Oracle gives up on OpenOffice after community forks the project

Oracle logoIn a statement issued on Friday, Oracle announced that it intends to discontinue commercial development of the OpenOffice.org (OOo) office suite. The move comes several months after key members of the OOo community and a number of major corporate contributors forked OOo to create a vendor-neutral alternative.

OOo is one of many open source software projects that Oracle obtained in its acquisition of Sun. OOo has long been plagued by governance issues and friction between its corporate stakeholders. Sun's copyright assignment policies and bureaucratic code review process significantly hindered community participation in the project. Oracle declined to address these issues after its acquisition of Sun and exacerbated the friction by failing to engage with the OOo community in a transparent and open way.

A group of prominent OOo contributors eventually decided to fork the project, creating an alternative called LibreOffice. They founded a nonprofit organization called The Document Foundation (TDF) in order to create a truly vendor-neutral governance body for the software. LibreOffice is based on the OOo source code, but it also incorporates a large number of other improvements driven by its own developer community.

Most of the major companies that have historically been involved in OOo development have moved to stand behind TDF and LibreOffice, including Red Hat, Novell, Google, and Canonical. LibreOffice has also succeeded in attracting a significant portion of OOo's independent contributors. The ecosystem-wide shift in favor of LibreOffice has left Oracle as the only major party still developing OOo, forcing the company to compete against the broader community.

The power of the fork

When TDF was founded, the group's leadership invited Oracle to participate in the hope that the database giant would be willing to hand over the OOo trademark and allow the vendor-neutral governance body to take over stewardship of the project. Oracle rejected the idea and then went a step further by pressuring TDF supporters to step down from their leadership roles in the OOo project.

The community defections eventually made OOo financially untenable for Oracle, which is why the company has finally thrown in the towel. Oracle says that it is ready to hand over control of the project to the community, but doing so at this point would be little more than a symbolic gesture; the community has already moved on of its own accord.

Oracle now has little choice but to abandon its commercial ambitions for OOo because the growing momentum of the more inclusive LibreOffice fork is making OOo irrelevant. In addition to selling a commercial version of OOo like Sun, Oracle was also building a proprietary cloud-based office suite designed to work in Web browsers and on various mobile devices.

There are still unanswered questions about how Oracle's decision to drop OOo will impact its Cloud Office product, which had its own independent code base. Oracle has already started removing material pertaining to Oracle Cloud Office from its website, suggesting that the product may have been terminated.

The LibreOffice escape from Oracle is a powerful demonstration of how open source forking can be used to protect community autonomy and lock out exploitative stakeholders. Several other Oracle open source projects are also declaring independence from the database giant.

Oracle's current approach to dealing with the communities that participate in its own open source software projects is clearly not sustainable, and is arguably becoming detrimental to some aspects of the company's long-term business agenda.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Oracle

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