OpenOffice goes its own way

September 28, 2010 9:41 AM EDT
After Firefox, OpenOffice may be open-source software's greatest desktop success story. For years though OpenOffice has stagnated. While under Sun's management, OpenOffice got off to a great start, the program hasn't been doing much of anything lately. That may be about to change under an independent non-profit group called The Document Foundation.

On the morning of September 28th, a community of developers and other volunteers announced that they were forming The Document Foundation to fulfil the promise of independence written in the original OpenOffice charter. According to the group, "The Foundation will be the cornerstone of a new ecosystem where individuals and organizations can contribute to and benefit from the availability of a truly free office suite. It will generate increased competition and choice for the benefit of customers and drive innovation in the office suite market. From now on, the OpenOffice.org community will be known as 'The Document Foundation.'"

And, what does Oracle, which acquired OpenOffice.org assets when it bought Sun have to do with The Document Foundation? At this point: Nothing.

In an interview, Michael Meeks, a Novell developer who works on OpenOffice said that Oracle has been invited to become a member of the new Foundation, and donate the brand the community has grown during the past ten years." In the meantime, The Document Foundation is using the "LibreOffice" for its OpenOffice code.

This is not to say that LibreOffice is an OpenOffice fork. Italo Vignoli, who is working with The Document Foundation, said, "We would be delighted if Oracle was a member of the consortium provided they respected the idea of an open environment to develop OpenOffice. We're not looking to fork the program. We're looking for continuity."

The beta code, which will also be available on September 28th, will include some improvements, but the real change in the program won't happen for months still. Meeks said that a plan for where The Document Foundation will take OpenOffice/LibreOffice will be unveiled in about a month.

The group is made up of leading independent members of the former OpenOffice.org community, including several project leads and key members of the Community Council. In a statement the group said that "Developers are invited to join the project and contribute to the code in the new friendly and open environment, to shape the future of office productivity suites alongside contributors who translate, test, document, support, and promote the software."

While Oracle didn't have anything to say, many other open-source groups praised the decision to form a new group. Free Software Foundation President Richard Stallman welcomed LibreOffice release and it's stated policy of only recommending free software. "I'm very pleased that the Document Foundation will not recommend non-free add-ons, since they are the main freedom problem of the current OpenOffice.org. I hope that the LibreOffice developers and the Oracle-employed developers of OpenOffice will be able to cooperate on development of the body of the code".

Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager at Google added "The creation of The Document Foundation is a great step forward in encouraging further development of open source office suites. Google is proud to be a supporter of The Document Foundation and participate in the project."

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the makers of Ubuntu, said, "The Ubuntu Project will be pleased to ship LibreOffice from The Document Foundation in future releases of Ubuntu. The Document Foundation's stewardship of LibreOffice provides Ubuntu developers an effective forum for collaboration around the code that makes Ubuntu an effective solution for the desktop in office environments."

In addition, the group has support from Novell, Red Hat, GNOME, and many other open-source companies and organizations.

Oracle isn't the only group that's not on board with LibreOffice at this point.

In an e-mail, Robert Sutor, IBM's VP of Open Systems and Linux, said, "First and foremost, we want to see high quality and interoperable implementations of ODF, the Open Document Format, that will drive greater adoption of the standard. This will take continued innovation and collaboration in an active and broad-based open source community. It will also need products like Lotus Symphony 3, which is on track for an on-time release, that build on the great work done by both the OpenOffice and Eclipse communities. We've made no decisions about the new LibreOffice community and will assess how best to work with it as we learn more."