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NeoOffice: When is free not free?

30 April 2011 4,618 views 10 Comments

Is an application still free or, for that matter, open source if you have to pay for support? NeoOffice, a popular Mac-only OpenOffice variant, has changed its support policy to favor existing donors and that has some users in an uproar. Are they right to be angry?

NeoOffice was created and is maintained by Planamesa, a private company. Yes, the codebase is OpenOffice, but the attractive Mac user interface and Mac-specific features didn’t just fall from the sky — somebody had to write that code and, well, people gotta eat.

That said, Planamesa recently announced the following changes to their NeoOffice support policy:

The NeoOffice project is funded entirely by donations from our users. Since most of our donations come from a small percentage of our users, we give top priority to answering any problems posted by our most generous donors in our NeoOffice forums… Users who have donated US$100 (or €70 or £60 or CA$100 or AU$100 or ¥8334) or more within the last year can post in any of our NeoOffice forums. Also, any NeoOffice Mobile users who have donated US$10 (or €7 or £6 or CA$10 or AU$10 or ¥834) or more within the last year can post in our NeoOffice Mobile forums.

Some users are very much up in arms over the change — see MacUpdate — and there seems to be a real disconnect between what some of them are saying and the apparent facts. That is, the app is still free, there’s a community of support and then there’s what isn’t free anymore.

This seems very similar to the support policies of other commercial companies that make and support open source software, such Ubuntu.

Nevertheless, NeoOffice has been my backup productivity suite for years — what I turn to when TextEdit and/or iWork won’t open/edit a document — and that won’t change with this news.

Is Planamesa breaking GPL? Are they wrong to “charge” for support?

Inquiring minds want to know…

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