Has IBM kicked OpenOffice.org to the curb?

OpenOffice.org seeks funding, but where's Big Blue?

Hey, here's one for you: would somebody explain to me why we're at the point where statements like "OpenOffice.org can't be allowed to die!" are being made?

Those are the words of Stefan Taxhet, CEO of Team OpenOffice.org e.V., the German non-profit responsible for managing the fundraising for the Apache OpenOffice.org project. Taxhet made this statement in a press release Tuesday that announced new fundraising efforts for the project, which is apparently in need of a cash infusion.

Team OpenOffice.org's impassioned press release seemed to finger Oracle's donation of OpenOffice.org to the Apache Project and the subsequent cutting off of funding as the culprit behind their current financial woes. Curiously, the same statement also heralded the release from Oracle as a great liberating event for the project, which currently is under incubator status within the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).

But here's where I am confused: where exactly is IBM in all of this?

I mean, I wasn't all that little surprised that Oracle had completely cut off OpenOffice.org's funding, which is what the fundraising message from Team OpenOffice.org seems to imply. Sure, Oracle seems ill-fated to mishandle nearly every open source project it touches, but I would have thought they would have put some sort of lingering severance plan in place. It must be my lingering compassion gene; I must get that looked at sometime, it seems.

But why in the world is the OpenOffice.org project hollering so much about funding when IBM was (last time I checked) assuredly backing OpenOffice.org's entry into the ASF?

After all, it was IBM that stood to benefit the most from OpenOffice.org joining the ASF. IBM is still making Lotus Symphony and are marketing this OpenOffice.org-based suite as a business desktop application. Because of this vested interest, Big Blue should be much happier keeping OpenOffice.org with the ASF than The Document Foundation.

Why? Because now that OpenOffice.org is part of the ASF, the OpenOffice.org office suite is licensed under the Apache Software License (ASL) v2. This means IBM and any other Apache OpenOffice.org project member can innovate the OpenOffice.org source code for their own purposes and not be obligated to give back to the mainline OpenOffice.org code, since the ASL is a non-copyleft license. IBM and other OpenOffice.org contributors will also be able to re-license OpenOffice.org code under any license they want, including a proprietary license, should they wish. It also keeps a major Open Document Format (ODF) project ensconced within IBM-friendly governance.

Okay, so given that IBM should have a lot to gain from an active Apache-licensed OpenOffice.org, where's the money?

There are (naturally) a few theories I have running around in my brain about this turn of events.

First, I could be wrong about IBM's inherent interest in keeping OpenOffice.org alive. They may not give two hoots about OpenOffice.org at all, for reasons we can't fathom. Being wrong is something (at least my wife tells me) at which I am quite skilled.

Actually, I can fathom one reason, and it's my second theory: IBM doesn't care about OpenOffice.org because it's about to drop Lotus Symphony as a product. That would most certainly shake up the Open Document Format ecosystem, since IBM has historically been a major supporter of the ODF. But they can still support ODF and not sell Lotus Symphony, I suppose, and this could explain why IBM isn't stepping forward as a major donor for OpenOffice.org.

The third theory is that OpenOffice.org doesn't want IBM's money. I find that a bit difficult to believe, but if IBM has a vastly different direction they want to take OpenOffice.org, it stands to reason that project leaders would not want IBM's skin in the game.

Whatever the reason, OpenOffice.org seems to be running without a commercial sponsor, while LibreOffice and the Document Foundation seems to be doing quite well with Novell, Red Hat, and Canonical's participation, among others.

I will be very interested to see how this situation resolves, but I have to tell you, I am not sure that the death of OpenOffice.org would be so disastrous. The vitality of LibreOffice means that the codebase wouldn't really die; it would just live on under another project name.

I'm not advocating the closing of OpenOffice.org, mind you. Diversity is good, because it keeps projects sharp. But Team OpenOffice.org's argument that businesses and OpenOffice.org users would be harmed by the departure of the venerable office suite seems a bit of hyperbole: why couldn't those users just switch over to LibreOffice, which is effectively the same application, but with improvements?

Maybe I don't have the right perspective on this, but it feels like LibreOffice is thriving where OpenOffice.org is contracting. It's going to take a lot more than funding to reverse this problem, I fear.

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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