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Sun making StarOffice GPL, dumping SCSL?

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Sun is to announce that it will be releasing StarOffice under GPL later this week, according to a ZDNet report. Such a move certainly wouldn't be entirely out of the ball park, but it would represent a pretty spectacvular volte face for both Sun and StarOffice creator Marco Boerries, who is now Sun general manager for Webtop and Applications Software.

It would also call into question the future of Sun's answer to the open source GPL licence, SCSL (Sun Community Source Licence). Historically Sun has pursued a policy of opening up its software more while at the same time keeping a firmer hold on it than GPL would allow. SCSL, as a sort of halfway house to open source, is one of the licensing mechanisms it's tried to use, but the company's failure to go the whole hog, no matter how justified, has meant that its every move on licensing generates greater suspicion in the open source world.

A switch from SCSL to GPL would be a particularly interesting piece of acrobatics from Boerries. Publicising StarOffice in London last year he told The Register that Sun had given him an entirely free hand as regards licensing when it bought StarDivision, and that he'd chosen SCSL over GPL of his own volition.

He then proceeded to defend SCSL stoutly, and at some length. The points he made then, and the Sun party line on SCSL, certainly have some validity; if you didn't start with open source software, it's genuinely difficult to reverse a product into GPL, while by maintaining greater control of its software, Sun reckons it's in a better position to offer commercial customers clear guarantees as to ownership and licensing of products.

But no matter how reasonable Boerries' and Sun's doubts about GPL are, the Sun alternatives haven't set the world on fire, so maybe Sun is going to hold its nose and jump. If it GPLs StarOffice, however, the move will raise more questions than it answers. Sun has signally failed to win hearts and minds by saying there's room in the world for lots of different gradations of "open" licences, and although it might think it can confine GPL to StarOffice, in reality such a move would be more likely to start to domino into the rest of the line, resulting in at best a slow death for SCSL. If the company's sensible, it'll have another crack at clarifying its licensing stance alongside any StarOffice announcement. ®

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