IBM throws its source code and support behind OpenOffice

IBM throws its source code and support behind OpenOffice

Summary: Don't write off OpenOffice for LibreOffice quite yet. IBM's donating all of its IBM Lotus Symphony office suite code to the new Apache OpenOffice.

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Of all the companies that support OpenOffice, there were only two that didn't support the LibreOffice fork: Oracle and IBM. I could understand Oracle. While Larry Ellison, Oracle's CEO, didn't really care about OpenOffice--after all Oracle essentially gave OpenOffice away to The Apache Foundation--I also know that Ellison wasn't going to let The Document Foundation, LibreOffice's parent organization, dictate terms to him. But, I've never quite understood why IBM didn't help create LibreOffice. Be that as it may, IBM will be announcing tomorrow that it's donating essentially all its IBM Lotus Symphony source code and resources to Apache's OpenOffice project.

In an e-mail to the Apache OpenOffice e-mail list, IBM's Open Document Format (ODF) architect Rob Weir let the cat out of the bag that IBM would be putting its Symphony code and resources behind OpenOffice.

Weir wrote, "IBM Lotus Symphony, our free (as in beer) product which is based on OOo. [OpenOffice.org] … IBM [has] not been exemplary community members when it came to OpenOffice.org. This wasn't necessarily by design, but for various reasons, that was the effect. Yes, we participated in various community councils, and sponsored conferences and worked together on standards. But when it came down to the code, we maintained Symphony essentially as a fork, and although we occasionally contributed code back, we did not do this well, or often."

So, with this "fresh start at Apache" IBM is "going to contribute the standalone version of Lotus Symphony to the Apache OpenOffice.org project, under the Apache 2.0 license. We'll also work with project members to prioritize which pieces make sense to integrate into OpenOffice. For example, we've already done a lot of work with replacing GPL/LPGL dependencies. Using the Symphony code could help accelerate that work and get us to an AOOo [Apache OpenOffice.Org) release faster. We've already converted the help files to DITA [Darwin Information Typing Architecture], which could help accelerate that work, if we chose to go in that direction."

I'm told by sources close to IBM that IBM will be donating more than 3-million lines of Symphony source code to the Apache OpenOffice project. IBM will also be adding developers to work with the OpenOffice community to assess how Symphony should be integrated into OpenOffice. It seems IBM will also continue their own in-house Symphony development because they're talking about making future changes to Symphony available to OpenOffice.

According to Weir, IBM, "Aside from the work that would help accelerate getting AOOo to our first release, we've also added other features that I think we should consider merging in. For example, the IAccessible2 work which helps Symphony work better with assistive technology."

In addition, "We've also added [Visual Basic for Applications] VBA macro support, which is great for MS Office interoperability." Weir continued, "We've done some really good UI [user interface] work. I invite you to download Symphony and take a closer look at this. Yes, it is different from what OOo has today. And a move of that magnitude has an impact on documentation and translations as well. But the feedback we've received from customers and reviewers is very positive. Do we integrate parts of the Symphony UI? That is something for the project to discuss and decide on."

"Finally, we will be proposing a new incubation project at Apache, for the ODF Toolkit. These Java libraries enable new kinds of lightweight document processing applications. We think this would work well as an Apache project, and we look forward to moving that into incubation and developing that complementary project forward."

This is a lot to work on. I certainly hope IBM is putting people on it, because one of my concerns with Apache taking over a project as massive as OpenOffice was could Apache summon up the resources they'd need to deal with it.

IBM isn't trying to dictate terms here by the by. As Bob Sutor, IBM's VP of WebSphere, wrote in his blog, IBM is donating the Symphony code "'for consideration.' Members of the OpenOffice 'podling' at Apache, including folks who are IBM employees, will get to look at the changes and improvements that IBM made to OpenOffice code when it was incorporated into Symphony. If the podling members decide to use it, great! If they decide to do something else, so be it, that's the way open source communities work."

As for LibreOffice? Well, in June, Weir wrote, "LibreOffice supporters see Apache OpenOffice as a mortal threat to their project since its gain comes only at their expense." He sees this as a fallacy.

Weir went on, "And in the real world, outside of FOSS [free and open-source software] blogs, the world runs predominately Microsoft Office, a proprietary set of applications. The other proprietary applications, like Corel WordPerfect and Google Docs and Apple iWork, combined with MS Office represent well over 90% of the market. Open source, of all varieties, including LibreOffice, is rather small."

