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Leading items and editorials

A note for LWN's readers LWN.net was formed as a result of discussions between Liz Coolbaugh and Jonathan Corbet almost exactly four years ago. In those years, it has been our privilege to report on the explosion of Linux, and, in our own small way, to be a part of the success of Linux and free software in general. We would like to continue doing so for a long time.

Unfortunately, that may not prove possible. Tucows, which has generously funded LWN's operation since acquiring it in early 2000, has had to cut back on expenses, due to the well-known difficulties in the current economic environment. Tucows's support for LWN has been strong beyond the call of duty, but the company is no longer able to continue that support.

An immediate result is the loss of Senior Editor Michael J. Hammel. Michael has brought a lot to LWN, including his unique "On the Desktop" page. He will be much missed.

Things may not stop there, unfortunately. The online advertising market is difficult, to put it mildly, and attempts to turn up corporate sponsorships have not been successful. Unless we can come up with a way of paying salaries soon, LWN risks dropping off the net entirely.

The biggest reward from writing LWN has, from the beginning, been the quality of our readers. So we are now asking our readers for suggestions on how we could keep LWN going in this environment. To that end, we have created a new mailing list to host a discussion between our readers and ourselves; subscription information can be found here (note that you can send comments to the list without subscribing - at least until the spammers find the list). If LWN is valuable to you, and you have some thoughts on assuring its future, we would be most interested in hearing from you.

Playing with StarOffice 6.0. Your editor, wishing for a distraction, decided to download the beta version of StarOffice 6.0 to see how it looks. Having sworn mightily at several previous versions of StarOffice, we felt well qualified to disparage this one as well.

Lest you be confused into thinking you're dealing with free software, Sun's download page starts off with an intrusive registration process - requesting even a mother's maiden name (to help with forgotten passwords, of course). The license agreement is also interesting; it states:

Sun Microsystems, Inc. grants to Licensee, a non-exclusive, non-transferable, royalty-free and limited license to use Licensed Software internally for the purposes of evaluation only. No license is granted to Licensee for any other purpose....

Licensee shall have no right to use the Licensed Software for productive or commercial use.

Proprietary software often comes with strange licensing, but it's a rare package that forbids doing anything useful at all. The agreement also obligates the user to provide feedback to Sun on the software. Finally, it requires:

Upon termination or expiration of this Agreement, Licensee will immediately cease use of and destroy Licensed Software and any copies thereof and provide Sun Microsystems, Inc. a written statement certifying that Licensee has complied with the foregoing obligations.

It's not clear just how many people have downloaded this beta; one presumes, however, that Sun will be staffing up heavily to deal with all the written notifications it will receive in 90 days when the beta license expires.

Some things have not changed with StarOffice. For example, it's big. The program comes in a 120MB self-extracting executable; the 69-page installation guide is an extra, 570K download. Oh, and if you want the full functionality, you also have to go get a suitable version of the Java runtime environment and the Adabas server - but it will function without them.

Don't be trying to run much else on your system when you run the installation - it thrashes the system pretty hard. It's interesting that the single-user/network installation distinction still exists. One would think it could simply be installed and run from anywhere that can see it.

Another thing that has not changed: StarOffice is a monster program, with a virtual memory footprint of over 100MB.

StarOffice 6.0 is, however, nicer to use than its predecessors. The "do everything in one place" philosophy is gone and unlamented; if you ask for a word processor, it's just another window on your screen. We note with pleasure that printing has become more reasonable - StarOffice 6.0 actually looks at your printcap file and finds the queues by itself.

Importing of old StarOffice files works nicely, as does importing from various proprietary formats. Imported files, in general, work far better than with version 5.x. The spreadsheet is not able to import gnumeric files, though.

And, of course, there is the new, XML file format. Actually, a StarOffice document is now stored as a compressed Zip file; unpacking that file turns up a set of XML files containing the document content, metadata, images, etc. There is a modest size penalty over older, proprietary document formats, but it is less than a factor of two and well worth it. Proprietary data formats are one of the greatest evils of the software industry; moving to something more transparent can only be a good thing.

In summary, a StarOffice 6.0 beta user will not encounter a great deal of new features. The effort, instead, has gone into making a lot of things work better. In other words, the priorities seem to be in the right place, and development is headed in the right direction. StarOffice 6.0 will be a useful tool in many environments.

And, certainly, we are looking forward to seeing much of that good work released in a free form via the OpenOffice project.

A couple of positions on RAND licensing. The deadline for comments on the W3C's RAND licensing proposal is October 11; those of you reading this page shortly after publication will still have time to sound off, if you have not already done so. Meanwhile, we have a couple of high-profile comments that are worth passing on.

The Open Source Initiative, as represented by Eric Raymond, has sent out a detailed criticism of the W3C's proposed standard. According to the OSI, a RAND term is acceptable as long as it includes an exception for open source implementations. The OSI, it seems, would be pleased if proprietary implementers of web standards had to pay royalties, while free software got by without.

Without that exception, however, RAND licensing is, according to the OSI, bad news. The tone gets strong toward the end:

If the W3C persists in its present course, it risks having its tea dumped in Boston harbor as the first move in a revolution that will vest effective control of Web standards in open-source groups like the Apache Software Foundation and entirely out of the ambit of the W3C and its sponsors. OSI would do what we can help lead that revolt.

A slighly less polemic comment can be found in HP's position, as expressed by Bruce Perens.

HP's policy regarding RAND may have been mis-interpreted by the public and the press, because the name of an HP attorney appears on the Patent Policy Framework draft. However, that attorney was not a major contributor to the draft, and he asserted to the committee upon HP's behalf that royalty-encumbered standards would not be successful.

The W3C's eventual conclusion remains to be seen. One can hope that they have heard the outcry and will act accordingly, but one sometimes hopes in vain. It may yet be time for a tea party.

Inside this LWN.net weekly edition:

  • Security: PHP Nuke hole gets worse; a couple of kernel problems.
  • Kernel: The state of kernel development; overwriting active shared libraries.
  • Distributions: The list moves; Effort Linux.
  • On the Desktop: Moving on: a personal note before leaving LWN.net.
  • Development: Apocalypse 3 for Perl 6, Printer paper tray selection, Redfoot RDF, Lisa 1.1, Pyro:Python Remote Objects, eclipse IDE platform.
  • Commerce: New IBM p690 server, US Navy tests open source, MSC.software donates $6M to Kettering University.
  • History: Fall of Microsoft predicted; Turbolinux gets money; Great Bridge hires PostgreSQL hackers.
  • Letters: LWN disinformation; RAND licensing.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

October 11, 2001


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