LibreOffice fires shots across OpenOffice bow

Relations still tense between two communities

LibreOffice has had a very successful time after its fork from the OpenOffice.org project last year, and Michael Meeks wants you to know it.

Meeks, a SUSE Linux developer and key contributor to the LibreOffice project stewarded by The Document Foundation, has posted a progress report on LibreOffice on his blog that takes great pains to not only show how far LibreOffice has gotten, but also how far behind OpenOffice has gotten in terms of features and releases.

The former OpenOffice.org is now officially known as the Apache OpenOffice Incubator project, after its commercial vendor Oracle donated the code and subsequent trademarks to the Apache Software Foundation in June 2010.

Meeks doesn't really hold back in his assertions that LibreOffice has made more progress than OpenOffice, in either incarnation. And yet he still is puzzled by the continues respect of the brand.

"One of the most curious things about the OpenOffice.org brand, is the loyalty that users have to it, despite the 3.3 feature freeze being twenty-two months ago, having lost much of its development community, and having had no new release since January 2011--users are still downloading this increasingly old and creaky release at top speed," Meeks wrote.

Meeks' blog entry is likely a response to a similar progress report from Apache's Rob Weir on March 13. In it, Weir did not focus on LibreOffice as much as Meeks' did this week, instead focusing on where Apache OpenOffice stood. Weir did hint, though, that Apache OpenOffice was a more powerful member of the community than others might let on.

"The ecosystem includes mailing lists, support forums, wikis, bug databases, documentation, extensions and templates repositories, etc. These public-facing and user-facing services are critical to the entire ecosystem, not only to Apache OpenOffice. To give a sense of the magnitude of this interdependence, the libreoffice.org domain contains 13,281 links to webpages hosted on openoffice.org domains," Weir wrote at the time.

Meeks addressed the "13,281 links" assertion March 14, indication that there were too many false positives in such a link count to indicate true interdependence for either party.

But yesterday's blog entry gave a detailed look at the timeline comparison between OpenOffice and LibreOffice, which on paper does not look entirely good for OpenOffice. Meek's feature-comparison matrix was particularly telling.

To say that things are harmonious between the two projects would be a gross overstatement. Developers do perform cross-project work, but as the Apache team works to prep OpenOffice to become a mainline project, some of the things being done are rankling the broader office suite community.

For instance, on March 12, Weir sent out a general notice that the securityteam@openoffice.org mailing list would shut down on March 15, with all security issues being directed to ooo-security@incubator.apache.org, per Apache's security policies.

Meeks, who seemed to have already resigned to the fact in early discussions that the old mailing list would be shut down, nonetheless tried to see if a multi-project, vendor-neutral security list would be kept in place. Meeks asserted that this was the role of the original securityteam@openoffice.org mailing list.

Weir disagreed: "We've discussed this all before, but to reiterate, the previous list was a security list for a single open source project. It was hosted by that open source project. I'm not seeing in what sense that was neutral."

He further emphasized that the Apache OpenOffice project was more than willing to share reports, analysis, and patches. "he practical difficulty is that at least one LO developer refuses to share their security patches with Apache under the ALv2. So our primary challenge has not been communications," Weir stated.

Meeks' response was one of disappointment.

"So I'll take that as: the previous project-neutral list being killed, and being replaced with an Apache OpenOffice specific list. That is indeed an unfortunate development worth noticing," Meeks replied.

As for the assertion that an unnamed LibreOffice developer might be responsible for creating communications problems between the two projects, Meeks had this to say:

"One Apache OpenOffice developer refuses to share their security patches with LibreOffice under the MPL/LGPLv3+. While the AL2 license is in theory compatible, this is a real issue due to compliance and header requirements. Combine an LGPLv3-only work with a header-less AL2 patch, and what does the header look like ? :-) That's an expensive question to answer satisfactorily--and one that would be substantially eased by more flexibility. So--this cuts both ways.

"On the other hand, it's a total red-herring wrt. transparent, simultaneous disclosure to both projects on a shared list, these are orthogonal issues; it is at least better to have one without the other."

Despite the tension between the two projects, Meeks still seems to hold out hope that the two projects can work more closely with each other. Under the provisions of the Apache Software License v2 under which OpenOffice is licensed, and LibreOffice's Mozilla Public License and Lesser GPL, code from OpenOffice can be used in LibreOffice, but not vice-versa.

But Meeks believes there's room for compromise, as he wrote in yesterday's blog:

"So--re-merging the projects; what is the sticking point? In large part this comes down to licensing; do you believe that large companies will contribute their changes in a timely and constructive fashion without the encouragement of the license requiring that? Do contributors 'just want to see their code used'?, or do they really 'just want to work together with others towards a common goal'? Who can say; only time will tell. Interestingly, there is perhaps a middle ground in the category b license. This type of copy-left license can allow binaries to be distributed under e.g., an Apache license--but only after all of the source code is contributed back."

It is not clear if Meeks is seeking reunification or seeking more vendor participation in the LibreOffice project; probably a little of both, with an emphasis on the latter. One thing is certain: there seems to be some pressure on the LibreOffice team to get more attention to their project. How far they will go to get that attention will be an interesting development to watch.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs 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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