August 2000

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." -- Arab proverb

There's nothing like having friends you can't trust, except maybe enemies unannounced.

When Sun Microsystems bought Star Division, the makers of Star Office for OS/2 and other platforms, it seemed that we might at last have a company with both commitment and capital to make Star Office a long-term success on the OS/2 desktop. Sun has been making billions of dollars lately, so capital was obviously not a problem. And Sun claims to be a sworn enemy of Microsoft, so it seemed obvious that Sun would continue to support all of Star Office's non-Windows platforms.

Then Sun announced that it would no longer develop the OS/2 version of Star Office beyond v5.1, and we OS/2 users were crestfallen.

Then certain officials at Sun implied that OS/2 users had nothing to worry about, because Sun would be releasing the OS/2 source code as part of its plan to GPL the entire stable of Star applications. For a while, this sounded great. The OS/2 developer community would be assured of a stable, powerful suite of native OS/2 applications that also was sure to be popular with Windows and Linux users (as well as Solaris users), meaning that cross-platform file sharing would be straightforward and user retraining would be nil. The OS/2 platform would gain a huge degree of transparency that neither Microsoft nor Lotus nor Sundial Systems could provide: an open-source, multiplatform office suite that included OS/2 instead of excluding OS/2.

Well, we were deceived. Sun has announced that the GPL versions of Star Office will only be based on the version 6.0 codebase, which does not include OS/2. And, in fact, Sun has clearly stated that "Star Office 5.1 for OS/2 will be the LAST version that Sun will release." This means that Sun not only will not develop the OS/2 version, but they refuse to release it to the OS/2 community for their own use. Yes, Sun would rather discard a popular OS/2 suite than share it.

This kind of short-sighted, narrow-minded exclusionism we have come to expect from Microsoft -- and from those companies who are afraid of Microsoft -- but not from Sun. Is Sun so bold and self-confident that they believe they can turn their backs on the large and growing mass of OS/2 users? Apparently so.

Sure, there's not as many OS/2 users as Windows users, and maybe not as many as Linux or Mac users. But every month I get new e-mail messages from first-time (or even returning!) OS/2 users. A slow but steady trickle of growth is now the situation on the OS/2 desktop. Meanwhile, IBM's own corporate sales of OS/2 have "grossly exceeded planned sales" for the past two years.

PEOPLE GENUINELY LOVE OS/2! And when people really do like a product, it makes sense to stay on friendly terms with users of that product. Who knows how many sales of IBM PCs, notebooks, peripherals, and other products have been lost over the past 5 years due to IBM's unwillingness to publicly fight for OS/2 on the desktop? How many of these sales might have led to big-money sales of AS/400 or other midrange products? And doesn't that imply that Sun is bound to lose some potential customers from their careless handling of the OS/2 market?

From Day 1, Sun has been sloppy about their handling of the OS/2 opportunity. The OS/2 version of Star Office was difficult to download, implying that it had been placed on a poor-quality server hookup. OS/2 information has been hard to find on Sun's site, and their support has been tasteless and mediocre. Sun seems to have had its mind made up from Day 1 that OS/2 was going to be backstabbed.

Wouldn't the wise thing have been to simply give away the OS/2 source code and wash their hands of it, instead of closing the door on potential allies and supporters? Doesn't Sun realize that most people running OS/2 are also running other platforms, which makes them a strong possibility to purchase Sun products in the future?

Somebody at Sun needs a wake-up call. You can provide that call. Simply ask, POLITELY, for Sun to release the OS/2 source code for Star Office. Here is the mailing address:

Sun Microsystems
Attention: Star Office
901 San Antonio Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303 USA

Maybe these people are not enemies, just ignorant friends. We can always hope so.

Most recent revision: July 31, 2000
Copyright © 2000, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.