OpenOffice.org: Still Waiting for Oracle

Definitive plans for OpenOffice.org were a no-show at this week's conference.

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For those who were hoping for some sort of direction from Oracle concerning OpenOffice.org during this week's conference in Budapest, you're going to be sadly disappointed.

You're not alone. Michael Meeks, a Distinguished Engineer at Novell, and active OpenOffice.org developer, is not happy with the lack of information from Oracle on OpenOffice.org, referring to the keynote by VP of Oracle Office Michael Bemmer as "vague."

Meeks acknowledges that Bemmer indicated that Oracle will remain deeply committed to OpenOffice.org in the keynote, but beyond those broad promises, there was little in the way of detail.

This is a long road Meeks has been walking, and he has recently been noting his displeasure in various media outlets. This is notable for a couple of reasons: clearly, Meeks is passionate about the future of OpenOffice.org, but more interestingly it's not often a corporation will let one of its prominent employees rip into another company's practices, even in the open source community. During our conversation, Meeks made it clear his views did not always reflect those of his employer--but it seemed at times the overlap was there.

Meeks hasn't been happy with the corporate control of OpenOffice.org (first by Sun Microsystems, now by Oracle) for a long time. He has long maintained with Sun/Oracle has held on too tightly to control of OpenOffice.org, and in doing so as restricted innovation on OpenOffice.org, as well as prevented more robust community involvement.

A recent example of innovation problem that Meeks highlighted in my conversation with him this week was the inclusion of Gstreamer with OpenOffice.org in July. Meeks has no problem with the support of Gstreamer--what he has a problem with is that Oracle's developers in OpenOffice.org implemented the solution on their own and acted like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. This, despite the fact that the community advocated Gstream inclusion a few years ago and Sun opted to go a different (and clunky) route.

Of course, it's one thing to complain about community involvement, then another thing to actually do it. To his credit, Meeks referred to my recent post about Novell's lack of fiscal support for the aforementioned OpenOffice.org conference before the words came out of my mouth. He indicated that for Novell it was partly an overall budget decision, and partly a reflection of the value of the conference itself. With fewer people attending the OpenOffice.org conference every year, Meeks argued, Novell is hard-pressed to sponsor the event.

Does Meeks think Oracle is going to kill off OpenOffice.org? He doesn't think so, because he sees that there could be some real value from OpenOffice.org for Oracle, if they handle it correctly. But what's increasingly frustrating to him is not that Oracle will kill OpenOffice.org--but that they will continue to operate in what he feels is the high-handed way Sun did when they were in charge.

In other words, the status quo is going to be maintained, Meeks worries. There won't be an "OpenSolaris memo" (referring to the internal Oracle memorandum leaked last month that effectively killed the OpenSolaris Project). Ironically, Meeks would like to see a similar memo about OpenOffice.org from Oracle (albeit without the same outcome) because at least that would give he and his compatriots something definitive with which to work.

For Meeks, the status quo is not good enough. Sun long promised the formation of an OpenOffice.org foundation-like entity, where multiple developers and commercial entities could share in the destiny of OpenOffice.org. Meeks saw these promises delayed and postponed for nearly a decade, and is now concerned he will have to see the same sorts of delaying tactics continue.

I asked Meeks where, with all of these problems, the tipping point was going to be? When would it get bad enough for developers outside of Oracle to get so fed up with such behavior that they would take the open source code of OpenOffice.org and create something new? Meeks was not sure, partly because he is holding out hope that eventually Oracle will do the right thing.

Because sometimes there is progress. The community was able to get Sun to move from an 18-month to 6-month release schedule, despite Sun's objections, and ultimately the quality and speed of innovation in OpenOffice.org improved. Meeks is holding out hope that ultimately, the message will get through to Oracle that the community way is what's best for the community.

I hope Meeks is right. But with the end of OpenSolaris, and the lawsuit against Google, it doesn't look like the open-source clue train has arrived at Oracle's station. I, for one, hope the clue train isn't completely derailed.

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