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$9,000 is the new 'free' for Oracle

Oracle has everything to gain from the world shifting to Open Document Format, which makes its strategy of charging $9,000 for the ODF plug-in so bizarre.

The open-source world has long debated alternatives to the word "free" to describe open-source software. It's "free as in freedom," they declare, "not free as in free beer."

For Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, however, the answer is much simpler--"free as in $9,000."

As noted by The H, Oracle still touts its Open Document Format (ODF) plug-in for Microsoft Office as a free download. But clicking through reveals that Oracle has changed its license terms for the formerly free plug-in, which enables Office users to read, edit, and save to ODF. The price is now $90 per user, with a minimum of 100 users.

Apparently, $9,000 is the new "free."

Nothing in this is illegal or wrong. After all, the plug-in isn't open source. But it sure doesn't seem to make much business sense.

Screenshot/illustration by Matt Asay

Granted, Oracle doesn't need any lessons in money-making from me. The company printed over $18 billion in gross profit last year on $23 billion in revenue. That's hugely impressive.

But the $9,000 price tag seems misguided at best, even if we assume that the "Get it now: FREE" button is a mistake. The very act of charging for it seems a much bigger mistake.

ODF has seen some significant government adoption, but it's hardly taking the world by fire...yet. Oracle, which would love to see the world dump Microsoft Office and move to its more ODF-friendly OpenOffice, has much more to gain from ODF adoption than a few sales of its ODF plug-in.

Oracle, in other words, should be seeking to super-charge adoption of the ODF plug-in as a way to move people off Microsoft Office formats. Charging $9,000--or anything--for the plug-in seems like a terrible way to achieve adoption. And it seems particularly misguided because Oracle can't possibly hope to make much money for its troubles.

Oracle is a smart company, but redefining "free" and creating a $9,000 stumbling block to ODF adoption seem the opposite of smart.