LibreOffice, and the ODF legacy

Common wisdom has it that sleeping dogs are better kept snoring and I tend to agree. I’m going to do what may seem to be understood as the contrary. I believe it is not the case, as prejudice is something that is hard to fight and tends to stick around dark corners and circles of people with little knowledge of the matter.

LibreOffice has deeply hurt the ODF ecosystem
As more and more European countries deploy Free and Open Source Software for their governmental I.T., the question of open standards becomes more important. This is particularly true of the Open Document Format (ODF). There are of course several FOSS implementations of ODF: LibreOffice, Calligra and Apache OpenOffice.LibreOffice_external_logo_200px
Oddly enough the choice between these suites (and MS Office and its own ODF implementation) brought back an old meme: LibreOffice is hurting ODF global adoption by creating some sort of instability vis-à-vis Apache OpenOffice.
This is actually an old idea, and one that goes all the way back to the very creation of the LibreOffice project. The core team behind the Document Foundation was told by many people that we were breaking what seems to have been an “unified front” of the ODF implementors vs. Microsoft.
We were practically becoming the objective allies of Redmond by displaying the instability that is supposedly inherent to Free and Open Source project, which really amounted to say that we should never have forked.
Anyone thinking this is misguided, as I will show in this post; anyone willfully spreading this meme is actually being disingenuous.

** ODF does not equate OpenOffice
The first and perhaps rather obvious rebuttal to these allegations is that ODF does not equate OpenOffice. Of course, the standard and this office suite share a special relationship. But the point of ODF remains that it should not be the format of a particular office suite; as such it is used by Calligra, Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice today, alongside Corel WordPerfect an Microsoft Office which support it yet do not use ODF as their default file format.
Moving beyond office suites you will find a rather diverse ecosystem of tools that handle and generate ODF files for various purposes. My point here is perhaps already made; but it is also important to note that ever since 2010 there isn’t any particular vendor leading the ODF technical committee at the OASIS – don’t get me wrong, things are going quite smoothly, but we’re no longer in a situation where ODF is spearheaded by one office suite and one vendor. On top of that, it is fair to say that ODF is both a quite acceptable file format which is pushed by the recent and ongoing migrations to LibreOffice.
Look at what’s happening in 5 specific European countries – there are others of course: the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Hungary: these five countries have to some extent mandated the use of ODF across their administration, be it on a regional or national level. This creates both demand and offer, and increases the use and the creation of ODF documents.
The use of ODF is thus correlated to the use of LibreOffice these days even though ODF has several implementations. Other European countries are not less interesting but may not have a national mandate to use ODF despite having real migrations cases: Spain, Greece and Germany.

Another important rebuttal is that is no more. That ship sailed years ago. Besides the forks existing at the time of its demise (NeoOffice for instance), has two offsprings: LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice. Despite the name of the latter, it would be quite difficult to support the view that Apache OpenOffice drives the momentum of ODF anymore than LibreOffice: there is a reality in terms of actual deployments as well as ongoing development and resources that would make that case rather difficult.
And yet, that is somehow AOO4_website_logowhat can be heard here and there in Europe. It is the same critic that was made against LibreOffice in 2010 and 2011, but more than a critic this argument increasingly looks like an implicit admission of weakness, if not failure. Failure to what? By whom?
Failure to have kept little but the “OpenOffice” brand alive, and to have lived up to the promise that the dump of the assets of OpenOffice without any meaningful community backing them into the Apache Software Foundation would be an astounding success.

The rather counterproductive twist to it is that instead of pushing LibreOffice, a few are attempting to dance around potential ODF adopters claiming LibreOffice brought confusion.
Certainly, confusion was a byproduct of what the Document Foundation did to save the main Free Software office suite project in 2010. But confusion happens all the time, even for proprietary software and vendors: some get bought, others change names, a few even go bankrupt. Confusion may be a nuisance but it tends to be part of a bigger picture. I’m sorry to see that some would better stick to whining.

 By forking, LibreOffice has destroyed OpenOffice
That one was heard as well in 2010 and 2011 and now it is rather difficult to make that claim: first, LibreOffice is a success and if anything it has grown the reach of the former project. The legend that LibreOffice is the actual culprit in the fall of OpenOffice is however present, alive, albeit in an unconscious or unspoken way. This myth needs to be put to rest.
LibreOffice was born precisely because OpenOffice *was going down*. The project was living off borrowed resources from its new overlord, and its new overlord was not only interested in keeping it alive insofar as it was generating revenue in a rather short timeframe. That’s not an unreasonable expectation, and it was the same for every asset acquired from Sun Microsystems. The cost structure and business model of the former StarDivision unit, however, made it a goal that was close to impossible to reach. Realizing that a small but rapidly growing portion of the community worked at the “plan B”. Anybody thinking OpenOffice could have survived otherwise is delusional and needs to come to terms with that issue. In the words of a great french writer of the 18th century, Maximilien de Chamfort, “to have expected that things could have carried on the way they had before means one expects to clean the stables of Augias with a feather duster”.

LibreOffice’s only problem is that it exists.
I dare to say it: LibreOffice’s is a wonder as it is both one of the most serious attempts to create a true and exemplary Free and Open Source project and is at the same time an unwanted child for some. To them, no matter how handsome or smart the child is, she is still unwanted.
It is unfair and mean to be angry at the child: he is only the fruit of a physical act, not the act itself. After some time, the child has grown up; he’s handsome and healthy, rides horses and is quick to learn; yet a few people will still be mumbling and talking behind closed doors against him. Of course they cannot speak in the open, out loud against him. But they will speak behind his back, and attempt to cast just as much doubt necessary to make some people question the obvious. Just like with this example, one should not have a problem with LibreOffice’s existence and success: LibreOffice is the consequence, the sequel to a rather long story. It is not the cause, nor the original sin.
If you believe I’ve been beating a dead horse in this post, you may perhaps be right: to me however, I have heard and seen this horse neighing often these past 4 years: I had to clarify the matter.

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