The announcement that was made jointly a week ago by Collabora and IceWarp as well as the one on the same topic shared by the Document Foundation is deeply important, both for the LibreOffice project and digital freedom in general. The short story goes like this: Key developers of the LibreOffice project found funding by a groupware vendor (IceWarp) to develop the cloud version of LibreOffice. This is something that several people inside the Document Foundation, including yours truly, have been actively looking for since the early days of the LibreOffice project. I am really happy about these news.
While I do not believe that office suites will disappear, I do believe that the need to be completely integrated into cloud-like environments, whether centralized or distributed, is key to insure potential and an actual future for any desktop software. Because of these trends, the news are of strategic importance to LibreOffice and to software freedom and digital rights in general. At a time when the Internet and cloud services become more and more centralized, the competition diminishes and so do users’rights. “LibreOffice Online” is really good news, and it should make you happy. More specifically, what was announced leads to two distinct outcomes:
- LibreOffice will be running inside a browser, like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Drive
- LibreOffice will integrate cloud storage in its desktop and cloud versions (this is already more or less the case, but it will improve as time goes by.
LibreOffice OnLine is not a new concept. It was thought about more or less since the inception of the LibreOffice project; and what it will be like is something that is rather well defined judging by the early works on it. In a nutshell, I believe that what will make this project truly unique is that the “cloud version” is actually not that distinct from the desktop version, at least in its final stable form (not the first previews and betas that will be released). Expect the same interface, and more importantly, the same features (at least 95%) available in the desktop version, the ones you know today. This is indeed unique, because it means that the “cloud version” will really be the most complete cloud office version from the onset. Of course, all this comes at the price of unprecedented complexity and it means that not everything will work downright since the first stable version; but I’m confident that sometime in 2016, we will have a very complete cloud version of LibreOffice available for anyone to download and use.
It is not unlikely that the Document Foundation will operate or provide LibreOffice Online as a public service. The Document Foundation is the expression of the community of its projects’ contributors and as such works like a special kind of software vendor. But what it is not, and won’t be for a long time is a SaaS provider or a cloud services operator. This is also good news: Everybody will be able to run LibreOffice on its servers, increase the safety of its data and innovate in a healthy competitive ecosystem. At least this time,the big winner will be software freedom and true innovators.