There has been a flurry of news articles about Oracle’s price change on their (formerly Sun’s) ODF Plugin for MS Office. What was previously free (as in beer), at least for individual use, is now sold for $90 and with a minimum quantity of 100. The broad coverage (ZDNet, BusinessWeek, CNET, NBC, IDG, etc.) of this minor story suggests someone was shopping this story around. I wonder who?
At the risk of pouring oil on the fire, let me say that I think this is an exciting development for ODF. We have three solutions for providing ODF support in MS Office:
- Oracle’s Plugin
- CleverAge Add-in
- Microsoft’s native ODF support
These three solutions have always varied in terms of quality of conversion, versions of MS Office supported, versions of ODF supported, level of integration into MS Office, etc. And now they vary based on price. This is a good thing. It is called “competition”. I like it.
Although I personally think that Oracle has set the price too high, I realize that we have a market to sort these things out. If they act rationally (and I assume they will) they’ll charge an amount that maximizes their return. If they are not already at a profit-maximizing price point, they will adjust. That is how prices are set in a free market. But if Oracle can really get $90 per copy, with a minimum quantity of 100, then all the power to them. I just hope that some of that money gets plowed back into their development of this and other ODF-related tools. That is how we grow stronger and more powerful ODF tools. Someone needs the impetus to make that investment. If the profit motive drives investment in ODF, then Praise be to Mammon! And remember, if Oracle’s Plugin gets more people to use ODF, then that is a larger audience for your open source ODF tool. This is a good thing. The important thing is we’re growing the number of people using ODF.
We should want companies to invest in ODF tools. We should want the demand for ODF to be such that ODF-based goods and services have value, can be sold based on that value, and that there is competition again in the market, something we have not seen in this area in many years.
2009-04-23 — Some further thoughts
It is probably worth reflecting why the Sun Plugin was necessary in the first place. If Microsoft Office supported ODF fully, in a well-integrated and interperable fashion, then surely no ODF Plugin would be necessary. You would gain your ODF support simply by purchasing your MS Office license. In effect, you are already paying for ODF support (along with all other Office features) when you purchase MS Office. If you are buying Oracle’s $90 Plugin, remember that you are essentially paying for ODF support twice: once to Microsoft and once to Oracle.
If I were paying twice for the same feature, I’d be upset as well. But is the solution really for Oracle to continue subsidizing MS Office users by giving away their Plugin for free? Or maybe Microsoft customers should ask their vendor why their Office ODF support is not adequate? Ideally there would be no need for a Plugin because the out-of-the-box ODF support would meet customer requirements. I’m sure Microsoft, like any other vendor, would value such feedback from their customers. But to me it seems perverse to blame Oracle for no longer subsidizing their competitor’s product.