ASF has done a lot of good work with their world-famous server and many other server tools. On the desktop, their venture into OpenOffice.org is another matter. In a recent blog entry ASF attempted to define the benefits of doing things their way but instead pointed out bluntly the real disadvantage where the rubber hits the road, under the hands of real human beings:
“The permissive Apache License 2.0 reduces restrictions on the use and distribution of our code and thus facilitates a diverse contributor and user base for the benefit of the whole Open Document Format ecosystem. Within an Apache project it is possible to rise above political, social and commercial differences in the pursuit of maximally effective implementations of freely available open standards and related software tools.”
Claiming ASF is good for everyone including the end user is wrong. Clearly, the end user is a part of the ODF ecosystem, the largest and most important part. While ASF permits modifications to source code to be distributed it does not require source code to be distributed. That has serious implications for end users:
- malicious software can be added and hidden,
- freely donated source code can be exploited by software vendors but not passed on to users of later versions of software, locking end users in to vendors (the donated software source can still be accessed but only ported to new applications with greater difficulty and without features added after the original donation),
- developers of donations do not benefit by having their source code published if the source code is not released by other developers,
- only people who have access to the source code can really support the applications, and
- the lifetime of released binaries may be very short as platforms move on to newer APIs.
So, there are real practical disadvantages to the way ASF handles OpenOffice.org for developers who want source code to live on, for developers who want feedback from end users and for end users. OpenOffice.org is mostly used on client machines so the number of instances can be orders of magnitude larger than distribution to servers. This magnifies the impact on the end users, who are totally left out of Apache’s vision. End users are part of the ecosystem. They use the software more and provide valuable feedback to developers. Preventing them from properly debugging such widely distributed software is a severe shortcoming of ASF’s way of doing things. The ASF rises above nothing but put their head in the sand, ignoring real problems of hiding the source code.