Is Novell forking OpenOffice.org?

By   |  December 6, 2006

Novell saying it will improve interoperability between OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office has sparked a mud-slinging match in the free software world.

Some have accused Novell of forking OpenOffice.org, while others defend the move saying Novell has maintained its own version of OpenOffice.org for several years.

It really gets interesting, though, when FOSS heavyweights like Miguel de Icaza, now of Novell, lashes out and claims Novell has been working longer on OpenOffice.org than anyone else and that Novell had contributed more to OpenOffice.org than anyone else.

De Icaza’s comments were in response to a posting on the well-known Groklaw site titled Novell ‘forking’ OpenOffice.org. The no-holds-barred attack on Novell began:

“Well, if there are any Novell supporters left, here’s something else to put in your pipe and smoke it. Novell is forking OpenOffice.org.”

The Groklow article has since been inundated with comments. Many of these postings have defended the position of Novell, arguing that by adding a translator to OpenOffice.org and giving the code to the open source community they are in no way forking.

De Icaza slammed the Groklaw article, writing on his personal blog:

“Facts barely matter when they get in the way of a good smear. The comments over at Groklaw are interesting, in that they explore new levels of ignorance.”

He continues: “We have been working on OpenOffice.org for longer than anyone else has. We were some of the earliest contributors to OpenOffice, and we are the largest external contributor to actual code to OpenOffice than anyone else.”

Further in his blog, de Icaza argues that Novell ships modified versions of OpenOffice.org with various patches such as integration with various other systems, bug fixes and performance improvements. He writes that “like every other open source project, we have published all of those patches as part of the src.rpm files that we shipped, and those patches have eventually ended up in every distribution under the sun.”

Well-known FOSS advocate and writer Nicholas Petreley, responds to De Icaza’s comments in his own blog: Miguel de Icaza plays fast and loose with the facts and history.

In it Petreley writes: “Say what? Who created OpenOffice? Who bought it? Who opened it? Anyone ever hear of Star Division gmbh or Sun? Since when did Novell become the earliest contributor to OpenOffice.org? The earliest and largest external corporate contributor, maybe. I’d like to see some hard facts to back up an assertion like that.”

Another blog entry titled Groklow FUD machine attempts to resolve the debate while hurling some controversial comments at the same time.

Exactly who is right and who is wrong hardly seems to be the point at the moment. Rather it seems that the Novell-Microsoft deal is still stirring up huge amounts of debate and that anything Novell does at this point will be viewed with suspicion.

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