OpenOffice.org no longer the FREE alternative to Microsoft Office

it’s finally happened.

months after Oracle’s acquisition of  Sun Microsystems — developers of the free Java platform, among other things — the formerly free alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite is now the cheap alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite.

does this mean what we formerly abbreviated as OOo will now be OOOo?anyone who knew about the acquisition wouldn’t be too surprised by this, however it’s still sad to see.   OpenOffice was brilliant in that it provided a viable alternative to the Microsoft monopoly on consumer and enterprise office software.  It’s native ability to export files to Adobe PDF documents was fast and light and years before the same features would be integrated into Office.

I can’t help but feel like now the party’s over.  OOo was struggling to keep up in recent years.  they never really caught on in the non-geek market and their interface was cursed by being anti-Apple — too many confusing features getting in the way of usability.  moreover, their claim to be able to work natively with Microsoft Office files was thwarted when Microsoft created a new proprietary document system — adding an x to all their files; docx, pptx, xlsx, etc.  i stopped watching OOo around that time, but last i knew it still didn’t have full (or any) capability of reading docx and other newer xml-based Microsoft files.  and a common complaint i heard from a variety of people trying to make the crossover from Microsoft to OpenOffice was that password-protected files and files using all sorts of deep features in Word and Excel that i never used didn’t work properly in OOo.

it’s hard not to see this as yet another story of the underdog getting steamrolled by big industry and, as such, OpenOffice’s grand entrance into the Oracle store feels blasphemous.  however, there’s something else that makes this seemingly innocuous email more foreboding…

with the purchase of Sun Microsystems, Oracle was able to acquire their biggest competitor in their own market — the open source database MySQL.  MySQL is what powers the database behind many popular software platforms out there including WordPress.  while Oracle has stated they have no intention of closing (i.e. making proprietary) the open source MySQL database platform, it still raises the question; if they’re charging now for a formerly free office suite, how long before they start charging for a formerly free database platform (like the Oracle database platform they already charge to use)?  if MySQL becomes proprietary software, particularly software you need to purchase a license to use, this could negatively affect innovation in other open source software that uses MySQL.  open alternatives to MySQL exist, but current software (like WordPress, which currently only works on MySQL) would have to be adapted to work with a different database platform, and it could strongly limit other features and improvements as developers try to back-port their products to work on a different database architecture.

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