A Victory for the Community? Oracle Spin Out OpenOffice, but Questions Remain
Oracle made the announcement today that OpenOffice will become a community project and no longer a commercial endeavor.
It’s not a surprising move. But it does feel like a victory for the open source community and a sign that Oracle may be easing up a bit on its hard-line stance toward the open source community.
But it’s not unfair to say that OpenOffice has seen better days. OpenOffice had its own glory when Sun Microsystems was an independent company with a belief in open source and a commitment to the project.
Oracle really never had much interest in OpenOffice. And so it is refreshing to see the company turn it over to the community.
An Oracle executive had this to say in the press release announcing the news:
“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 non-commercial basis,” said Edward Screven, Oracle’s Chief Corporate Architect.
Oracle says it supports open source and will continue to be involved in projects that it has a commercial interest – namely MySQL and Linux.
But there are still a lot of questions to answer. Namely, what is the organization that will manage it. There are also questions of governance. Oracle is keeping quiet about its intentions.
Would the Document Foundation be a likely successor? That would be quite a surprise but a welcome one, too.
The Document Foundation is a creation born out of frustration after Oracle purchased Sun. In September 2010, the group formed after Oracle refused to turn OpenOffice over to the open-source community. They forked OpenOffice and created Libre Office.
Now there is some uncertainty about the Document Foundation’s future. Much will depend on what organization manages OpenOffice.
The Register ‘s Gavin Clarke provides an astute analysis of the politics in play. Oracle snubbed the Document Foundation and managed to take some bruises for its tough stance. “Google, Novel, Red Hat, Ubuntu-maintainer Canonical, and the Open Source Initiative all issued forthright statements of support for the formation of the Document Foundation.”
He goes on to write:
As for politics: one of OpenOffice’s biggest proponents is IBM, and the systems giant that Oracle has courted to carve up Java’s development cannot have been happy by the implications of last year’s divorce on the development of OpenOffice. Although LibreOffice provided an alternative, it’s sorely lacking in the kind of brand recognition held by OpenOffice, while as a fork it was within Oracle’s power to accept changes in LibreOffice back in the main code base.
It’s entirely possible, therefore, that IBM has spoken to Oracle and made it realize that it’s better for OpenOffice, IBM, and for everybody if Oracle just lets go of this one.
Oracle has the trademark to OpenOffice. With that still in their hands, it’s anyone’s guess what will come of OpenOffice.
But our guess is a softer stance on Oracle’s part. Those executives are too smart to be too tough. It just is not in their best interest.