"So rather than fighting over the bottom 5%, I think we should set our sights on a more transformative engagement with the market. This need not be a zero-sum, I-Win/You-Lose situation. OpenOffice and LibreOffice can both win. OpenOffice and LibreOffice and Calligra Suite and AbiWord and Gnumeric can all gain users at the same time. And this can happen at the same time that mixed-source applications based upon OpenOffice, like Lotus Symphony, also grow and gain users."

Regardless of how you feel about his stance on LibreOffice vs. OpenOffice, we'll soon see how well Apache and IBM, and OpenOffice and Lotus Symphony, can work together to grow open-source office suites beyond that 5%.

Related Stories:

Free Software Foundation favors LibreOffice over OpenOffice

LibreOffice motors right along with a new release

Oracle gives OpenOffice to Apache

What the heck is happening with OpenOffice?

Novell will continue to support LibreOffice

Topics: Collaboration, IBM, Open Source, Software

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48 comments
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  • Good.

    Good news. I expect this to be a big positive for the Apache/OOo effort. LibreOffice, which I use and like, needs to wake up to reality. United we stand, divided we fall. The majority is standing with Apache - join the party.
    nemasket.net
    • Now that's the last nail in the coffin

      You know the software will die once IBM is involved.
      LBiege
    • and fall it did

      @nemasket.net
      I used it for about 3 weeks before uninstalling. When a product can't properly open documents originally created within it's own environment then its value is significantly reduced. In a professional space where others are using MS Office 2010 LibreOffice is basically useless.
      kwabinalars
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @kwabinalars Interesting. We use Open Office to open and fix Microsoft Word documents when Word writes a document it can't read. Now most of the time this leads back to Microsoft Office's equation editor causing Word to fail but it's still Open Office that we have to use to fix the problem.
        sysop-dr
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @sysop-dr
        And how old is the version of Word you are complaining about. In 25 years in IT, I've heard rumors of people with the problem, but never actually seen it. Sure you know what you are talking about? Or is it just another phantom problem OO folks love to push?
        Cynical99
  • Yippee?

    All that work and still fighting over the bottom 5% of the market. After all those years of effort, that should say something.

    I guess Open Office is a labor of love, even if second rate and the IBM code won't really help much. Still a decade behind the leader, which gives the leader even more momentum or should I say inertia to stay the leader.
    Cynical99
    • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

      @Cynical99

      The split between LibreOffice and OpenOffice, enhanced with IBM's Symphony code donation, is a BIG win for Microsoft. They can put their list of supposed OpenOffice patent violations back on the shelf. I'm sure that some Microsoft folk are quaffing some pints in celebration (along with the recent Mozilla Firefox version support change). Sometimes, I think that the FOSS developers themselves are bigger problems for the movement than the big, bad corporate world.

      As far as OpenOffice being second rate, Symphony, with it's IBM enhancements, was good enough for IBM to use internally.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

      @Rabid A few of us decried Libre (favorite Stallman word) Office, but those for whom software is ideology didn't listen. They need something to hate, and they hate Oracle the way they hate a Microsoft which hasn't existed for 10 years. They simply assumed Oracle was going to do something evil and forked the software for no reason, killing OpenOffice. The folks behind LibreOffice will never unite behind OpenOffice because "software must be free!" and OpenOffice won't be free enough for them... they follow the pied piper of a literally homeless man (Stallman has no home and apparently lives in an office MIT gives him). The FSF is the Tea Party of open source... valuing ideological purity over reality.

      The open source coders are definitely their own worst enemy. I had an online exchange with one prominent fellow who was gave a conference talk encouraging coders to basically do whatever they want without waiting for anyone else. I took him to task, complaining that the mindset in open source is "I don't like the way the menu bar on this word processor works... let me write my own word processor from scratch", so that rather than changing the menu bar we now have severe duplication of effort and open source becomes a car with 50 tires and no engine. He kept telling me "I don't understand open source" and telling me to read "The Cathedral And the Bazaar." He had praised one fellow who created an openSUSE OS with the Meego UI before Meego had a working copy out. I pointed out he didn't understand open source and this coder proved my point: rather than start from scratch, he combined the openSUSE Linux kernel and key components with the Meego UI. I'd been arguing that open source needs to stop working on multiple office suites, desktop environments, etc., take the best of each and give the world one really good version of each. There's no reason for KDE to include their own browser with their desktop, for instance, because we all know it has minimal functionality and will never catch up to the major browsers. If the only good part of the KOffice suite is the paint program and the database, take those, roll them into OpenOffice and stop wasting time on the rest, etc. That's what you do when you have a goal other than "freedom"; especially if the goal is producing something that works and focusing your efforts.
      jgm@...
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @jgm@... yeah it's not like Webkit came out of a useless browser any way... Oh wait... it did!
        ALISON SMOCK
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @jgm@... wrote
        "They simply assumed Oracle was going to do something evil and forked the software for no reason, killing OpenOffice.

