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09.30.10

LibreOffice Has the Potential to Altogether Replace Oracle OpenOffice.org (OOOo)

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF, GNU/Linux, Mono, Novell, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice, Oracle, SUN at 2:52 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

GNU in the wild

Summary: The FSF-endorsed, community-run office suite gains momentum and there are reasons to believe that it can make Oracle relinquish control at some stage

A COUPLE of days ago we helped introduce LibreOffice, which contrary to what some Mono/Novell trolls are saying, is not a rebranded Go-OO. The idea is similar in the sense that copyright assignment gets changed, but here there are a lot of vendors involved and the steering committee is diverse.

A lot has changed since Novell first tried to fork OpenOffice.org and take control away from its rightful owner. Besides, a lot has changed in the stewardship because Sun was a trustworthy steward whereas Oracle disregards freedom. Its CEO recently sent E-mail to a journalist calling him a scumbag. That’s not the type of person a community can look up to.

“Libre” appears to be a focus of the new office suite, whereas Go-OO added some Microsoft elements like Mono bindings and OOXML. Responding to the worries that there is too much overlap between what was once known as Go-OO and LibreOffice, Charles-H. Schultz clarifies as follows:

I had a chance to ask Charles-H. Schultz, on the steering committee of The Document Foundation some questions I had swirling in my mind after their announcement today of LibreOffice, and he was kind enough to take time on a really busy day to answer.

I wanted to know about Mono and OOXML and all the things you are wondering about too. I had become quite worried about OpenOffice.org and Go-OO, and naturally that was on my mind, given who is involved in LibreOffice. The answers are reassuring. The Document Foundation is serious about avoiding non-free elements, and they are on the same page about that. I guess that’s how they got Richard Stallman to bless the project, now that I think of it, along with so many others. And I wanted to ask him how we all can help out.

[...]

Question 2: What about Mono? What about OOXML?

Schultz: Well, that’s quite easy. Mono was never really inside OOo or Go-OO to start with. What was inside Go-OO was the possibility of Mono integration, and even that sort of exists inside the “vanilla OOo”. So we made sure that didn’t add to this.

As for OOXML, well, we didn’t take the Go-OO approach and did not include the patches developed with the “aid” of Microsoft. All in all, LibreOffice is clean, very clean, and we look forward stay that way. But enough talking on OOXML, a standard that does not exist. Let’s rather focus on ODF, an existing open standard we support and promote.

We discussed this in IRC last night. I said that I had gone to the IRC channel of LibreOffice only to find that at least half of the operators are Novell staff. “Meeks has been pushing for this for a long time,” wrote Saul, “and it seems like he found a way to get his way and fork it.” Well, Novell seems like it has just weeks/months left to exist (in its current form) and as for Meeks, “he might probably be ready to go elsewhere,” told us a source. There is a slight worry that if VMB_ware got hold of LibreOffice, then it would be like Microsoft executives controlling part of Microsoft’s opposition, like they do with Zimbra. But anyway, this is too speculative and even far fetched at this stage.

One of the forces behind LibreOffice, Leif Lodahl, is thrilled to see the good reception the project has gotten:

I saw discussions on freenode about how to compile localized version. I saw Twitter run more than 800 tweets per hour and I have heard about Catalan hackers talk with Spanish journalists. The last thing – I have heard – doasn’t happen every day.

Zonker wrote about it and so did Matt Asay who says that “LibreOffice [is] An Idea Whose Time Has Come (and Gone)”. Well, coming from the person who almost replaced that free/libre office suite with Fog Computing (Google) at Canonical, this is not too shocking, but regarding Apple and Oracle, Matt Asay has just posted the following decent article:

  • Apple and Oracle Must Let Developers Have Their Say

    It’s getting harder to be a monopoly these days. Microsoft owned the desktop for decades, milking its Windows platforms every step of the way. Apple, on the other hand, hadn’t even managed four years of iOS dominance before Google’s Android staked a serious claim to the mobile market.

    This isn’t because Microsoft is somehow smarter than Apple, but rather because the underlying dynamics of the technology industry have fundamentally changed. In brief, the technology world is increasingly embracing “write” communities, as Jono Bacon calls them, not simply “read” communities. Open source may have kickstarted this trend, but open APIs and open data are taking it to new heights.

One must remember that Oracle and Apple think alike in many ways and their CEOs are good friends [1, 2, 3].

Here is some nice analysis from Matthew Aslett:

  • If you fork it, will they come?

    Which is not to say that LibreOffice will not be a success, but when it comes to forking, creating the fork is clearly just the start. It takes time, and a lot of effort, to generate the momentum for a fork to be truly successful. There is bound to be an initial spike in developer and user interest. Turning that into a meaningful and productive community will be the hard part.

There is a fundamental difference between OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice. It’s mostly to do with copyrights.

In quite a timely fashion, Richard Stallman warned about copyright assignment the Oracle way. From the FSF’s Web site:

Companies that develop free software and release it under the GNU GPL sometimes distribute some copies of the code in other ways. If they distribute the exact same code under a different license to certain users that pay for this, typically permitting including the code in proprietary programs, we call it “selling exceptions”. If they distribute some version of the code solely in a proprietary manner, we call that releasing a purely proprietary version of the program.

LibreOffice has a lot to offer to GNU/Linux users and with over 20% market share in some countries, as well as with major deployments all around the world, LibreOffice might soon be used by hundreds of millions of people, especially if Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (SJVN) is right and Oracle is about the drop the ball on OpenOffice.org (which seems possible, unless it decides to sue instead):

What I mean by a fork, by the by, is an actual split in the code. For example, Ubuntu can be seen as a fork of Debian. No one doubts that Ubuntu is based on Debian Linux, but it’s also clearly a Linux distribution in its own right. Simply changing out some trademarks and product names, which, for example, is what Oracle did with Red Hat Enterprise Linux when it created Oracle Linux, isn’t the same thing. At this early point, that’s all the Document Foundation has done with OpenOffice.

My expectation is that Oracle will quietly let OpenOffice gather dust, and LibreOffice will become the new open-source office suite of choice. What do you think?

Development on LibreOffice is already active and although it’s not so different from OpenOffice.org (SJVN says it’s not a fork yet, but we disagree), it is quite unique. So give LibreOffice a go and download the latest build. It’s better to rely on GNU/Linux users and vendors than it is to rely on Oracle. Besides, even the FSF endorses LibreOffice.

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