The Document Foundation sets precedents & paves new opportunities for Free Software

These past weeks have marked a significant twist in the way the Document Foundation is supporting the LibreOffice project and in general, the Free and Open Source Software world. Three distinct pieces of news should indeed be put together in order to shed light on the way the Document Foundation is changing the way Free Software projects can work in order to grow and gain traction. In chronological order, here are the three announcements you should pay attention to:
– The Document Foundation opens a tender to develop a full viewer (and limited editor) for Android
CloudOn, a member of the Advisory Board of the Document Foundation and a very active contributor of code, releases its new, full touch-based document viewer and editor for the iPad, entirely based on LibreOffice.
– The Document Foundation extends its certification programme to migration and training professionals.

Put together, a new story is emerging. Part of it was expected since the beginning of the LibreOffice project, while other parts came up unexpectedly, yet welcome. Let me explain. The other day I was writing about the roles of Free and Open Source Foundations. The funny thing about that is that while some foundations have roles that are easy to understand, several others operate in ways that may not make immediate sense to all. It seems that the Document Foundation falls in this latter category.

The Document Foundation role is to support and grow the LibreOffice & Document Liberation project and promote Free Software and Open Standards. You will notice in this statement two key points; first, it is not directly the role of the Document Foundation to develop the LibreOffice code: the community of volunteers is in charge of that and second, the actual role of the foundation is actually to protect and cater to the community’s needs and logistics.

At this point, it should be clear that at least in the case of the Document Foundation, we don’t hire developers to work on LibreOffice. But we feel there’s a difference between being a non profit entity distributing t-shirts and an entity actually supporting and growing the project. As such, we have overcome the lack of skills and time to develop an Android client by dedicating resources to this development, enabling talented developers to work on this project during a fixed period of time and funded by the foundation. Clearly, if such a development had been so easy we would already have an Android version.

The second case is a bit different, but highlights that the licensing choices of the LibreOffice project do not make it some sort of project for hobbyists. Here, we have a dynamic startup investing in the codebase and in the project in order to bet its own business on LibreOffice. The result is a visually stunning, touch based document viewer and editor for the iPad; it is also the only client able to read and edit documents in OOXML, ODF and several other formats on this device. Is it proprietary? I’m afraid it is. But the important lesson here is on two levels: in order to create such a product, CloudOn had to invest heavily in the development of LibreOffice (i.e, make actual, sizable contributions to the LibreOffice codebase) and, despite everything we have heard in the past, our licensing scheme is flexible enough to accomodate many different kind of scenarios without ripping off the actual project from its resources and code.

Last but not least, the certification for migration and training professionals is an important announcement: by assessing a reasonable level of competence and knowledge on LibreOffice, the certification aims at turning the market into a readable and transparent set of service offerings the customers can choose from while benefiting from a real stamp of minimum quality to be expected.

The conclusion at this stage I take from these three announcements is that the Document Foundation moves into new territories that will ultimately help LibreOffice and the FOSS world in general. By setting these precedents, the Document Foundation finds ways to strengthen the business ecosystem and invest resources into much needed strategic initiatives. This is what an independent foundation can do for the community it stems from and it is a powerful, yet at times intriguing model that prompts a new thinking on Free and Open Source Software projects.

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