Regardless of whether that appearance is true, accusation and counter-accusation are starting to fly back and forth between these two poles, with some questioning the motives of those behind The Document Foundation and others urging people to give it time to develop, and others attacking Sun's (and, by implication, Oracle's) alleged rejection of code contributions from outside the company, and others trying to dissect the attacks.
Inevitably, too, those with less of a leadership role are taking sides. Under the subject line of "I AM WITH OOo," Ramon Sole writes,
"I don't work for Oracle, and I intend to keep contributing my best effort ot OpenOffice.org. And I'm convinced there's lots of people who don't work for Oracle and they're going to keep in OOo. . . . Anyway, OOo is going to lose some of their members, so I think it's a good time to show that a lot of people who are not going to switch to TDF and we will keep our support with OOo. We need to make clear OpenOffice.org is much more than just Oracle."
Sole's sentiments are echoed by Simon Brouwer, who writes, "The continued success of the OpenOffice.org software is my first concern and at least in the foreseeable future I don't see that happening with TDF." However, in the same thread, just as many have come out in support of The Document Foundation.
In the last month, the fork has come to occupy so much attention on the Discuss list that few other topics have has appeared. The second most popular topic is how Oracle should change its marketing strategies for OpenOffice.org. Even OpenOffice.org's tenth anniversary rated only a few congratulations -- a marked contrast to some previous years.
What is puzzling about the ultimatum is why anyone thought it necessary in the first place. Traditionally, free software projects do not view each other as competitors. Even when one project is associated with a commercial product, no one sees a conflict of interest in being involved with both. Many Ubuntu contributors continue to be active in Debian, and, although the possibility of a conflict is recognized, if one has occurred, it has not been made public.
So why did OpenOffice.org insist on taking a hard line -- especially when The Document Foundation has repeatedly announced its willingness to work with anyone? The Document Foundation's position may be marketing rhetoric, yet surely it would have been worth testing before doing anything else.
When you consider Oracle's recent filing against Google for supposed patent violations of Java, it appears possible that the ultimatum originated in Oracle, and that the new owner of the code has decided to apply its business tactics to the free software community.
The Document Foundation's actions have certainly been provocative, yet it has done nothing that a free license doesn't allow. By community standards, a more acceptable reaction would have been to acknowledge the right to fork and talk about future cooperation.
Very likely, Oracle has hurt itself in the free software community with this action. The reaction to recent events shows -- if anyone had doubts -- that the corporation has few friends in the free software community to start with. For some, such an action will only confirm their suspicions about Oracle.
Just as important, the immediate effect is to distract the efforts of both the OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice projects, at least temporarily. Those who care about free software in general, and not just individual projects, can only hope that further actions do not hurt the development of the leading free office application even more than it has in this past month.