Oracle’s purchase of Sun Microsystems has been the cause of some uncertainty and concern for the open source projects and initiatives that Sun were previously responsible for. Oracle are not known for being particularly welcoming or supportive of FOSS — and with the relatively high profile OpenSolaris project being cancelled soon after the acquisition, much of that concern appears justified.
Attention has therefore turned to OpenOffice.org, the premier open source office suite and a very big, and important, product and project in the FOSS world. Of course, it's very unlikely Oracle would cancel something like OOo outright, but many still remain concerned about the future direction Oracle might take the project.
Enter The Document Foundation.
There have been forks of OpenOffice.org before. Perhaps you might remember the NeoOffice project, which developed the first version of OOo's code that ran semi-natively on Mac OS X (or at least, without requiring X11).
This new Foundation, and its OOo fork LibreOffice, however, arise directly because of the concerns about Oracle and its future management and direction of the OOo project. The other difference is that this fork has a huge amount of support from the existing OOo community, who appear to no longer be happy to continue their work under Oracle's direction. The press release makes things fairly clear:
The community of volunteers who develop and promote OpenOffice.org, the leading free office software, announce a major change in the project’s structure. After ten years’ successful growth with Sun Microsystems as founding and principal sponsor, the project launches an independent foundation called "The Document Foundation", to fulfil the promise of independence written in the original charter.
In essence, the community is jumping ship from what is currently ‘OpenOffice.org’, and moving over to this forked product.
Oracle, who acquired OpenOffice.org assets as a result of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, has been invited to become a member of the new Foundation, and donate the brand the community has grown during the past ten years. Pending this decision, the brand “LibreOffice” has been chosen for the software going forward.
Oracle have a couple of choices:
- Retain the OOo brand, probably lose most, if not all, the existing community around OOo, and develop the suite on their own. They’ll be able to incorporate changes made under the LibreOffice brand under the terms of the licence, but won't have direct control over those new contributions.
- ‘Donate’ the brand to the new Foundation and the product will continue to be called OpenOffice.org, and give up their influence and control over the project as they have now.
Regardless of what happens, the future of OpenOffice.org (not the name itself, but the provision of a Free office suite with that code) is likely to be pretty stable after this gets sorted out, with or without Oracle’s cooperation. What we call it might change, but there are enough people behind the new Foundation and its commitment to the suite’s neutrality, that it should be fine.
There will be those, however, who will see this instability in the project as a reason not to use it, or to discourage its adoption — perhaps even attempt to discredit any adoption of FOSS entirely. That's an unfortunate consequence of this situation.
Users of the suite, and those considering deploying it, however, should rest assured that there will be a future for the suite (whatever its name) for a long time to come. It’s just too important and useful to get ‘gobbled up’ in this mess.