Oracle is relinquishing its tight control over OpenOffice.org, the popular office software suite, and will no longer offer a commercial version.
OpenOffice.org will be moving to a purely community-based open-source project, Oracle said April 15. While Oracle will stop selling a commercial version of OpenOffice, the company intends to continue working with the community on development.
The details about when the move will occur, and why Oracle is making this unexpected change, were not available.
"Given the breadth of interest in free personal productivity applications and the rapid evolution of personal computing technologies, we believe the OpenOffice.org project would be best managed by an organization focused on serving that broad constituency on a noncommercial basis," said Edward Screven, Oracle's chief corporate architect.
While the company said it will continue to "make large investments" in other open-source products, such as MySQL and Linux, it is unclear whether the company will continue to invest in OpenOffice.
"Oracle will continue to strongly support the adoption of open standards-based document formats, such as the Open Document Format," Screven said.
If Oracle retains the OpenOffice trademark, it will continue to have ultimate control over what changes are added into OpenOffice, despite being community-driven.
Despite its claim of a "long history of investing in the development and support of open-source products," many open-source advocates have viewed Oracle with distrust, especially after its acquisition of Sun Microsystems in 2009. That acquisition brought the popular MySQL database under the database giant's control, as well as open-source projects including OpenSolaris. Oracle canceled that project in favor of Solaris 11 Express.
A group of OpenOffice.org developers, concerned about Oracle's intentions, broke away and established LibreOffice in September under the auspices of the Document Foundation. The Document Foundation won the support of industry giants including Google, Novell, Red Hat, Canonical and the Open Source Initiative. The latest version of LibreOffice is 3.3, released Jan. 25.
"The beauty of open source is that it can be forked by anyone who chooses, as was done today," Oracle said at the time of the split.
It did hint where its priorities lay, however. "Oracle is focused on Linux and MySQL because both of these products have won broad-based adoption among commercial and government customers," the company said.
While many online commenters on link-sharing site Reddit wondered if this was Oracle's attempt to weaken LibreOffice by persuading people to come back to OpenOffice, the general consensus appeared to be that this was a positive development, as it meant there were two robust full-featured open-source office suites available to users. With increased competition, both development teams will be motivated to produce great results.
Both OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice developers announced a new beta of the latest 3.4 version on April 15.
Oracle did not say whether it would reach out to the Document Foundation at all. When the foundation had established its community-based project, it had asked Oracle to consider handing over the OpenOffice.org name so that it can use it instead of LibreOffice. Oracle declined. Reddit commenters wondered if Oracle would consider doing so now.
Oracle has a Web-based proprietary office suite called Oracle Cloud Office, but many of the pages on Oracle's Website turn up error pages. Oracle has not officially killed the product, however.