Non-profit launches new OpenOffice.org fork

Is White Label Office a reason for Team OpenOffice.org e.V. to exist?

A few days after the Apache Software Foundation reiterated its claim on the OpenOffice.org trademark, another non-profit in Germany has decided to flaunt the ASF and the Apache OpenOffice.org incubation process by releasing a new version of the popular open source office suite: White Label Office 3.3.1.

The new office suite, now available for download, appears to be a direct slap in the face of the ASF by the German non-profit Team OpenOffice.org e.V., which has proclaimed its mission to keep OpenOffice.org development alive.

The problem for Team OpenOffice.org is, OpenOffice.org isn't close to being killed off by the ASF. The ASF just released a statement Tuesday entitled "Open Letter to the Open Document Format Ecosystem," which outlined plans for Apache OpenOffice.org 3.2 and the importance of the project in the ODF market.

At the time, many analysts saw this letter as a positive sign that the ASF had not given up on the OpenOffice.org project, which was donated to the ASF last June. From my perspective, I wasn't worried that OpenOffice.org was on its way out… instead, I saw this letter as something completely different: a broadside aimed at Team OpenOffice.org, probably to get the organization to stop their apparent representation of OpenOffice.org activities.

The key passage in the ASF statement Tuesday for me was this:

"As well as clarifying our position in relation to our trademarks we wish to make it clear that no third party has been given approval to solicit donations of any kind on behalf of the Apache Software Foundation or any of its projects, including OpenOffice.org.

"In general, if a communication does not come to you from a verifiable apache.org address then it is not an official Apache Software Foundation or OpenOffice.org communication."

My theories were pretty much on the mark, it seems, given Team OpenOffice.org's response yesterday: a press release that touted release candidate availability of White Label Office 3.3.1 "based on OpenOffice.org 3.3.0 with important security fixes and problem corrections."

But Team OpenOffice.org e.V. is going beyond just releasing new flavors of OpenOffice.org, which are essentially forking the project. In October, the organization was called out by the ASF for publicly fund raising for the office suite project, using statements such as "OpenOffice.org can't be allowed to die!"

It seems that Team OpenOffice.org e.V. has continued their fundraising campaign in earnest. The English version of the organization's home page appears to claim ownership of the OpenOffice.org project:

"The world needs free, open source office software that works reliably and safely. We invented OOo, we developed it - and we are eager to ensure that the software will stand firm to its promises in the future."

There is also acknowledgement of the project's current status with the ASF. A rotating text widget states:

"Oracle transfered [sic] OpenOffice.org - code, trademark, website, … - to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF). The Apache OpenOffice (AOO) podling provides the home for the open source project and works on the codebase towards future versions."

One of the main purposes of Team OpenOffice.org e.V. seems to be fundraising; it's a prominent feature on the organization's web site. But, given that the ASF does not accept earmarked donations to individual Apache projects as a matter of policy (all donations to the ASF go to a general fund), it is not clear how donations to Team OpenOffice.org e.V. will assist the official OpenOffice.org project.

That hasn't stopped Team OpenOffice.org e.V. from actively fundraising. Last week, a member of the OpenOffice.org community sent me a copy of a donation request that linked to a holiday-themed fundraising page. Passages in the page seemed to hint at a future product coming from Team OpenOffice.org e.V.:

"The inventors of the software, Team OpenOffice.org, created great ideas. Just in time for the Christmas Holidays and after an exciting couple of months, the fathers of the software are back--they have a special gift and it's very impressive!"

Is this "special gift" White Label Office? It certainly seems probable. It is also probable that the ASF's public statement may have forced Team OpenOffice.org to release the new software package faster than they planned.

For it seems clear that, faced with mounting pressure from the Apache Software Foundation, Team OpenOffice.org has decided to try to release its own version of OpenOffice.org in order to create a new product to base its fundraising efforts.

There is potentially a big problem here: Team OpenOffice.org e.V. has tried to cast itself in the role of rescuer for OpenOffice.org, despite the fact that the original product in Apache's control nor the community-prompted LibreOffice fork under the auspices of the Document Foundation are in any danger of ending any time soon.

Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that LibreOffice is more popular amongst users and by Linux distribution makers, but even critics of the Apache OpenOffice.org efforts are far from predicting the doom of that project. Indeed, the only party that is making such predictions is Team OpenOffice.org e.V.--the organization placing such a high priority on fundraising on behalf of OpenOffice.org.

The announcement of White Label Office is a sign that Team OpenOffice.org e.V. wants to continue its own involvement within the broader OpenOffice.org community on its own terms and no one else's. Since the non-profit has been disavowed by the ASF, and apparently is ignoring or is ignored by the Document Foundation, then creating their own fork of OpenOffice.org has become their solution to the problem.

It's not a good solution. With potentially three forked versions of the original OpenOffice.org codebase now out there, all three office suites could be weakened, and confusion over the OpenOffice.org brand will continue to reign.

There is no evidence that any OpenOffice.org-based project is in danger of dying, so this addition of a third project for the apparent purpose of keeping Team OpenOffice.org e.V. alive will likely hurt the overall health of all these projects and damage the broader Open Document Format community.

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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