Lotus Symphony realigns with Apache OpenOffice

The end of a five-year fork

Now that Apache OpenOffice 3.4 has been released, IBM has begun to take formal steps to re-integrate its Lotus Symphony fork of OpenOffice.org back into the OpenOffice mainline.

These steps officially mark the end of the five-year lifespan for Lotus Symphony.

Donald Harbinson, Program Director for Open Standards/Open Source at IBM, noted the official beginning of the transition on the [ooo-devel] mailing list on Tuesday.

"A few minutes ago, I submitted the IBM Software Grant Agreement and Corporate Contributor License Agreement for IBM Lotus Symphony contribution. This action means infra can begin to prepare to receive the 'Contribution' into svn when they're ready," Harbinson wrote.

The move was hardly unexpected, since IBM announced last January that the last release of Symphony, 3.0.1, would be the final one for IBM's version of the OpenOffice.org suite.

"Our energy from here is going into the Apache OpenOffice project, and we expect to distribute an 'IBM edition' of Apache OpenOffice in the future," IBM's Ed Brill wrote at the time.

Now that OpenOffice is an Incubator project within the Apache Software Foundation, and the OpenOffice office suite is licensed under the Apache Software License (ASL) v2, this means IBM and any other Apache OpenOffice project member could innovate the OpenOffice source code for their own purposes and not be obligated to give back to the mainline OpenOffice code, since the ASL is a non-copyleft license. IBM and other OpenOffice contributors can also be able to re-license OpenOffice code under any license they want, including a proprietary license, should they wish. It also keeps a major Open Document Format (ODF) project ensconced within IBM-friendly governance.

But IBM is not going to go this route, at least for now: this week's announcement shows that Big Blue is realigning its development team with that of the OpenOffice community.

What will IBM gain from ending the Symphony fork once and for all? It could be argued that the OpenOffice brand is bigger than even its own Lotus Symphony brand, and as such this new alignment affords them better market notoriety. An alignment with the OpenOffice community itself will also enable Big Blue to tap into the resources of the community--something that can't be ignored.

This alignment could also be a bit of market positioning against LibreOffice, the community-fork of OpenOffice that is rather fiercely competing with its parent project. Led by the Document Foundation, LibreOffice seems to have captured the hearts and minds of many developers and users within the free and open source software community, and IBM may have (wisely) decided that "muddying the waters" with a second commercially based fork of OpenOffice was potentially asking for trouble.

There is little question that Apache OpenOffice will benefit… there is already a Contribution wiki page posted that lists the 30+ additional features within Symphony that go above and beyond the feature set of Apache OpenOffice 3.4. These changes, once merged back into OpenOffice, will give the next big release of OpenOffice (probably v. 4.0) a nice boost.

There is still the question of which office suite--OpenOffice or LibreOffice--will dominate in this space. Given that 87 percent of OpenOffice 3.4 downloads were for Windows and only two percent of OpenOffice 3.4 were Linux versions, I have to wonder how LibreOffice is really doing.

[Update: Maybe I don't have to wonder, at least about this statistic. According to SUSE Linux engineer Michael Meeks, who is well involved with the LibreOffice project, "LibreOffice also has nearly 80% of our downloads on Windows."]

Linux users are typically more enthused about LibreOffice, because of its beginnings and feature set. But Windows users may be unaware of this and are simply downloading OpenOffice from name recognition.

[Update: But, I have since learned, my theory may be completely off. According to SUSE Linux engineer Michael Meeks, who is well involved with the LibreOffice project, "LibreOffice also has nearly 80% of our downloads on Windows." Which pretty well negates the whole "LibreOffice is only popular on Linux" idea.]

IBM's involvement with OpenOffice could also be leveraged as a salve for enterprise users seeking comfort from their open-source heebie jeebies.

This is mere speculation at this point, of course. But with one less OpenOffice flavor running around, the battle for the open office suite just got much more sharply defined.

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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