Even John McCreesh, head of marketing for OpenOffice.org, leans towards the organization's emancipation. "Philosophically, I am bound to agree that this feels the 'right' model for an open-source community," McCreesh wrote in his blog last week.
McCreesh told Computerworld in an e-mail that most OpenOffice.org community members "are happy to play wait-and-see, with a foundation as a possibility if Oracle starts to impede the project in some way."
Absent from the debate is IBM, which did not return requests for comment. IBM has long called for OpenOffice.org's freedom.
"We think that Open Office has quite a bit of potential and would love to see it move to the independent foundation that was promised in the press release back when Sun originally announced OpenOffice," IBM Lotus director of strategy, Doug Heintzman, said in 2007.
In hunt of a model
If Oracle were to agree, the OpenOffice.org project could be turned into an independent foundation that would own two basic things: the OpenOffice.org trademark; and joint copyright of the source code (as Sun now enjoys), McCreesh said.
If Oracle forbade it, an independent foundation for OpenOffice.org could still be created, McCreesh said. It would have full rights to continue developing OpenOffice.org's source code, which was released under GPL version 3.
However, such a group would lack two things: the right to use the OpenOffice.org name, and the ability to reissue the code under a different license, unless it got the agreement the other joint copyright holders and code contributors, said McCreesh, who called the last step "a monumental task."
So, what role model should an OpenOffice.org Foundation emulate? Three role models exist, each with their differing strengths:
Let's make a deal
Most contributions to OpenOffice.org are in donated time, from Sun employees paid to work on the software, or third-party volunteers. Even with that in mind, the budget OpenOffice.org operates on is truly tight: 70,000 Euros ($92,000) in 2008, 60,000 Euros ($79,000) this year.
For those interested in seeing an OpenOffice.org Foundation gain the financial resources to do more damage to Microsoft Office, look no further than the Mozilla Foundation.
Mozilla had $75 million in revenue in 2007, with 91 percent coming from search royalties from Google. It had assets of $99 million at the end of 2007.
That has helped its main product, its Firefox Web browser, become a strong challenger to Internet Explorer, taking more than a fifth of the market.
The problem: No similar financial deals for OpenOffice.org apparent.
Woo the developers
Sun says its managers and developers still dominate OpenOffice.org because no other vendors are willing to step up. Not so, says Novell's Meeks. Rather, Sun continues trying to "own" OpenOffice.org, acting "rather like an under-talented manager vetoing the hiring of a more talented employee. That needs to change."