OpenOffice.org Launches LibreOffice Suite to Break Free of Oracle

 
 
By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2010-09-28
 
 
 

Some OpenOffice.org developers have created a new version of the OpenOffice.org application suite called LibreOffice that will be free of Oracle oversight, the newly formed Document Foundation announced Sept. 28.

The Document Foundation will manage and oversee all the work for LibreOffice. Essentially a vanilla version of the latest OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice includes the Go-OOo updates managed by Novell that provide most of the Microsoft compatibility, the foundation said.

"The Document Foundation will continue to be focused on developing, supporting and promoting the same software, and it's very much business as usual," said the FAQ on the foundation's Website.

A beta is already available on LibreOffice's site.

The idea of forking OpenOffice.org and creating an independent foundation is not new, dating as far back as the days when Sun Microsystems still sponsored the project. Even though Sun was friendly to community development, supporting OpenSolaris, MySQL, OpenOffice.org and VirtualBox, there were many in the community who wanted to move away from a single commercial sponsor.

Then came Oracle's acquisition of Sun in 2009 and all of Sun's open-source assets. The database giant has never styled itself as a friend of open source, and its recent decision to end OpenSolaris support was not a surprise. The company's online Cloud Suite, which seemed to be shifting OpenOffice toward a more proprietary model, made OpenOffice.org supporters nervous.

Forks of popular software generally flounder due to lack of community support. However, as an OpenOffice.org fork, LibreOffice will be far less likely to have that problem, as some of the biggest names in technology have signed on. Initial supporters include Red Hat, Google, Novell, Free Software Foundation, OASIS, OSI, Canonical and the GNOME foundation.

Canonical has already committed to shipping LibreOffice with Ubuntu, as has Red Hat with Fedora. Under the license agreements, companies such as IBM can continue to release commercial derivatives of LibreOffice. Oracle can also do whatever it wants with the OpenOffice brand.

There is some hope that Oracle would do the right thing and give the name back to the community. "The OpenOffice.org trademark is owned by Oracle Corporation. Our hope is that Oracle will donate this to the Foundation, along with the other assets it holds in trust for the community," the official FAQ said.

If Oracle does sign on with The Document Foundation, the plan is to revert back to the OpenOffice.org name. Otherwise, LibreOffice is here to stay.

The nonprofit said it will continue to pursue the goals behind OpenOffice.org and will produce LibreOffice as a more community-focused project. This means full support for the ODF document standard, open standards and an end to paid add-ons. The group has also decided against copyright assignment and will let code belong to individual developers who contributed portions of code to the LibreOffice project.

This means that over time LibreOffice will be a collection of copyrights, like the Linux kernel. No one single person or company will have control. LibreOffice will have a dual license, falling under LGPLv3+ and MPL (GNU Lesser General Public License and Mozilla Public License).

"The new Foundation will also mean companies can contribute funds or resources without worries that they may be helping a commercial competitor," said the foundation on the FAQ page.

Initial feedback has been primarily positive, with cheers and excitement peppering various technology forums online. The Document Foundation's decision not to restrict copyright can only encourage new developer contributions.

There may be some legal pitfalls ahead, however. Microsoft has claimed in the past that OpenOffice.org violated several of the company's patents, and it is possible the software giant may respond to the announcement with legal action against LibreOffice. Similarly, there are parts of OpenOffice.org that rely on Java, which Oracle may try to attack legally. Many of the key OpenOffice.org developers are also Oracle employees.

OpenOffice.org has long been the leading free and open-source alternative to Microsoft Office. The software has set download records on new releases, and estimates suggest it now accounts for about 10 percent of the overall office suite market.

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