Pondering the future of the Document Foundation

This past week we had had the pleasure to welcome both our new marketing assistant and the new board of directors of the Document Foundation. I would like to say a few words on where the Document Foundation stands now – and I must stress that I’m confident the new board has the right people to handle the future of the foundation.

The Document Foundation is still a small entity compared to the Mozilla or OpenStack Foundation. However, with several hundreds of thousands of euros/dollars of resources, it just happens to stand just behind these behemoths. It is not an easy task. Commonly held opinions often do not apply with us: “pay X to code feature Y”. That is somewhat possible, but we tend not to do it, unless there is a strategic reason (and enough money) to do it. We do fund, however, our entire infrastructure, the release management process, infrastructure and tools that help the community develop, improve and release LibreOffice. As the Document Foundation is now four years old, we are adjusting our internal processes and decision making structure in order to scale up and be more effective. There is no easy answer, because most of the ones that could be made were already found during the past four years.

All of which brings me to the question: where does the Document Foundation go from here? (NB: I’m neither a board member nor an employee of the Foundation. I am however a member of the foundation’s membership committee). There are several ways to answer this question; and I’m not going to take the one that focuses on LibreOffice, because LibreOffice is on the right track: it has safeguarded its relevance by being ported to Android and cloudified. Even if this is still work in progress, it has strategically crossed the Rubicon and shaken off the old clothes of the office suite for desktop computers including the Mac. Also, the Document Foundation is different from the LibreOffice project itself. It has been designed to survive for hundreds of years, because it’s a German foundation, not a standard non-for-profit corp you tend to come across in the Free and Open Source world.

I think the foundation has proven at least one thing in these past four years: it enables Free and Open Source projects to grow and strive. That will always be its enduring legacy. Whether it is a job in and to itself is an interesting question. After all, the foundation had no choice with LibreOffice: it was do or die. And because of that, the foundation has no “vocational” role to enable other projects on that basis. What it could do, however, is to focus on software initiatives for creative tools, from document editors to design software. In doing this, and maintaining its core values (meritocracy, transparency, software freedom, open standards, support for the world’s languages), the Document Foundation would adopt a portfolio-based approach. It would be both coherent with its mission and what it set out to do four years ago.

The new board will not achieve all this in one mandate of course. It can, however, work towards building a common vision and scale up the foundation’s tools and processes to prepare for the future. It will be a complex task, but one that could really be worth it. In any case, I wish good luck to the board and look forward to working with them for the next two years!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: