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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20 Comments

  1. The last four paragraphs appear to be part of a transmission from a parallel universe where LibreOffice doesn’t exist.

  2. @David: Fully aware of LibreOffice. They’ve issued a statement and I hope all the players can work together.

  3. The Contrarian

    If you hope everyone will work together, why do none of you at IBM make any attempt to make it so? All your political statements ignore totally the existing community and run to Apache with fork the code again with a load of people who have never before been involved.

  4. People will migrate to where they want to work. Apache has had hundreds if not thousands of contributors through the years. Beyond the existing community, I hope many new people will get involved and take this in new and interesting ways.

  5. Personally I am quite thrilled about this. I monitored the LO situation when they first split and the mailing list just got going, tried joining in, only to find that a few (the three that drove the split) were driving all the decisions, in some cases forcing decisions upon the community. So, needless to say, I do not have much confidence in LO or The Document Foundation.

    Unlike TDF, Apache is a very well proven organization, especially when it comes to Open Source. So I am quite glad to see the OOo being provided to ASF and hope to see grow. Looking forward to the first release under ASF already!

  6. “@David: Fully aware of LibreOffice.”

    Yes, but what I mean is that your writing here reads as though all the things you’re hoping for aren’t already happening.

  7. Is that an American attitude that prevents you to state the facts truthfully in your coordinated press release (that means without omissions), or do I need a business degree to understand that?

    So there is it, again. Oracle giving the finger to the opensource community, Part II.
    After Part I, Hudson/Jenkins worked out so well for them, right?

  8. I don’t think anyone has a monopoly on “truth” here. As to omissions, the story is about OpenOffice going to Apache, not the various spinoffs from that original codebase. They can more than speak for themselves, and have.

  9. IBM showing very little respect for our communties. Thats the truth!

  10. I have no idea what you mean by “our communities.” We are in hundreds of communities, and respectfully so.

  11. Folks, you know who am, please put your full real name if you want to add further comments. Thanks.

  12. Russell Ossendryver

    Hi Bob

    By “our communities.” I am referring to the LO (libreoffice) and what is left of the OOo community. The face it none of our communities where involved in any of the discussions.

    Many of us are trying to unite LO and OO communities. Please let me know your thoughts on how a dipostory of code at Apache will help to this?

  13. It is not my intention in any way to disparage LibreOffice or the Document Foundation. Oracle had an asset and it was completely up to Oracle to decide what to do with it. Historically, we have had great success working with Apache and it is a fine organization. I think that over the next weeks and months people in the existing LO community plus people in other communities will figure out how to make this work since, to be honest, it is a done deal. There are multiple communities of people who are interested in this codebase, LO is not the only one. I think that once the excitement (for some) and shock (for others) wears off, we’ll see a lot of creativity and collaboration on this. In the meanwhile, I’m going to remain positive and constructive, and I can only hope others try to do the same.

  14. @bob_sutor Your analysis of the OpenOffice code going to the Apache Software Foundation – and ODF as a standard – clarifies the complications of collaborative works, asset ownership and ongoing development contributions. The observations on ASF’s history as a productive open standards organization bodes well for the world (although there are not guarantees that other issues might emerge).

  15. I think that Oracle donating Openoffice.org code to Apache is a very good development. Openoffice, in terms of contribution, was not truly open under Oracle licensing restrictions, and making it truly open did not seem to fit well with the Oracle business model. So the move was also good for Oracle.
    As far as Libreoffice goes, I think that remaining separate will be good for the ODF document formats, as we now have 2 truly open and fully compatible implementations of ODF formats. Remaining separate, undoubtedly there will be some divergence of the interfaces, while keeping fully compatible file formats. Good for innovation.
    The fact that IBM has a product based on ODF formats is good for ODF as well.
    Personnally I now use Libreoffice, and will probably continue to do so, since it was the first to allow truly free contribution. However I will also monitor Openoffice development for compatibily issues.

  16. So Apache licensed Open Office code will be used in IBM’s Lotus Symphony, Oracle’s Star Office and TDF’s Libre Office.

    That could work. Each downstream project has an incentive to donate code to Open Office where this would help interoperability while keeping presentation and editing functions to themselves. Users get a choice of three products with file level compatibility.

    What do you think IBM’s policy will be on donating Lotus Symphony code to Open Office?

  17. @Joe, what do you mean about IBM policy? How will we decide?

  18. Any change can be done in LibreOffice.

    Consider the massive complexity of this technology, and the amount of work to be done.

    IBM could help the community by having the core OO developers work in LibreOffice. Note also that LibreOffice could use this help. The proprietary stuff (Note, Symphony, etc.) doesn’t matter to us, but why not build that on LO as well?

    -Keith

  19. It is great that OOo is out of Oracle’s influence. Hopefully, Libre office and OOo will be back together as one. I pride myself of having fully supported OOo. However, I totally embraced Libre Office because it was the right thing to do.
    Quetzalcoatl

  20. I actually forgot to say:

    “The King is dead (i.e., Open Office).”
    “Long live the King (i.e., Libre Office).”

    Quetzalcoatl

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