This week started the wrong way. Some people started to create what is litterally a storm in the teacup, while some other people made announcements that in my view are extremely disappointing and quite concerning for some practitioners of FOSS licensing management and consultancy. Let me explain this point first.
Black Duck was awarded a patent on Open Source licensing conflict resolution. The patent itself seems to cover the “core technology” of the software developed by Black Duck, and not the actual practice of FOSS licensing management and optimization, which is something that Ars Aperta incidently offers both through its traditional services and certification programs. I have to say that I am not really sure what the patent covers or does not cover, but it sure brings a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt for the existing competitors or potential competitors of Black Duck Software, existing consultancies in similar field and last but not least, customers. No wonder Bradley Kuhn got upset about this. I do find these news quite unsettling myself, and I cannot wait to see Black Duck’s patent promise. At least that should remind some not to trust so called Open Source experts who use laptops with Windows, MS Office and Internet Explorer. It’s a small but telling sign they treat FOSS as some sort of disease and not as something to rationally analyze and assist their customers on. And do I need to repeat this again here? Software patents are bad, they stifle competition, customer choice, block innovation and lessen value. You may call them a reality, you don’t have to necessarily add to it.
What really strikes me as a real storm in the tea-cup is the pseudo announcement that Ubuntu will drop Openoffice.org from its upcoming Lucid Lynx release, in its netbook edition. The news came from this website and got quickly picked out by the largest french newspaper, stirring quite an uproar among the French community.
Let me offer some thoughts on why these news are nothing short of non-news, aside the mere fact that there is no official announcement by Canonical or any Ubuntu release team on this matter.
First, OpenOffice.org is a large application that usually runs well even on netbooks, but may not be the best tailored tool for specific uses envisioned for netbook users. There is nothing surprising in this, and several Linux distributions have actually never included OpenOffice.org by default because of size constraints and simplicity.
Second, even if Ubuntu were to drop OpenOffice.org from its specific netbook edition it does not mean that the software would be unavailable from the very same Ubuntu repositories. In fact it would be readily available, but it just would not be included in the default installation. How many computers shipped with Windows only include a trial version of Microsoft Word and not a coherent MS Office stack? Almost all of them don’t ship with the full copy of MS Office.
Third, we recently got hold of the first reliable statistics, aside our own count of downloads, of the actual market share of OpenOffice.org on a worldwide scale. And guess what? With these numbers, we won’t be exactly hampered by whatever decision not to ship OpenOffice.org in the default install set of Ubuntu netbook edition.
What is now needed is some sort of acknowledgment by the broader community of analysts that these stats are reliable. This would cause some real problems to Microsoft, as these statistics usually only count the shipments or the default installation images of MS Windows that come preloaded with one trial version of MS Word. Unless Microsoft patents some new market share analysis method, that is.