The significance of a Foundation

It was quite a month for the Document Foundation; the press rightly picked our three main announcements: the 3.5 release, the foundation’s incorporation and our partnership with Intel. I would like to go back to the foundation matter and show why the two other announcements are made more significant by the fact that we are now officially established and incorporated as a legal entity.

When the Document Foundation and the LibreOffice project were announced by the end of September 2010 we explained that the only way for the community to secure the future of the project and its very soul was to create a foundation that would serve for the “next decade”. Our manifesto was very clear and still stands today. Our commitment to an independent foundation and to our core values, the respect of software freedom, our belief in a meritocratic community, the fundamental importance of true open standards, the preservation and growth of mothertongues everywhere in the world will remain the same for a long, long time. Incorporating our community as a foundation in Germany is an essential tool to ensure these values and the community will be given the full means to live and grow, while the software itself, freed from the barriers and limitations created by vendor lock-in, is getting better and better everyday.

It took us a long time to create the foundation in Germany. We highlighted our plans in a clear fashion one year ago when we called the community to donate money so that the initial capital stock and we were surprised and happy to see that, in less than a month, the double amount of donations necessary to secure the capital stock had been collected. The reason we spent almost one year to make the foundation a reality is that the type of legal entity we were aiming for was not the usual NGO people usually think about. It is a very specific kind of entity that is designed to secure and protect assets. Its real name is a “Stiftung bürgerlichen Rechts” or just “Stiftung ” (pronounce it “Stee-ft-oong”) and its litteral translation is “foundation”. Basically this entity does not work like a business or a corportation. It operates on a non-for-profit basis but it is designed to never allow anyone to seize its assets and what it is deemed to protect. You just cannot buy or take over this kind of entity. It almost works like a vault in a bank, except that there’s no bank and no one to ask you for the keys: you, the community, own every piece and parcel of the foundation. No bank, no third party is necessary here, we all inhabit the castle we just built, and mind you, this castle is made of steel and reinforced concrete to make sure there will be no capture of any kind; but at the same time, it lets the community free to operate as it wants.

Part of our mission is accomplished and I feel deeply good about this. We secured the future of the project and we have given its community a forever home. But it does not stop here. In fact, it’s just the beginning, as what we have achieved is to lay the cornerstone of our construction. Don’t be afraid, we’re not looking to build a cathedral but even bazaars need basilicas (in fact basilicas’ first purpose was to host bazaars).

Now we are free to move on, to innovate, to grow and to show the world that this old office suite of ours can be turned into the most exciting piece Free Software will see in a long time. The community is getting strong, growing by the day, but we need to strengthen it, to fix our own bugs, and to extend our reach to the web, to the tablets, while changing our codebase and our user interface. This is a job that is going to keep us busy for quite some time, but it’s worth the challenge: this is the new chapter in our history, the history of and now LibreOffice. It is probably not per chance that the same month the foundation was incorporated we released LibreOffice 3.5, our version with the largest amount of changes and fixes we ever offered and that we announced this great partnership with Intel. It shows the momentum a community can achieve, when, starting from the ground up, it is able to grow and move forward by making sure it keeps things simple, remains true to its spirit and realizes its full potential by being in charge.

To everyone who made this possible, I’m truly grateful. This has been an exciting month, and I look forward many more months to be (at least) that exciting.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: