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Even if you're one of the brave few who tries to make it through the world without a copy of Microsoft Office, chances are you can't live without a decent word processor and spreadsheet program. For those who want something free and are wary of cloud-based solutions like Google Apps, one free, there's a decent chance you've considered OpenOffice.org, a popular open source productivity suite that offers a lot for very little ($0).

But OpenOffice.org's future is being called into question. That's because OpenOffice.org in its current form had much of its development funded by Sun Microsystems, which agreed to be acquired by Oracle in 2009.

One of the reasons that antitrust regulators scrutinized the deal was concern over the impact that acquisition would have on MySQL, the popular open source RDBMS developed by MySQL AB, a company owned by Sun. Oracle, of course, is known for its expensive enterprise RDBMS offerings and some speculated that it would have no incentive to treat MySQL lovingly.

While Oracle hasn't (yet?) attempted to kill off MySQL, Larry Ellison's software giant has been going after open source recently, and some believe that OpenOffice.org could be on the chopping block. Oracle has reportedly decided to axe its support for OpenSolaris, and as Katherine Noyes of PC World points out, OpenOffice.org has far less protection than MySQL and even OpenSolaris.

But can OpenOffice.org survive if Oracle cuts support off? It has several things going for it. Specifically, it's pretty popular, and apparently 450,000 individuals have already contributed to its development. So there's hope that OpenOffice.org would be able to survive and thrive without Oracle's backing. Nonetheless, it's difficult to predict what OpenOffice.org's future might look like without the kind of strong corporate backer that helped make it what it is today.

From this perspective, the specter that a prominent open source project like OpenOffice.org could face rough seas ahead as a result of an acquisition highlights a risk that is often overlooked when dealing with open source products: even though the products are open source and can technically survive without the perpetual support of a corporate benefactor, the loss of the corporate benefactor's support has the potential to strike a blow to both the project and users.

In effect, this is a hidden cost of using open source, and while this certainly doesn't mean that open source isn't attractive -- in many cases it's still very attractive -- it's something that should be considered when picking a product.

Photo credit: pegwinn via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 25 August, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2401 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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SunWorks

This is a bad blog. The title asks a question that the blog body does little to answer and the conclusion leaves me with any more sense of an answer to the title's question than what I had before wasting my time reading it. It's quite apparent this consultant is simply using a high-power title to support his/her business objective rather than any true intent of answering the question. For example, the laughable comments (vs. factual comments) start in the very first sentence with a ridiculous opening line: "Even if you're one of the brave few who tries to make it through the world without a copy of Microsoft Office" OMG! Even without cash register receipts to count, there are numerous estimates that put OO.org at 10% or higher of the office suite pie. Apple OS X only has 5% of the desktop market, but would never command such disrespect... or dare I say "ignorance" embedded in that opening line. Sad to say, the disinformation is sprinkled throughout after that... so do yourself a favour, look elsewhere for analysis!

about 6 years ago

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Happy OpenOffice User

OpenOffice.org is great value & Oracle is looking after it. Thank you Oracle for your support. IBM also has a fantastic product called IBM Lotus Symphony based on OpenOffice & that too is free!

about 6 years ago

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