With a little help from an Infoworld blogger and a closer look at IBM's Lotus Symphony announcement, I may have finally divined IBM's mass market open source strategy.
Rodriguez Rodrigues is the Infoworld blogger in question, and this is fair play because he is, in fact, an IBM employee, based in Toronto, often offered to reporters as an IBM resource. (Sometimes he neglects to mention his job title in blog posts, and apologizes for that.)
NOTE: Savio's people are from Goa, which is in India, and his last name is spelled with a final s rather than a z. In the Portuguese way.
Savio is the product manager for IBM Websphere and, before that, worked on its Community Edition, which has the same proprietary license as Lotus Symphony. The Websphere CE arrangement was chosen, he said, for customer convenience.
"If you want to change the CE code, you can do that because it’s all at Geronimo," he explained. Websphere CE is a subset of Apache Geronimo.
"This gives customers choices. They can have an open license, or a proprietary license. They can buy IBM support, or do it themselves." They can be passive customers, or part of the community. They can even re-sell add-ons to open source code.
IBM lawyers also like this. They have vetted the Websphere CE code and Lotus Symphony Office code for its IP content. While they won't indemnify customers, they know from history that it's IBM who will get sued on that, not you. They're prepared to defend what's under their proprietary license, even if it's given away.
Bob Sutor, IBM vice president of standards and open source, gets credit for the strategy. Like many other IBM'ers, he blogs at DeveloperWorks. What he wrote recently on his own blog sounds a lot like what Rodriguez told me:
“Lotus Symphony is based on the Open Document Format (ODF) standard-which means you’re not locked into proprietary file formats, software licensing agreements and upgrades. Finally, free tools and freedom of choice!”
So OpenOffice now has two suites, based on the same format, just as Apache has multiple projects. You can get the software free from IBM, you can buy IBM support, you can get it through OpenOffice, you can add to it as part of the community. It's your choice.
Lotus Symphony, as I noted earlier this week, has a lot of Web 2.0 tools which the standard OpenOffice lacks. Is this the be-all and end-all, the final word? Far from it, as Rodrigues noted:
"If a large enterprise vendor put their bet behind one offering, they would get pushback from the community saying they don’t get it. Open source is all about choice. But over time choice narrows – you can’t have 50 browsers. You start with 50 and then weed it down."
Which version of OpenOffice will win, the one based on Sun's code or the one based on Lotus Symphony? No one knows.
But the choice will be up to you. Vote with your mouse, with your time, and with your money. It will not be revealed. It will reveal itself.