Australia’s largest Internet service provider Telstra BigPond has removed the free open source office suite OpenOffice from its unmetered file download area following the launch of its own, free, hosted, office application, BigPond Office.
The removal of OpenOffice was brought to our attention by a TECH.BLORGE.com reader, who complained to Telstra’s support department about no longer being able to download OpenOffice updates. His first complaint was met with the following response:
BigPond is in the process of refreshing our File
Downloads service and this has resulted in the removal of various
files which have previously been listed. Due to a recent business
decision these files won’t be reinstated. Please visit BigPond
Files for further updates.
Our reader, an IT veteran with more than 25 years experience in the IT industry, than asked support why OpenOffice was removed, pointing out that the file download request page makes no mention of an invalid file criteria due to ‘business reasons’. He received this surprisingly honest email:
With the launch of BigPond Office, the OpenOffice downloads were removed
to ensure we were not offering competing products. If there are specific
OpenOffice files you require, which are not available as part of the
BigPond Office suite - please resubmit your request.
Our reader was outraged by Telstra’s move, which he sees as an attack on the open source software movement.
“The principle of the matter upsets me,” he said. “The fact that BigPond has removed previously allowed open source software is un-ethical. They are discriminating against me, even though I pay the same as other customers. They are attacking the Free Software movement.”
“You can’t offer a service and then suddenly change the rules because you know no-one can do anything about it. If you look at BigPond’s rules for a ‘valid file’, it has omitted to mention that files that ‘compete’ with its products are ‘invalid’ … BigPond needs to update the rules on its file request web page.“
“Although, one could argue, that customers could easily download the software directly, but then what exactly is BigPond’s point? To punish its customers? ”
While I’m very sympathetic to our reader’s outrage, I’m not sure that what Telstra has done is necessarily unethical. It’s a commercial enterprise and it can use its discretion, to some degree, about what services it chooses to provide — even though, as our reader points out, it doesn’t spell out that it won’t host software that competes with services it offers.
However, Telstra BigPond’s action is unquestionably petty, and will no doubt generate ill feelings amongst the open source community.
The action also seems to be driven by a lack understanding of what BigPond Office is actually about. As a hosted online application, BigPond Office is useful for people who want to access their documents from different machines; it’s not really a viable alternative to Microsoft Office or OpenOffice. BigPond Office is competing with the likes of Google Docs, and is really only of interest to BigPond users who can access BigPond Office without using up their monthly bandwidth quota. It’s highly unlikely that someone would download OpenOffice, instead of signing up for BigPond Office.
So, come on Telstra BigPond, show some good will, and reinstate OpenOffice in the BigPond File Download area; banning it only demonstrates pettiness and ignorance.
Update 21 Dec 2007: Bigpond has updated its unmetered File Download page to advertise the Bigpond Office.