If this turns out to be true...

Subject: If this turns out to be true...
From: Eric W. Sink (eric@sourcegear.com)
Date: Sun Jul 16 2000 - 16:24:57 CDT

... the eventual impact could be huge.


I have speculated for a long time about what might happen if someone
decided to take an existing, mature office suite and make it truly
Open Source.

I haven't exactly been sitting on the edge of my seat. It has seemed
likely that someone would do it eventually, but the event has just
never seemed very imminent. It's clear that Microsoft, with 95%
market share and over 10B annual revenues, has no incentive to
make their suite Open Source. Corel has far too little clue, and
IBM/Lotus have far too much.

The only glimmer of hope has been Sun, which seems to have a practice
of being smart during the even-numbered years and downright
silly during the odd-numbered ones.

An Open Source version of StarOffice would open up a remarkable number
of opportunities. In the hope that this rumor is revealed to be true,
I would like to applaud all of those people at Sun who contributed
to the execution of this bold, visionary decision.

And frankly, I'm insulted that none of those people called me. :-)
Granted, I doubt that our little 28-person company is even a blip
on their radar screen. However, as founder of the AbiWord project,
SourceGear has a lot of experience in the world StarOffice is about
to join. In fact, I daresay that there is no one else on earth
who knows more about losing money on Open Source office apps than
I do. :-)

Seriously, this is exciting news. In fact, I consider it exciting
enough that I want to spend a slice of my Sunday afternoon writing
my thoughts on the subject. Lest you allow me to exaggerate my
sainthood, please rest assured that I would *not* be inclined to
spend this time on a Sunday afternoon if it were during football
season. :-)

If the rumor is true, then we only have a few days to think about
how we will respond to Sun's announcement. I think that the response
from the community is important, and I would like to offer my
unsolicited advice regarding the appropriate tenor of our response:

1. Let's welcome Sun, not flame them. Trust me folks -- this is
a bold move. If you have never been in a position of real
for a business, making the decisions which directly affect the lives
of your employees and stockholders, then you may not immediately
recognize this kind of choice for what it really is. These decisions
require great courage. If Sun makes any little mistakes in their
launch of StarOffice-GPL, then please try to keep the minor things
in their proper perspective.

2. Let's not gripe about how bad StarOffice is. Yes, I have actually
used StarOffice under Linux. Yes, I know the GUI has a look and feel
which is very Windowsy. Yes, I know the suite is enormous and bloated.
None of that matters.

The point is that Sun is making the only decision which will allow
StarOffice to become better. It's never about where you are -- it's
about where you are going.

3. Let's not gripe about how bad StarOffice will be. Yes, it is very
likely that the GPL-ed version of StarOffice will be even worse than
the app which is currently available. This is because I seriously
doubt that they will be able to GPL all of the functionality.

For example, I'm fairly sure that StarOffice is built upon a Win32
compatibility library from Bristol. They can't GPL that. The spell
checker is probably not theirs. In fact, most full-featured office
suites today are built using a bunch of third-party components. If
the first source code tarball from Sun is even buildable, I'll be

But I won't be complaining about it. Doing so is not going to benefit

4. Let's not fret about the potential impact to projects like
AbiWord or Gnumeric. These projects can go on, and I believe they
both will. Does StarOffice use an XML-based format? Is their
word importer as good as ours? Is their app integrated with GNOME?
Does it fit on a floppy disk?

Even in an Open Source world, there is room for multiple efforts.
Many of the people who work on AbiWord or Gnumeric are doing so
for the enjoyment or experience. StarOffice will meet different
needs, and there is nothing preventing both projects from reaching
their goals.

5. Let's not start predicting the death of Microsoft. Stuff like
that does little but damage our credibility. Anyone who thinks that
Microsoft Office sales are going to plunge toward zero next month
simply doesn't get it.

There was a recent published interview with someone from the Kylix
team at Borlaprise. This guy gets it. He said things like, "Our
success does not require Microsoft's failure", and, "When television
came along, radio didn't suddenly go away."

It is possible that this GPL release of StarOffice will eventually
cause some impact to the proprietary players. However, we need
to speak not in terms of extinction or annihilation, but in terms
of reduction of margins.

And we need to give it time before the effects start to be visible.
Microsoft's product manager for Office is not scared, and [s]he
doesn't need to be.

6. Let's cross our fingers and hope that the rumor is true. :-)

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