The tragedy of Soapboxing

Recently we had a bunch of quite furious people storming one of our lists at the Document Foundation. The issue at stake was that someone understood that LibreOffice was going to have OOXML filters. It sparkled quite some debate and I read so many inaccuracies, not say so much outright bullshit, that I was dismayed to see the rumor spreading across and twitter. Check #OOXML if you want to read more. The problem comes from three causes I think: ignorance, the complexity of the matter, and for some people the urge to have a soapbox and to use it to the fullest: The fact remains that despite all the concerted efforts to censor the Internet by the French “Democratic and Transparent” Government and others, still no one knows you’re a dog on the Network these days. (Update: Pamela Jones of Groklaw is not targeted here and I would never call Groklaw a soapbox) But let me clarify what LibreOffice is doing, what it is not doing, what it is about, and what it is not about.

LibreOffice is not owned by Novell. LibreOffice is independent, is a project created by the Document Foundation that counts Novell, Red Hat, Canonical, Google, BrOffice and many other entities and people as its supporters. Yes, Novell, Debian, Red Hat engineers (and others) contribute to the code of LibreOffice.

LibreOffice, just like offers the ability to handle documents in the format of Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010. As we know, these are called OOXML but are different from the ISO standard (ISO 29500) known as OOXML. Microsoft is trying hard, as far as I know, to work out something that might be implemented by MS Office 2010 and is known as OOXML Transitional, which is the polite label to call a proprietary format that still comes with a lot of undocumented areas. has offered such a feature ever since 2008, not by reading whatever specification was sent to the ISO, but in analyzing the format used in the real world and called OOXML . (yes it’s confusing) If OOo had tried to implement OOXML by reading the standard it would have ended in a dead corner, because as we know, the OOXML ISO standard is broken, and the ISO itself with it.

LibreOffice is no different than that. But there is one addition compared to where allowed the reading of MS Office 2007 and 2010 documents only, we allow their editing and saving under the same format. It does not imply any dramatic extension of features: the same capability is in, but it’s been intentionally crippled around 2007 or 2008 for obvious strategic reasons (OOXML hadn’t become a standard yet and MS Office 2007 new formats hadn’t been widely distributed). I would not be surprised if Oracle were to enable such a feature in the coming months.

The other factor was that people connected dots: Quite murky details about the Novell/Microsoft emerged recently thanks to Groklaw : and what was known by many of us, discussed on this blog for quite some time, became apparent to the eyes of everyone: Novell got paid by Microsoft to promote OOXML and to implement some compatibility layers with it inside Go-OO. So people connected the dots, and I would understand their concern, if it had been voiced in a more polite tone and in a less oracular and imperative tone. But it was a mixed bag of everything: “stop implementing OOXML now, you’re traitors and owned by Novell, and by the way you’re based on Go-OO”. Therefore I’d like to clarify certain things again:

  • LibreOffice is an independent project, not owned by Novell and not even based on Go-OO. But it’s based on OOo with some patched of Go-OO, and now more than ever before, it’s making its own choices.
  • LibreOffice strives to be an independent community, not an area for people who do not know how to contribute to Free and Open Source Software Communities, do not even want to learn but only want to stand on their soapbox and shout whatever they will please. Just take a look at the founders of the Document Foundation: there are Novell engineers. Some others work for Red Hat, some others come from Debian, some others are talented community individuals, and then there’s yours truly. Call it a worldwide conspiracy for Novell if you want, and sit on it. If there’s anything that should be clear, it’s that we are for ODF. We’ve joined the OpenDoc Society, and we will be joining the OASIS Consortium as soon as we can. Free Software, Open Standards, Community and Innovation, that’s what we strive for.
  • Of course, there will be the question that needs to be asked: Are we falling into Novell’s trap (or rather Microsoft’s trap) ? I think we aren’t and we won’t. Truth be told, the Document Foundation is not aware of any secret pact between Novell and Microsoft to stuff LibreOffice with OOXML and patents (were it only because 1) their cooperation is ending soon 2) MS was not in the know about LibreOffice until a long time, and Novell does not own anything in LibreOffice). But the more important -and perhaps some will find it naive- is that the Novell people we’re working with, among them Michael Meeks, Thorsten Behrens, Kendy (and all the others) have so far proven to be not just reliable and trustworthy, but also good and loyal fellows of ours. They’re not in this to serve Mr Ballmer and the dancing ponies of Redmond Club: they’re in this because just like me, just like all of us, the founders of the Document Foundation, we believe in Freedom, Free Software and Open Standards. And if it were of any reassurance to anyone: if one day we had the evidence of patches directly resulting from a secret agreement between Novell and Microsoft on LibreOffice, I trust the community would replace them as soon as possible.

Happy New Year everyone, and may the Force be with you!

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