Some remarks on OpenOffice going to Apache

Earlier today, Oracle announced that they would be donating source code for OpenOffice to the Apache Software Foundation to start a new incubator project. It’s been an interesting road to get to this point over the decades, with well and not-so-well publicized twists and turns, but I’m glad we got here.

Much will be written over the next few days about this move, and all sorts of theories and opinions will be advanced about what did happen, why it happened, and what else might have happened. There are many fine free and open source licenses out there as well as hosting organizations. Be that as it may, I think the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) is a great place for this project to be incubated. With luck and a lot of community participation and work, OpenOffice will soon advance to a full fledged project.

Though I had earlier heard of the Apache HTTP Server project, I really started learning about Apache about 10 years ago when IBM and others helped start projects related to XML and web services. That is, I discovered that Apache was a very significant organization for creating open source software implementing open standards.

In some sense, the value of a standard is proportional to the number of people who use it. An Apache implementation of a standard means that software, be it open source or proprietary, can start using the standard quickly and reliably. An Apache implementation of a standard immediately increases the value of the standard.

OpenOffice happens to implement a standard called the Open Document Format (ODF), something I’ve written about several hundred times in the last few years. While the incubator won’t be starting from scratch, ODF will continue to evolve and need updated implementations.

Over time, the code will be refactored and more uses will be found for it. Within a couple of years I think you’ll find greater use of ODF in other desktop applications, mobile apps, and even in the cloud. This won’t all come from the existing code base but rather also from new contributions from others working in the ASF.

ODF is not the only thing that OpenOffice supports: it’s got word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and other capabilities. Within Apache I think you’ll see advances in the user interface, functionality, performance, and reliability.

This has to be done, in my opinion, in a way that makes subsets of the code easier to use in other software. That is, and again this is my opinion, OpenOffice will get better by being more modular with well designed interfaces. I’m not dissing what is there, I’m describing how I think it will get even better and enabled for much broader adoption of the code.

I hope that OpenOffice in Apache will be viewed as a way to bring together some of the threads that have separated from the main project trunk over the last few years. Apache has a well deserved reputation for its process and high quality software. This is a place where people can get together under one virtual roof and turn OpenOffice into what people always thought it could be.

With this move, we’ll get a chance to see what empowered individuals with the right technical chops can do in a community to innovate on the current code base. I’m very excited to see what they come up with.

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