May 08, 2012, 10:00 AM — 469 days.
That's the number of days since there's been a major release of OpenOffice.org. Today, that calendar can get set back to zero, with the announced release of Apache OpenOffice 3.4--a release that may dispel recent notions about the viability of the project's parent organization.
The 3.4 release marks the first release of OpenOffice under the auspices of the Apache Software Foundation, where the OpenOffice project is still classified as an incubator project. Within the ASF, all new-to-the-Foundation projects have this status, as their coding, licensing, and governance practices are shifted to the ASF's standards.
There was some speculation amongst the punditry that with the first new release of Apache OpenOffice the podling project would be "upgraded" to full project status, but that did not happen. It might be tempting to speculate as to why this might be the case, but I am personally not reading anything into this: goodness knows the OpenOffice developers and community has enough on their plates getting OpenOffice updated and in compliance with the ASF.
According to the release notes, there are several new features within today's 3.4 release. On the technical side, many of the changes in the final release appear in all of the applications of the office suite, with some welcome changes to the printing system and the inclusion of a new Gstreamer multimedia framework on Linux systems so you can actually play embedded multimedia content within an Impress presentation--a bugaboo that's bitten me a few times over the years.
Perhaps the biggest change, though it comes as no surprise, is the formal switch of all of the code base to the Apache Software License v2. This was completely expected, of course, like the sun coming up in the East, but the formal changeover was still noted in the release notes.
I haven't had a chance to play with the final 3.4 release, though I have tinkered with the beta release to see that while there have not been a lot of changes to the original OpenOffice.org software, what improvements that have been made have been solid.
The apparent lack of progress has been a source of contention from some in the community, who point to the community-mandated fork of LibreOffice as a better alternative to the once-Oracle owned office suite. Now that OpenOffice is part of the ASF, it's a little harder to quibble about Oracle, since they aren't the dominant player within the OpenOffice ecosystem any more.
While I am definitely not the world's biggest ASF fan, I think the Foundation has been given a bit of a bad rap of late. There is a meme running around that the ASF is somehow a dumping ground for the projects that no one wants and that it has somehow overextended itself.
I must disagree with this assessment. One of the pieces of evidence offered for this over-extension, for example, is the apparent rise of the nginx web engine over Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) and the still-dominant Apache Web Server.
Having run my own projections on when nginx might actually pass IIS as the number-two web server, I can tell you that indeed at their current projected adoption rates, nginx will ultimately catch up with Apache… in about 40 years.
Obviously, if nginx would actually start taking away market share from Apache instead of IIS, the slopes of the projections will markedly change from where they are now and start coming together much faster than four decades down the line. But that kind of market shift simply isn't happening right now, so it's a little premature to start predicting the downfall of Apache's web server.
And this idea of Apache as a dumping ground? Excuse me, have you head of Hadoop? Cassandra? HBase? These are all extremely powerful and highly adopted big data technologies that have flourished very very well under the Apache umbrella.
While I don't know if Apache OpenOffice will similarly flourish within the ASF, I would have rather seen it there than remain under the auspices of Oracle, no matter how much the Document Foundation complains.
The ASF isn't perfect, but even if they are perceived as the Land of Misfit Projects, I firmly believe they offer a safe haven for software projects to have a fair shot at succeeding where they might otherwise languish.
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