OpenOffice.org is the most popular open-source desktop office suite. Supported by Sun Microsystems Inc., which uses it as the basis for its commercial StarOffice office suite, OpenOffice.org is frequently packaged with Linux distributions.
Recently, though, some free software advocates had grown concerned over what they saw as the use of features in OpenOffice.org that would only work with Sun Microsystems Inc.s proprietary implementation of Java.
The use of proprietary software, either within open-source programs or in their creation, is a hot-button topic in open-source circles. For example, Linus Torvalds had to reluctantly stop using BitKeeper, a non-open SCM (software configuration management) program, to manage Linuxs development.
This was hardly the first such dispute between free-software purists and open-source pragmatists. There was, for example, considerable dispute about the use of TrollTech Inc.s Qt, a C++ graphical application framework, in the K Desktop Environment.
In the Qt case, the acrimonious conflict between KDE developers, the Debian Linux project and the FSF (Free Software Foundation) finally ended when TrollTech agreed to dual-license Qt under both its own license and the GPL (General Public License).
OpenOffice.org developers, wishing to avoid this kind of public conflict on the eve of the release of the greatly anticipated and improved OpenOffice.org 2.0, have been working with all the other parties to resolve the conflicts over the use of Suns Java in OpenOffice.org.
As Scott Carr, documentation manager for OpenOffice.org, wrote online on Wednesday, "The major difference here is that OOo is actively talking with RMS [Richard M. Stallman, founder of the FSF] to make sure everyone is happy. OOo is run by a community. Sun is providing developers to this community, but Sun does NOT run things," Carr said.
"OpenOffice.org has a policy [which Sun endorses and has since it was framed] that OpenOffice.org will use Java in a runtime-neutral way so as to ensure it is always available Free as well as free," a Sun representative said.
The FSF, recognizing now that there were already efforts afoot to make OpenOffice.org 2.0 compatible with GCJ (GNU Compiler for Java Programming Language) by Red Hat Inc. programmers like Caolan McNamara, has modified its call for programmers to develop a non-Sun Java-specific version of OpenOffice.org.
The Foundations request now reads, "The FSF is looking for volunteers to build, test and package fully free versions of OpenOffice 2.0 that use GCJ as a replacement for the non-free Java platform."
It also notes, "OpenOffice and GCJ hackers have worked hard to make sure that all the new features of the next version of OpenOffice 2.0 written in the Java programming language will build and run with GCJ, the GNU Compiler for the Java part of GCC 4.0."
More work, however, still needs to be done.
"This support was just very recently added to GCJ and OpenOffice and does not yet work completely out of the box. OpenOffice 2.0 is not finished yet, but beta versions are available. We want to make sure that when OpenOffice 2.0 final is released everything builds and runs out of the box with GCC 4.0 for all Free Software users," the FSF said.
Mark Wielaard, the GNU Classpath (a free software project to create free core class libraries for use with virtual machines and compilers for Java) maintainer, said, "Although we wanted to make clear that there has been a lot of positive progress toward liberating OpenOffice.org from the Java Trap through GCJ 4, we do still need to do a lot of testing of the new features."
That said, Wielaard is optimistic about creating a free-software-friendly version of OpenOffice.org.
"We are positive this will happen in time for the final OpenOffice.org 2.0 release. We are happy to see the OpenOffice.org developer community fully support this work. We also hope that from now on the development model will favor free software technologies like GCJ or Kaffe [an open-source Java Virtual Machine] from the start," he said.