It’s been several weeks I hadn’t updated this blog. I was quite busy but I really avoided to comment on the latest developments at Apache and OpenOffice.org. Now that the OpenOffice.org project has formally been voted as an Apache project in incubation phase, I feel I can more easily comment on this latest move.
To start with the straight question; what do I think about this? I do have mixed feelings about Oracle moving the OpenOffice.org assets to the Apache Foundation. As explained in the Document Foundation’s official press release, this is a missed opportunity to reunite OpenOffice.org to the Document Foundation. By reuniting the two Oracle wouldn’t have accomplished a reconciliation, as there was no real need for this (whatever reconciliation would happen on a personal level) , but it would have brought order and coherence to the free and open source software office suites. Instead, Oracle chose -in a move where resentment and vengeance were not absent- to dump the OpenOffice.org code and trademark to the Apache Foundation without the Oracle engineers who had been working on it since fifteen years.
The player who was apparently enjoying the announcement in the most public fashion was IBM. Trailing the formal announcement of Oracle, one very official press release from Armonk, followed by IBM bloggers with an uncanny sense of certainty and confidence that OpenOffice.org had come of age at last. Ten days after the announcement, the press is anything but enthusiastic, and the promoters of the move to Apache resolved themselves to address the obvious elephant in the room: LibreOffice. If anything went really bad in these past ten days, it would be the willful ignorance by corporations of the community itself, and its move to create the LibreOffice project and the Document Foundation 8 months ago. I guess we will wonder for a long time why it was deemed necessary by some to ignore the basic reality around LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org: While there might be two projects, there really is only one community. Anyone trying to pretend it otherwise would miss the big picture.
But then, where does it leave us? Nowhere new, really, and this for two reasons.
The incubator project called OpenOffice.org might end up being very different from the project currently located at www.openoffice.org ; the governance structure, now led by the Apache Foundation, the few proposed developers are different people (I will refrain to sing the now famous tune “but they don’t have enough developers” I’ve heard so much about LibreOffice and that I still sometimes hear). Sure, a few people from the “former” project have signed up. They even have the same old community manager ad vitam ; but when you look closely, it’s hard to see anyone there who would be able to contribute anything meaningful except for two kinds of people: IBM & Red Office engineers. Their number barely amounts to a dozen. This number and the people who either fish for opportunity or hold personal grudges against the Document Foundation (there are always people like that) make up the list of the OpenOffice.org project committers.
Second, I cannot imagine the relevance of a new Openoffice.org project that would compete against LibreOffice. The “competition-is-good” argument does not stand here, as it would be a mere division of resources. That’s why I think that the project will have to find a different role and mission than to do exactly the things it was doing before. Side-stream (and not upstream) code for Symphony, LibreOffice, common development house for ODF APIs and libs are honorable and relevant goals for such a project.
But I see something else happening that is actually quite good in my view. The presence of IBM developers inside incubator project means that at the very least, IBM will be pushing code to the OpenOffice.org codebase, effectively changing the “orbit” of the OpenOffice.org project from Oracle / Sun to IBM. If I take my reasoning a bit farther, it might mean that IBM will directly influence the project inside Apache, essentially making it progressively different from the LibreOffice project. It would reinstate, then, the dichotomy behind a proprietary office suite and its weaker cousin, with Symphony instead of StarOffice (unless IBM would liberate the code of Symphony, which would be an excellent move).
With all the points discussed above I have not mentioned the possible opportunities for collaboration between the two projects. I think there are very clear and exciting ones, especially around ODF, which unites us all, from IBM to the Document Foundation. That’s why I welcome the Apache Incubator project for OpenOffice.org despite all its shortcomings and the missed opportunity. I think we’re better with it than without it and prefer this to a slow death of the project in the hands of Oracle. True, I have refrained from casting any non-binding vote on the Apache lists in favor of or against the Apache incubation of the OpenOffice.org project. I feel it wouldn’t have made any sense to cast a non-binding ballot. I look forward working with the OpenOffice.org project, and believe very much that in the end, not in a very long time, we will be truly reunited. In the meantime, and to quote from the press, let’s build the most exciting Free Software project besides Firefox, LibreOffice!