Oracle may be learning, finally, that this open source things isn't just about doing whatever the heck you want with some cool free software.
The lesson, it seems, sank in last Friday when the database company announced it would no longer continue commercial development of OpenOffice.org and would be donating the code for OpenOffice.org to the community. You remember the community, don't you? It's the group of core developers and other OpenOffice.org team members who walked away from OpenOffice.org to create The Document Foundation last fall.
The new foundation's mission? The continued development and deployment of a forked OpenOffice.org, known as LibreOffice. Which, by pretty much everyone's estimation, has taken nearly all of the community momentum from OpenOffice.org.
Suddenly, Oracle realized they couldn't afford commercial development of an office suite like OpenOffice.org without... wait for it... community support!
That the LibreOffice fork happened was no surprise. In a rare moment of cognitive speculation, I actually predicted a community foundation 'way back in August. I wasn't completely right: I wanted such a foundation to have Oracle, the commercial sponsors of OpenOffice.org, involved, too. Such was not to be.
Nor was I even remotely right when I speculated that Oracle might just want LibreOffice to succeed so the community could do the heavy lifting and the commercial OpenOffice.org project could pick and choose all the goodies in the LibreOffice code. Apparently I failed to take into account the desolation left in the OpenOffice.org (OOo) project after developers left for LibreOffice.
Ryan Paul gives his usual excellent analysis on what this might mean for Oracle going forward:
"Oracle now has little choice but to abandon its commercial ambitions for OOo because the growing momentum of the more inclusive LibreOffice fork is making OOo irrelevant. In addition to selling a commercial version of OOo like Sun, Oracle was also building a proprietary cloud-based office suite designed to work in Web browsers and on various mobile devices.
"There are still unanswered questions about how Oracle's decision to drop OOo will impact its Cloud Office product, which had its own independent code base. Oracle has already started removing material pertaining to Oracle Cloud Office from its website, suggesting that the product may have been terminated."
But here's what I would like to know. Given Oracle's pratfalls and fumbles with some of the open source projects they inherited from Sun (OpenSolaris, Hudson, and now OpenOffice.org), doesn't anyone wonder how long it's going to take for them to royally screw up the crown jewel of the Sun acquisition, Java?
Boy, I sure do.
Given that Java is perhaps the most important open source project Oracle acquired when it bought Sun (and I would venture the biggest reason Sun was bought in the first place), Oracle has to be very careful how it handles the open source Java community. So far? Not doing such a good job. The December withdrawal of the Apache Software Foundation is evidence of that. Establishing a strict protectionist IP stance around Java by suing companies like Google is certainly within their rights, but this is also not doing much to thaw Oracle's community relations.
Oracle has just learned the hard way that ignoring the community can come back to seriously bite you on the butt. I suspect they may learn this with the recent Jenkins fork away from the Hudson project, which might be even worse than giving up on OpenOffice.org, since Hudson is well inside the Java ecosystem, which Oracle cannot afford to see destabilized.
But destabilization is very easy to achieve, if you decide to work against community. It doesn't take much imagination to see more and more developers lose their trust in Oracle's stewardship of Java, especially as those developers watch all of these other mishaps and wonder if Oracle really has the community's collective interests in mind, or just the interests of their stockholders?
Because here's what I know: all the money, lawyers, and red tape in the work can't save your project if all of the talent walks out the door.