According to a recent tweet, Oracle (the company which recently acquired Sun Microsystems) has started to charge a license fee for its popular open office compatibility plug-in for Microsoft Office.

Is this a signal for other open source and free software vendors to start charging for commercially valuable applications?

Given the functionality and usability of the OpenOffice, it’s the right time to start investing more time and effort on its competencies against Microsoft  Office and most other online office applications such as Google Docs.

The OpenOffice suite follows the OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard, and there is no other reason that it should be kept free when there are better free or low cost alternatives available which follow the same standard. For Oracle, it’s time to make money. Free users, don’t complain.

In most blogs that discussed about the new offer from Oracle, it was always noted that certain versions of the Microsoft Office software costs less than the Oracle converter.

Would this be fueling the open source through increased amount of investments from commercial entities?

This is a tricky question, as most companies who earn from Free and Open Source applications earn revenue by providing support. Most of them function and generate profit like they are having thousands of great programmers working free for them.

Yes, some programmers are enthusiastic about free coding and contributing to the open source projects, but it is the time they need to be paid and recognized for their commitments to projects accordingly.

Programmers : If you’re ever good at anything, don’t do it for free.

Starting charging for free software [for the Office plug-in (in this instance)] has created a large amount of negative impressions on Oracle’s commitment to Open Source. As most us know, developers and open source enthusiasts rallied upon and evangelized OpenOffice because it was the best free alternative available for desktop office operations as they had high hopes on OpenOffice to beat its commercial competitors by being completely free and standards compliant.

Any open source company who earns money by using code written by someone else, has an ethical responsibility to look after the community and their wishes. The licensing model of the code doesn’t matter. This is a purely an ethical concern.

Oracle is doing what it thinks that could make money in the short run. There is nothing wrong in Oracles approach apart from the above concerns. Revenues and the community should be kept in balance in order to make profits and foster innovation, if you keep aligned to one, your business is going to fail. Someday, somehow.

Finally for all the open source enthusiasts and hobbyists,

…As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?

– Bill Gates [in his famous open letter to hobbyists on February 3rd, 1976]

Yes Bill, I agree with you.

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