What happened yesterday night deserves an answer here. Yesterday, Linspire Inc. announced the release of OOoFf, their retail box package of Open Office and Mozilla Firefox sold on shelves and online for $30. In the two hours following the email announcement, I received extremely painful comments by email, noticed a few negative comments on my blog before I closed comments, and on a few other information channels. I had to face this sort of comments/questions, and sometimes from people who are not used to shout with the wolves:

  • how can you still work for those people ?
  • now you know who they are, and you are an asshole if you keep doing Nvu for them
  • Linspire and you are morons, playing an unfair game with our work
  • etc.

Of course, I am not, and never was, in the loop about this OOoFf. I learned about it through Linspire public marketing emails, and I was never involved in the discussions or work about it. It's then completely unfair to associate my company or my person to this product. I am very shocked by what happened yesterday, and I will not forget - nor forgive - the insults.

This story leaves me a very bad taste so here is what I think of this OOoFf :

  1. I think that a retail box on shelves is a good idea to propose an alternative to people who don't download software because they can't (slow bandwidth), because they don't dare (afraid of viruses), because they don't know, because, because, because...
  2. but I think it's overoptimistic to think it's going to really help the spread of Firefox and OpenOffice. Speaking of the browser, I think the impact will be insignificant compared to the ten million downloads of Firefox. I count much more on the magazines sold in airports and train stations bundled with a CD to spread the word, and the two pieces of software. That channel seems to me much more interesting to touch everyone than a retail box.
  3. This product is released by Linspire Inc. in agreement and coooperation with both the Mozilla Foundation and OpenOffice.org. I think there is a deep lack of communication here:
    1. the OOoFf web site does not mention the agreement/cooperation with the two Open-Source organizations. There is not even a link to mozilla.org or openoffice.org.
    2. the OOoFf web site does not mention the fact the two products are free, open-source and all. If there is a link to the source or the downloadable binaries, I missed it.
    3. Mozilla.org and OpenOffice.org should have released a statement about this product at the same time Linspire Inc. was sending its mass-marketing email. That way, the community could have known immediately the product is released WITH them, not WITHOUT.
    4. nobody really knows if the Mozilla Foundation and OpenOffice.org will get some benefit out of this retail box
    5. the negative comments caused by the four points just above were predictable, 100% predictable. Predictable problems that remain unsolved are a mistake.
  4. I received a few emails about the name OOoFf itself. It seems that a GPL'd product named OOoFF, OpenOffice.org File Finder, pre-existed. If this is proved to be correct, it's is unfortunate that Linspire Inc. used the same name for its product. Even if they happen to have the legal right to do it, open-source and free software also imply a fair attitude. In our world, using someone else's name is not fair, even if it happens to be legal - remember "firebird".

In conclusion, I think Linspire Inc., the Mozilla Foundation and OpenOffice.org all three suffered from a serious lack of communication on this product release. I think it was highly predictable that this lack of communication towards the community in such a marketing campaign could only lead to the kind of strong reactions we saw yesterday. Open-source free software is not only about the licenses and what you are allowed to do or not. It's also a question of ethics, and of respect for the hundreds of people behind the tools. Not only the developers, but also the testers, the bug reporters, the people who spread the word, the one guy we never heard of, will never heard of, but who evangelized a friend and made him/her use Firefox. Or OpenOffice. Or Nvu. In that sense, and if a retail box for Firefox was needed, I don't understand why it does not come from the Mozilla Foundation itself. Last point, nothing can explain the insults and harsh comments; the authors do not deserve to be part of our community; my black-list has significantly grown yesterday.

UPDATE: points 3 (top line) and 3.3 are confirmed to me incorrect by Linspire Inc.'s CTO, Tom Welch, in a private conversation. Linspire had no agreement with the Mozilla Foundation and OpenOffice.org. MozFo and OOo only knew about it. Then a part of the conclusion, when I say that MozFo and OOo suffered from a lack of comm, falls.