream integration, a Calc solver, and improved rendering of Chinese characters -- all of which suggest that Go-OO is far less narrowly focused than alleged. Admittedly, some of the claims made for Go-OO seem questionable, notably the supposedly faster start time, but, by and large, the evidence points to a focus in Go-OO on features rather than on a pro-Microsoft agenda.

For that matter, not all the Microsoft technologies are necessarily perilous. For those who remember last year's ISO standard wars, the use of OOXML is not very appealing (I, for one, avoid it whenever possible), but its inclusion is important, because it allows FOSS users to exchange files with the proprietary majority. And considering that OOXML is now an ISO standard -- no matter what dirty tricks might have made it one -- the idea that it, at least, could now be used in patent violation cases seems logically inconsistent. The anti-Novell lobby is right to suggest that Meeks is being disingenuous about Go-OO, but the agenda of its members makes them push their arguments into distortions as serious as Meeks'.


The danger in this dichotomy is that choosing either side forces you to accept valid observations along with the invalid, and to ignore the validity on the other side. Casual observers might want to simply walk away muttering, "A plague on both your houses" -- and who could blame them if they did?

Yet if you care about the future of free software on the desktop, you need to resist the adrenalin rush of a flame war and accept that this is one of those cases in which both sides in the discussion are right, but for the wrong reason.

I don't pretend to know how to make a vibrant community. A merger of the various splinter groups? Perhaps the creation of an independent foundation? But I suspect that before any solution has any chance of success, large numbers of people need to see the situation clearly -- and that the first step towards that perception is rejecting the half-truths on both sides.

Article courtesy of Datamation

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