Microsoft clause puts OpenOffice users on notice

Jaded souls might say that Sun Microsystems sold the open source community down the river in its landmark settlement with Microsoft in April.

The agreement between the two software superpowers included a provision -- kept secret until now -- that gives Microsoft the right to sue licensees of OpenOffice, the open source alternative to Microsoft's Office productivity suite that is interoperable with Office. (Anyone who obtained a license before April 1 is in the clear.)

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Sun's involvement comes from its donation of StarOffice code to OpenOffice.org.

Sun spokesperson May Petry denied that the clause, revealed Monday in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, will hurt OpenOffice users or developers. "Open source code is conventionally provided without warranty and liability coverage, and OpenOffice.org is no different," she said.

Patent attorneys see this as a procedural move by Microsoft to keep its intellectual property options open, and even open source advocates aren't publicly expressing any fears. But in private, some of those proponents must be left wondering why one of their biggest supporters would embrace an agreement that could come back to haunt their collegial community.

Elsewhere in the news

After about a year on the job as Microsoft's chief anti-Linux strategist, Martin Taylor is tailoring the software maker's "Get the Facts" campaign. Rather than compare Windows against the faceless "Linux," Taylor said Microsoft will concentrate its efforts on the very recognizable faces of IBM, Novell and Red Hat. … On Tuesday, Microsoft reversed itself on the issue of abbreviated blogs on its MSDN site. Redmond had recently truncated the full-text blogs because they were taking up so much bandwidth, but it backtracked on the policy when its own developers freaked out in protest. Industry watchers looked at the episode as a precursor to blogger revolts in other large organizations. … Airbus will not be by flying to Microsoft's defense in its antitrust appeal before the European Union's Court of First Instance after all. The Financial Times of London had reported that the European airplane manufacturer was going to file a brief in support of the software maker, but Airbus denies it. However, Microsoft told The Seattle Times that Airbus had, in fact, intervened on its behalf. Reuters quoted an Airbus spokesperson as saying the company's filing was merely a "technical point of law" about market definition. … Despite numerous reports that the IETF standards body had voted to reject Microsoft's proposed Sender ID, the e-mail identification protocol is still very much alive, according to an IETF working group co-chairman, as well as an IBM scientist familiar with the effort. A compromise on the authentication method for Sender ID is likely, observers told SearchExchange.com. Still, the standard was dealt a blow on Wednesday, when America Online backed off on its previous pledge of support. In a statement, AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said, "Given recent concerns expressed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, coupled with the tepid support for Sender ID in the open source community, AOL has decided to move forward with SPF-only checking on inbound e-mail at this time." … Late last week, Microsoft issued a fix for users of Exchange Server 2003 who had problems performing DNS lookups via the Simple Mail Transport Protocol. One Exchange expert called the bug a nuisance, but not a security threat. The fix is available on Microsoft's Download Center site. … Two security threats were addressed by Microsoft patches released on Tuesday. One, a buffer overrun vulnerability, was rated "critical." It affects several versions of Windows and Office and is related to the processing of .jpeg image files. A second, rated "important," fixed a flaw in Microsoft's WordPerfect converter. Products affected by that vulnerability are Office 2000 and 2003, as well as Windows XP.

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