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OpenOfficers pitch Oracle on life after Sun

Microsoft-Office gambit played

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OpenOfficers have begun lobbying for their future in the event that Oracle succeeds in purchasing Sun Microsystems.

Advocates have been pressing the case for ramping up commitment to OpenOffice and for spinning it out as an independent, legal entity with ownership of trademarks and copyright free of Oracle's control.

OpenOffice is the open-source desktop productivity suite project started by Sun, which remains the project's biggest single contributor. Sun has also saddled employees with OpenOffice over the years, mandating the document and presentation software is its corporate standard.

In an open letter to Oracle's chief executive Larry Ellison one author has called on Ellison to invest in certification and improved sales support for OpenOffice to help take on Microsoft's dominant Office.

Solveig Haugland, author of the OpenOffice.org Guidebook and owner of GetOpenOffice.org, has written: "You know the massive amounts of partner and corporate revenue that comes not just from selling the product but from associated services and add-on products. (The certification program alone generates a decent chunk of change.) So you know that getting a bigger market share for OpenOffice.org would be a nice benefit to Oracle."

John McCreesh, OpenOffice's head of marketing, is veering towards independence, though. He said separately he felt the "right model" is for an independent legal entity to own the trademarks and have joint copyright of the code, with its own finance and governance.

Oracle's not said what its plans are for OpenOffice. At a Sun-employee-only town hall last week, Oracle's president Charles Phillips said he could not comment on what the database giant has in store for any of Sun's product lines or projects.

Playing the Microsoft-Office competitive angle in Oracle's face is unlikely to work, though. Oracle has tried to take on Office in years past with its Collaboration Suite, which now appears not to exist. That was in Ellison's more red-meat-eating, going-after-Microsoft days.

Oracle was not the first to try and take on Office and fail, and it will likely be unwilling to make the kind of strategic and material commitment such a fight would demand to get OpenOffice up to speed technically against Office and make potential partners take it seriously.

OpenOffice lags Office considerably in functionality, plug-in support, and partner backing. Version 3.1 does promise some refinements but delivery appears to be slipping. Due this month, the final release dates have been pushed back with nothing now expected until May 7 at the earliest.

Better to take the McCreesh approach, of spinning out OpenOffice where the community can take up the burden and continue waging the current fight. OpenOffice is nibbling away at Microsoft having been adopted by IBM, Red Hat, and Novell in selected engagements, rather than repeating the kind of broad-fronted and destined-to-fail battle against Microsoft of years' past. ®

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