Matters of heritage can be tricky to solve. Every family out there has had and will have its share of feuds, issues and tears. People don’t always stick together. Should we expect any better from corporations and organisations such as Free & Open Source Software projects?
Today I would like to discuss one topic which may be regarded by some as somewhat futile, and in a sense it is: the legacy of OpenOffice.org . But these past days I have noticed blogs and mailing list threads as well as discussions on social networks that the leaders of the Apache OpenOffice project (incubating) are having a filiation problem. I would like to address this, because while I think it’s better not to feed trolls, I think this is a deep issue as it pertains to the very identity and the raison d’être of the Apache OpenOffice project (incubating).
I cannot pinpoint accurately what caused to inflate the whole issue, but it seems that some at Apache OpenOffice (incubating) would like to stress that there are the rightful continuation of the now defunct OpenOffice.org project, to the point of showing outright hostility to LibreOffice. They base their claims upon the following elements:
- they own the OpenOffice.org domain name
- they own the trademark of OpenOffice.org
- they must be the right heirs of OpenOffice.org since the Apache incubating project they’re contributing to was born out of the will of the copyright holder (Oracle) through its donation to the Apache Software Foundation.
These three points above are of course accurate. Do these make Apache OpenOffice (incubating) the “rightful” heir and continuation of OpenOffice.org ? Well, the real answer, I think, amounts to a marketing problem. If we solve this particular marketing problem, we will in fact be able to address the psychological side of the issue, the “who am I and why do I contribute to Apache OpenOffice (incubating)?” question. It might be weird to answer such an issue through a marketing perspective, but as we’re considering FOSS development projects, trademarks and corporations, it does make real sense.
The way the Apache OpenOffice (incubating) project was formed is in fact rather simple. Oracle, out of boredom and because of its shareholders’ greed, did dump the trademark of OpenOffice.org (and its attributes, such as domain names) over to Apache Software Foundation, and set up a specific software grant to the same entity, so that the code would be properly relicensed under the Apache Software Foundation’s policies. Oracle did not transfer its assets over to the Document Foundation. I am not so sure about Oracle’s initial thinking on this, although it seemed to have acted the same way with Jenkins. In essence, what happened when the assets of the OpenOffice.org project were donated to Apache was just that. Assets got transferred, and it seems IBM felt they had acquired a good trademark. IBM was publicly vocal about the transfer and seemed to regard it as a very good thing. This is essentially what prompts some inside the Apache OpenOffice (incubating) project to claim they are the continuation of OpenOffice.org . Let’s deal with this assertion marketing-wise first by taking another example.
Let’s imagine a case where the Boeing company acquires the Sukhoi aircraft corporation. Sukhoi gets merged and integrated inside a new entity or division of Boeing called “Boeing-Sukhoi” and sells whatever new aircrafts will be designed by the division or even by Boeing itself. Now the real question the customers of Boeing and Sukhoi will care about (that would be, in this case, airlines) will be the maintenance of the existing Sukhoi aircrafts, the ones that have been designed and manufactured prior to the merger or the acquisition. In some cases (just like in the aerospace industry) the maintenance of existing products will be provided for a long period of time. Sometimes though, it’s just not the case; it depends of the industry practices and the business agreement.
Let us now go back to Apache OpenOffice (incubating) and OpenOffice.org . The real question users really care about is the future of OpenOffice.org . The Document Foundation has shown to everyone that we were ready from day one to give the OpenOffice.org project a future, and a bright one. But if we stick to the brand here, we should look at the Apache OpenOffice (incubating) project. Let’s ask the question of the maintenance. We live in an environment where most of the large and not so large professional users of OpenOffice.org both from the private and public sector are using OpenOffice.org 3.2.1 or even 3.1 . A few of them already transitioned to LibreOffice and many are in the process of migrating to LibreOffice. But there is a large amount of these users who do not update their office suite every six months or even each year. These people are asking the question of the maintenance, and the question of the future. If we take LibreOffice out of the picture for a few moments now, what do we see? Apache OpenOffice (incubating): no stable release yet, but it’s planned anyway; other than that, no support nor patches for the previous versions of OpenOffice.org. Yet the important matter is the support of existing versions of OpenOffice.org . In other words, if you want to know whether anyone can claim to be the “real” continuation of OpenOffice.org, just ask this: will you support and fix the bugs that were found in OpenOffice.org 3.2.1? or OpenOffice.org 3.1? or even in the 3.3?
Today, neither the Apache OpenOffice (incubating) project, nor its steward, IBM, can answer positively to the question above. And no one should be mad at them for that. There are two reasons to this. The “OpenOffice” in “Apache OpenOffice (incubating)” does not imply a direct continuation. It’s a brand transfer. It’s a brand that got donated over to a respectable chartity. But it does not mean there’s a direct continuation. The other reason is because thanks to IBM, the Apache OpenOffice (incubating) will have a future, and no one should have any doubt about the success of the incubation of this project. I, for one, don’t have any. Just look at how much support from IBM this project gets: you see them at every corner of Apache OpenOffice so I’m really not worried about the outcome of the incubation period. More precisely, IBM does have very interesting plans for Apache OpenOffice, as it is turning a great deal of its Symphony code to the Apache OpenOffice code base. This is important as it outlines once again that Apache OpenOffice is not so much the continuation of OpenOffice.org “product-wise” as it is the IBM’s productivity suite ‘s future on the desktop. Again, this is great and positive news for the users in general as well as for the Document Foundation.
Marketing-wise we now have a better perception of the reality when it comes to the filiation of Apache OpenOffice (incubating) and it’s clearly not a poor one. Something this project does not acknowledge, however, is that the community at large has gone over to LibreOffice, which was created before by the OpenOffice.org community. The filiation of LibreOffice is quite clear and I had the opportunity to explain it on this blog the very day the Document Foundation was announced: We are OpenOffice.org . We are the next Decade and we have no problems sharing our legacy. In fact, we’re dealing with the legacy of unused code agressively as we are acting upon it in the present, thereby improving our future versions. We don’t ask ourselves many questions about filiation: we know we must innovate in order to stay relevant and to offer a genuinely Free and Open Source Software of choice to the largest number of users out there. It was the mission of OpenOffice.org, and it is the mission of LibreOffice. But the important lesson we took out of OpenOffice.org and the LibreOffice adventure so far is that we must accept to change, to evolve and to be very aware of what we are wishing for. Legacy should not be a burden. It should not be something we should argue about. Rather, it ought to be a starting point, the point of origin. It’s neither a goal nor something we own; it’s something we’re proceeding from. If some at Apache OpenOffice (incubating) feel they are the rightful continuation of OpenOffice.org, I wish them good luck. They got a good brand but I hope they haven’t paid too much for it. If they feel so strongly about being the successors, the Document Foundation should gladly let them share that role, it’s not an easy one; the LibreOffice project, on the other hand, is not just a successor of OpenOffice.org. It has success. Legacy is only the starting point, our work define who we are and where we go.