IBM Steps Up Its OpenOffice Commitment with Symphony Donation

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2011-07-14

Several weeks ago, Oracle donated the productivity suite to the Apache Foundation, but at the time it seemed like IBM was doing the donating -- at least, it was IBM that did most of the talking.

The communications gap made sense: where Oracle was happy enough just to get the open source project, which it had acquired along with the rest of Sun Microsystems, off its hands, IBM had an OpenOffice-based product, Symphony 3, on offer.

IBM maintained what struck me as an odd silence during the time when Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and others were breaking away from to form LibreOffice. When the coordinated IBM OpenOffice blogs dropped, I wondered whether the move was about more than ensuring that Symphony's upstream project found a home with an appropriate licensing policy. Considering that none of the IBMers even mentioned LibreOffice in their inital announcements, I doubted the seriousness of the company's call for OpenOffice contributors.

However, today, I heard from IBM that the company intends to donate the code for Symphony to Apache OpenOffice, a move that bodes well for the future of Apache OpenOffice and for the open source productivity suite space.

IBM's Symphony, which I reviewed in its current, 3.0 version late last year, sets itself apart from with a fairly slick UI based on the Eclipse IDE. A ton of great developer tools are now based on Eclipse, and it makes sense to pursue this UI direction in an office suite, as well. However, I worried that the partially closed-source nature of Symphony would impose a growth cap on the Eclipse+OpenOffice experiment.

Now, the LibreOffice folks are working on their suite, and, with IBM's renewed participation, the Apache OpenOffice project (which may or may not end up implementing the Symphony bits, although I hope they do) seems to have some new life as well. under Sun had gotten into a rut -- there's nothing like real competition to get things moving again.

Here are some excerpts from the announcement I received:

Tomorrow at the Open Document Format (ODF) Plug-fest in Germany, IBM will announce that the company is donating IBM Symphony source code to the Apache OpenOffice project. The move is intended to provide this open source community with new capabilities, further accelerating the development of the OpenOffice platform. IBM Symphony source code includes enhancements in usability, performance and accessibility, ensuring data is easier to view, read and manipulate from any type of editing tool, and for people with vision impairments.


IBM has invested significant resources in developing IBM Symphony, making its desktop productivity suite available free at The company is expanding the team of developers who will work with the OpenOffice community to accelerate innovation in the evolution of document creation. IBM will work with the Apache OpenOffice community to assess which Symphony developments should be integrated into OpenOffice. In addition, as the community develops further enhancements, IBM will make them available to Symphony clients as the product evolves.

For more details, check out this message posted to the Apache Incubator mailing list for OpenOffice from IBM's Rob Weir.

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