[conspire] Christian draws out a Sun Microsystems guy

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Apr 28 19:01:56 PDT 2005

I note that Christian Einfeldt got to be interviewer for Sun
Microsystems's "chief technology evangelist" Simon Phipps on the
upcoming OO.o 2.0 and the related Java controversy:


Very much worth a read.

Phipps wants to convince readers (mainly aiming at businessmen) that
dependence on proprietary software is not a problem.  In a classic
demonstration of poisoning the well, he classifies anyone who disagrees
as an "ideologue" and as anti-business, versus himself and unstated
others as moderates willing to "compromise".  

I kid you not!  He really did haul out the old line about "compromise":
Whenever you're not getting your way, obviously the problem must be that
the other side isn't willing to compromise.  It's that simple!

People who don't go along are described suffering from "some ideological
boundaries that need crossing there".

Even though Christian asks him (almost) directly, Phipps ducks the
question of whether Sun will commit to making OO.o 2.0 functional on
free-software / open source JRE:

  MP: some people on the OpenOffice.org list are saying that the GCJ is
  getting good enough to be a substitute for a JRE, others are saying
  that's still far from being the case. What do you think? 

  SP: I haven't really looked into that very much. I don't really have
  an opinion on GCJ. For me, the most important thing about the Java
  platform is creating compatibility.  {blah, blah, blah}

One of the biggest areas of concern is 2.0's new "Base"
integrated-database module -- which introduces gratuitous, _avoidable_ 
dependency on proprietary JRE software.  Phipps takes a similarly lazy
swipe at the Java problem, when he talks about that:

  SP: [...] In terms of understanding OpenOffice.org, Sun has nothing 
  to gain financially by promoting Java within OpenOffice.org. If you 
  look for example at Base, the new database feature in OpenOffice.org 
  2.0, it turns out that the easiest way to get good database 
  functionality into OpenOffice.org was to pick up an existing open 
  source database.

And he's _very_ keen, in mentioning this, to completely sidestep the
point of controversy:  Sun choose a JRE-dependent database project,
while they _could_ have, instead, put just a bit of further development
work into using the C-coded (and much faster) sqlite database engine,
instead.  In making that decision, Sun ignored without comment numerous
pleas and petitions from people in the open source community, including

So, yes, I think it's very reasonable to suppose that Sun is going out
of its way to promote its proprietary Java within OO.o -- for reasons of
corporate NIH (not invented here) sentiment, if not _direct_ financial

If Phipps were serious about dealing with the open-source community, and
weren't just a lackey mouthpiece for proprietary software, he'd have not
started out by calling open source people names and playing dumb
I'm-a-moderate-and-you're-a-fanatic rhetoric games.

More important, he'd have said yes or no to the key question:  _Is_ Sun
Microsystems, or is it not, committed to shipping a OO.o that's fully
functional on free-software / open source JREs?  It's within their power
to ensure that.  The only question is whether they give a damn.  Signs
strongly suggest that they don't.

BTW, Christian:  I try to stay up to date on the condition of
open-source Java codebases.  My write-up is here:

"Java" on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Devtools/

The unstated (and perhaps a bit too subtle) subtext of that write-up is
that, yes, one can write Java that runs entirely on open-source Java
tools -- but the problem is that almost all extant Java codebases are
written by people who don't give a damn about free software, and suffer
either gratuitous dependencies on various of Sun's colossal set of
proprietary Java class libraries, or on some of Sun's perpetually
moving-target sets of new language features that arrive only slowly in
open-source Java support code.

Case in point:  Have a look at my listing of all 123 known Mail User
Agents (mail clients) for Linux, and read the entries for those coded in

"MUAs" on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Mail/

Notice that typical Java MUAs (such as "Grendel") require both a recent
JRE and half a dozen or more class libraries: typically the huge
Javamail library and some others.  Do the authors bother to make sure 
their MUAs function using gcj and GNU Classpath?  Hell no!  That's 
just not on their radar.

When Phipps says "the Java community is one of the most free software
communities that has ever existed", he is of course brazenly lying, for
reasons amply demonstrated by my MUAs example.  But I feel a little
sheepish pointing that out, because it was probably there as flamebait.
The more significant point is that, very likely, Sun is aiming to ship a
OO.o 2.0 that is proprietary-software-dependent in exactly the same way
those MUAs are -- which is why he didn't give you a straight answer to
your question.  (Basically, I expect that the Java-dependent 2.0
"enhancements" will be broken for anyone who doesn't load Sun's JRE,
but other parts of OO.o will still work.  Thanks for nothing, Simon.)

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