        This is what I believe happened to the OpenSolaris project as well. Sad, as it was also a good open-source project. Am still running one instance of OpenSolaris as a PostgreSQL/PostGIS server.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

    OpenOffice.org is already a world wide recognized brand. LibreOffice has no chance to become the open source office leader just because it's way too new and it will take way too many years to get as known as openoffice. Wake up guys!
    d.marcu
    • World wide recognized brand?????

      @d.marcu
      Well, maybe in a very small portion of the world. Ask the average user about Open Office and you'll get a universal, "huh?" as an answer.

      Ask about MS Office and 99% of the people know about it, ask about Open Office and they'll ask, "Did you mean MS Office?"

      very few people know about Open Office, after all, it's only got something in the bottom 5% of market share and it's free. People would rather pay for better quality and features.
      Cynical99
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @Cynical99 wrote
        "People would rather pay for better quality and features.

        Actually, Microsoft's OEMs and retailers would rather have their customers pay for better quality and features, because it adds to their bottom-line. You're partly right, though. Many people, for various good reasons, would rather have Microsoft Office. However, most users don't even come close to using all of the features included in Microsoft Office. It's overkill for their use cases.

        The fact of the matter is that most consumers aren't even aware of proprietary free and FOSS software alternatives. When they buy a PC from one of Microsoft's OEMs or retailers they get McAfee or Norton internet security software installed by default. They'd be just as well off using the built-in Windows firewall and downloading/installing Microsoft Security Essentials. But the OEMs and retailers make money when they install McAfee or Norton. Most consumers simply don't know what their options are.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @Cynical99 WOW! Wish I had someone like you to keep from being deluded so many years. I thought Open Office worked pretty well and had good features. I used it and didn't have any problems and didn't spend a dime on it. Just goes to show how ignorant someone can be when they know nothing about what they're saying, like you. Try using it then you have grounds for making a statement about Open Office. Obviously you have not. Until you use it you should really keep your yap shut.
        craiglarry
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        craiglarry
        I have used Open Office extensively. Never lives up to the hype and always end up hassling with format issues. By the way, did they ever add the grammar checker that MS added 10 years ago? No? Well just one of a thousand examples of second rate code.
        Cynical99
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @Cynical99
        > People would rather pay for better quality
        > and features.

        Since when did "quality" ever have anything to do with MSOffice?
        jelabarre
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @Cynical99 <br><br>I agree AND disagree with you: MS Office is absolutely the standard. OO and LO (and NeoOffice on the Mac) are minor, niche apps that only IT folks like us tend to know about.<br><br>I use all four -- MSO, OO, LO and NO -- on different systems, and even sometimes on the same system, for different reasons. And I've deployed some of them to users and friends that I think can handle the file format issues or aren't likely to be hampered by them. Anyone who's the least bit tech challenged or needs some of the more complex MSO capabilities or needs to swap files all the time with MSO users is, frankly, often better off with MSO.<br><br>But for folks who understand the quite reasonable limitations of OO/LO/NO, they work absolutely fine ... and they're free. That last part makes up for a lot of their shortcomings.
        jscott69
  • Accelerated improvement ...

    Wow, clash of the titans, which will see the little guy (users) benefit.

    Google with LibreOffice (LO) & GoogleDocs v. Microsoft v. IBM (OpenOffice (OOo)/Smyphony)

    May the best player win!

    By the way, here is a great extention for LO/OOo:
    http://code.google.com/p/ooo2gd/downloads/detail?name=ooo2gd_3.0.0.oxt&can=2&q=
    that let you quickly & easily upload to Google Docs
    IndianArt
    • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

      @IndianArt : Google wants their own version of everything out there. Symphony was a waste of money and resources. If I didn't have MS Office I would be using OpenOffice.
      Gis Bun
      • RE: IBM throws it source code and support behind OpenOffice

        @Gis Bun

        Symphony is just a tweeked Open Office. I haven't used it, but...
        YetAnotherBob