OpenOffice, the open-source office productivity suite maintained by Oracle, has forked into two separate projects. A community-based offshoot known as LibreOffice will be developed by a newly formed group called The Document Foundation.
Formation of the new foundation comes after 10 years of Sun-sponsored development of the OpenOffice project and will see the resulting software become fully independent for the first time, with the aim of making the suite more accessible.
"The foundation will be the cornerstone of a new ecosystem where individuals and organisations can contribute to and benefit from the availability of a truly free office suite. It will generate increased competition and choice for the benefit of customers and drive innovation in the office-suite market," said the foundation in a statement on Wednesday.
The Document Foundation has a number of key supporters, including the Free Software Foundation, Canonical, Collabora, the Gnome Foundation, the OSI, OASIS and members of regional OpenOffice development groups, among others.
Much of the development will now be led by key figures from Novell, Red Hat and Debian. Oracle, now owners of Sun, has also been invited to join the effort and donate the well-known OpenOffice moniker to the project. Pending Oracle's decision, The Document Foundation has decided to use the name LibreOffice.
Since Oracle's purchase of Sun — which closed in January this year — Oracle has come under criticism for its decision to charge for the previously-free Open Document Format (ODF) plug-in, designed to allow interoperability between OpenOffice and Microsoft's Office suite. The plug-in is now charged at £60 per user, with a minimum order of 100 licences.
However, The Document Foundation's supporters clearly want to keep future developments fully open source and free.
"I'm very pleased that The Document Foundation will not recommend non-free add-ons, since they are the main freedom problem of the current OpenOffice.org. I hope that the LibreOffice developers and the Oracle-employed developers of OpenOffice will be able to co-operate on development of the body of the code," said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, in a statement.
The first beta version of LibreOffice is available to download now, for free, from The Document Foundation's homepage. Meanwhile, the OpenOffice 3.3 beta is currently available to download from the OpenOffice.org website.