This week Collabora has shown an early testing version of the cloud version of LibreOffice integrated with an Owncloud instance. To me and others, this marks a significant milestone in the story of LibreOffice and the Document Foundation. I’m aware that the code is not stabilized and there’s much work left to do, but by and large, LibreOffice now has its own cloud version. The repercussions of this won’t be immediately clear, in that they will likely really start when the first stable version is released along with a proper documentation so that anyone who has to administer 15 desktops can easily install and run it.
There are however a few comments I would like to make about this testing release. First, I’m very happy to see LibreOffice Online become a reality. By reality, I mean more than an announcement and more than a demo with chunks of code and configuration notes. Today, LibreOffice runs in the cloud. Which leads me to my second comment: the relevance of LibreOffice in the future is now pretty secure. Running LibreOffice in the browser needs you can access it without having to download the code and just by using the access gateway to everything these days: the browser.
Third, LibreOffice Online is a very interesting software. This is not a pad; this isn’t a lightweight office suite with limited creative and editing capabilities: it is -or will very soon be a full fledged LibreOffice with roughly the same features, the same document interoperability and compatibility running in a browser. In this regard, LibreOffice Online should be better compared to MS Office 365 than Google Docs or Etherpad. That is a pretty massive added value if you ask me. And this means that the cloud just got more interesting as this unusual contender to the established players is entering the arena.
Fourth, one of the key values of LibreOffice Online is one that neither Google Docs nor Office 365 actually provides: third-party integration. We have seen it since day one: LibreOffice Online was shown running and fully integrated within an Owncloud instance. This ability to integrate within other online platforms or tools will be one of the key success factors as well as one of the defining characteristics of LibreOffice OnLine as a business model. I feel compelled to mention the business model this early in the introduction of LibreOffice OnLine precisely because it is a cloud application. Do not expect the Document Foundation to offer LibreOffice Online for everyone, for free or as a subscription; the Document Foundation is not a cloud player expert at DevOps and cloud management. Rather, expect a market structured in three tiers where LibreOffice Online will be integrated into platforms such as Owncloud. The first tier will be the SME with local instance of LibreOffice Online serving their own with no or little professional support. The second tier will the large or medium organizations running LibreOffice Online (again, often integrated with other tools and platform) on premise. The third tier will be commercial cloud offerings with LibreOffice Online being provided as a subscription basis and tied to other cloud services such as storage and groupware as a service. In this picture I expect the Document Foundation to do pretty much what it has done (very well) with LibreOffice, which means it will be the code custodian, placeholder and ultimate place for governance of the development community of LibreOffice Online.
Last but not least, I would like to express my gratitude to the developers and specially to Collabora who are turning LibreOffice Online into something real. Since the inception of the LibreOffice project I have been not just a vocal supporter of a cloud version of LibreOffice, I have also tried to help advancing its cause as it always seemed to me that it would be a matter of profound strategic importance for the project and our community. 2016 is going to be exciting on this front.
Merry Christmas everyone!