Document Foundation forks OpenOffice.org, liberates it from Oracle

OpenOffice.org logoA group of key contributors to the OpenOffice.org (OOo) project have formed a new organization called the Document Foundation to manage a community-driven fork of the popular open source office suite. Their goal is to liberate the project from Oracle's control and create a more inclusive and participatory ecosystem around the software.

OOo was originally based on StarOffice, a product that Sun obtained in its acquisition of StarDivision in 1999. Sun opened the source code and invited the open source software community to participate in the project, but sold a closed, commercial version alongside. The project received considerable attention and is among the most widely-known open source applications. Several other major companies are involved heavily in development, including Novell and IBM. It's worth noting that IBM's Lotus Symphony product is based on OOo code.

Despite the significant community enthusiasm for OOo, Sun's leadership and central role in the project have created challenges for other contributors. Critics complain that Sun's bureaucratic development process impeded progress, made it difficult to get patches merged, and discouraged some independent developers from taking a more active role. One of the most controversial issues was Sun's requirement that participants assign copyright to the company.

Some prominent contributors, like Novell's Michael Meeks, have long argued that the OOo ecosystem would be healthier and more attractive to corporate and community contributors if it was managed by an independent nonprofit foundation. Novell has maintained its own variant of the program called Go-OOo which includes a number of patches that Sun was unwilling to accept for various reasons. Several major Linux distributions ship Novell's version instead of Sun's because it offers superior desktop integration, a richer feature set, and better performance and stability.

There was obviously already some support for the idea of forking the OOo code base before Oracle acquired Sun, but the acquisition substantially increased the need for community-driven governance and helped to build swift consensus among independent stakeholders. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Oracle's plans for OOo and there are well-founded concerns about the extent of Oracle's commitment to openness.

The Document Foundation serves the long-standing need for a more inclusive culture around the project. The group is creating a fork of OOo called LibreOffice that will be distributed independently of OOo. The foundation's steering committee is diverse and includes some key members of the OOo project. Corporate supporters include Novell, Red Hat, Canonical, and Google. A beta release of the fork is available for testing, but is not yet ready for production use.

The LibreOffice source code is hosted in the FreeDesktop.org Git repository. The Document Foundation intends to adopt a dual-license model for new components, using both LGPLv3 and MPL. Unlike the OOo project, no copyright assignment is required in order to contribute to LibreOffice. It's not entirely clear yet how much the LibreOffice developers intend to diverge from the original upstream, but there is already some interest in cleaning up the code and removing deprecated bits.

An assortment of desired cleanup improvements are included in a list of easy tasks that are available for contributors who want to jump in. Users who want to support the project without participating directly can help out by donating or signing the petition of support. The petition will help send a message to the OpenOffice.org ecosystem that LibreOffice is the way forward.

Oracle has not yet issued an official response to the fork. It seems likely that Oracle will continue moving forward with its Cloud Office product, but it's difficult to predict what kind of relationship the company will choose to have with the LibreOffice community. The fork diminishes Oracle's declining open source credibility because it sends a strong signal that the community lacks confidence in Oracle's leadership.

For regular end users of the open source office suite, the fork could potentially be a very positive change. It will remedy long-standing issues that have hindered development and lead to a stronger product with a healthier development community.

Source: ars technica

Tags: OpenOffice.org, Oracle

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