September 29, 2010, 1:01 PM —
Sometimes, in this job, it's difficult not to take things a little personally.
For instance, when I spoke with Michael Meeks Distinguished Engineer at Novell and active OpenOffice.org developer back in early September about the state of affairs between Oracle and OpenOffice.org (hint: not good), Meeks made no mention of any plans for a new foundation centered on OpenOffice.org code.
Of course, I got over myself pretty quickly, because it looks like this new Document Foundation, which is now working on the LibreOffice suite of applications, is exactly what OpenOffice.org needed. Getting OpenOffice.org out from under the control of any one company is a much better situation.
I would be willing to bet that we will see an increased amount of innovation coming out from this new LibreOffice. We've already seen what could be the best change of all: getting rid of that damned ".org" in OpenOffice.org's official name. Yes, I know trademarks were involved, but one grows weary of saying "no, it's not a website..." 50 million times.
The Document Foundation has asked Oracle for the OpenOffice.org brand, but as a concerned community member, may I ask that in the name of all that is holy, let Oracle keep it. Please?
Many people are calling LibreOffice a fork, but that's premature. According to my colleague Steven Vaughan-Nichols, who interviewed Italo Vignoli from The Document Foundation, "[The Document Foundation] would be delighted if Oracle was a member of the consortium provided they respected the idea of an open environment to develop OpenOffice. We're not looking to fork the program. We're looking for continuity."
If Oracle does indeed accept the invitation and joins the Foundation as a member, then they would be another member of the team and an official fork would not happen. It will be interesting if this does play out in this manner. To my knowledge, this would be the first time a major open source project was wrested away from the control of a commercial sponsor. Even if it isn't the first time such an event has happened, this is definitely the highest profile example.
This is the promise of open source we have all been given: if a software project dies, the free and open source code will allow anyone else to pick it up and continue to work with it. We're seeing this play out right now.
Granted, OpenOffice.org wasn't dead, not by a long shot. But Oracle's dithering and silence about the status of the office suite made a lot of people draw the same conclusion: the project was on a steepening downward trajectory. Rather than let it come to a sputtering end and then trying to resuscitate it, the OpenOffice.org preemptively grabbed the code and set up a new project.
Whether you like the idea of a new LibreOffice, you can't help but admire this brilliant aspect of open source, something that proprietary software can never have: the chance for real immortality.