Six weeks ago I noted here that Oracle had to decided to offer the codebase for OpenOffice.org, the open source word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet software suite to the Apache Software Foundation. Two weeks after that, Apache voted to accept the proposed project for incubation. Now, one month later, IBM is announcing that it will offer the Symphony source code to the Apache OpenOffice incubator for consideration. Why and what does this mean?
First of all, note that I said “for consideration.” Members of the OpenOffice “podling” at Apache, including folks who are IBM employees, will get to look at the changes and improvements that IBM made to OpenOffice code when it was incorporated into Symphony. If the podling members decide to use it, great! If they decide to do something else, so be it, that’s the way open source communities work.
The changes affect areas of usability, performance, and accessibility. IBM’s hope is that this donation can further accelerate the development of OpenOffice as a platform for openness and innovation in the document creation and editing space. OpenOffice and software like Symphony that builds on it continue to help drive use of ODF, the Open Document Format. We’ve learned over the past few years that vendor-controlled or -dictated document formats are just a bad idea. A healthy and vibrant OpenOffice open source development community in Apache will help ensure continued adherence to the open standard as well as a codebase that can be used for desktop, mobile, and even cloud applications.
Work on Symphony will continue with the Apache OpenOffice code an essential part of its core. Just as IBM’s WebSphere Application Server (a product now very close to my heart) uses Apache open source code but has code also written by IBM, so too will Symphony continue to evolve within IBM using code from Apache. Employees of IBM will contribute to OpenOffice as part of the community. IBM will benefit from the work done by others in the community, but so too will we all.
As the core OpenOffice code gets better and better, downstream projects and products like Symphony will benefit because they can focus on the features that distinguish them and add particular value for their users. This other software might have alternative user interfaces, support different devices, or be optimized for particular consumer or enterprise applications.
I believe a strong OpenOffice community within the Apache Software Foundation benefits everyone who cares about standards and innovation for document processing. The community is growing, code is being added, the roadmap is becoming clearer. Please consider participating.