OpenOffice's time to shine

Now that the paperwork is done, OpenOffice needs to get going

The promotion of Apache OpenOffice to top-level project status within the Apache Software Foundation is good news for the open source office suite project, but it also means that it's time to put up or shut up for OpenOffice innovation.

Much has been said about the "innovation gap" that exists between OpenOffice and the two-year old forked offshoot LibreOffice. To be honest, much of what's said is coming out of the stewards of LibreOffice, The Document Foundation. And while they're not wrong - to date, only one big release of OpenOffice, v 3.4, has come out since the code was donated to the ASF by Oracle - it's not been entirely fair to the OpenOffice team to smack them around about it.

This is because the goals of the two projects have been rather disparate of late: the goal for LibreOffice was to innovate as fast as they could. The goal for OpenOffice was to get all of the code in OpenOffice that was incompatible with its new Apache Software License (ASL) fixed up for release. OpenOffice 3.4 was a big part of that effort, and it was this very license work that SUSE developer Michael Meeks pointed out back when OpenOffice 3.4 was released in May.

There is a one-way incompatibility between the licenses of OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Under the terms of the LGPL v3 (under which OpenOffice.org was licensed prior to its donation to the ASF), you can use ASL code in an LGPL (or GPL) project. But you can't use LGPL code within and Apache-Licensed project. So all of that LGPL licensed code in OpenOffice had to go - either swapped out or relicensed with the copyright holders' permission.

But now that effort is clearly finished. In fact, it was finished back in May with OpenOffice 3.4. Since then, the OpenOffice team was getting all of its other ducks in a row: community, marketing, governance, and whatnot. Now that this has all be melded with the Apache specs, all of the "catch up" work is done and OpenOffice should be ready to go.

The question is, what will we see?

What I hope we will see is a strong and powerful project, moving forward to kick butt and take names in the office suite sector. I realize that many tend to disparage "the Apache Way," but you can't deny that for all of the bureaucratic overhead, Apache projects have historically gotten the job done: just look at httpd or Hadoop.

What I don't hope we will see is a project weakened by the loss of too many developers who left OpenOffice behind when they were disgusted with Oracle's (and Sun's before it) mishandling of OpenOffice.org development. If that's the case, then it will be readily apparent that OpenOffice will be facing a lot more challenges than technical ones.

Would this mean the end of OpenOffice as we know it? Doubtful; there are many chance for that team to turn this around. But now will be the best time to demonstrate that their mission is clear and their developers are committed to the project. And a great release soon would be just the ticket to strut their stuff.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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