Good riddance Oracle! Now can LibreOffice make a difference?

Can a newly-forked LibreOffice do what OpenOffice could never do? Namely, break free from the shadow of Microsoft Office and some great cloud products?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

It wasn't long ago that I declared OpenOffice dead at the hands of Google Apps, Microsoft Web Apps, and the awesome Office 2010 desktop suite. Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems didn't help either, since the company isn't exactly the biggest friend of open source.

This morning, however, ZDNet's Paula Rooney reported on the Document Foundation's fork of OpenOffice, making me wonder if the new LibreOffice is just as dead or if it can finally thrive with the right kind of community support and a lack of corporate overlords. As Paula reports, there are a lot of big names behind this new effort that just might breathe life into the project:

The creation of the Document Foundation is backed by leading Linux distributors Red Hat, Novell, Google (Android) and Canonical as well as many international concerns and nations, including Germany, Italy, Brazil and France...

Not surprisingly, there are some skeptics out there even among people who don't work for that big company in Redmond that makes their own desktop office suite. Gigom calls LibreOffice "An Idea Whose Time Has Come (and Gone)." In a post this morning, the author made some completely valid points:

...why start from the paradigm of 1980s technology? Nothing on the Foundation’s new website, or in any of its press materials, suggests that the Foundation’s purpose is to do anything more than free OpenOffice development from the control of one company, Oracle. There’s no discussion of the possibilities of integration with the web...If anyone is advancing the office productivity market, it’s Google Apps...or Zoho Office, which were born on the web. It’s unclear what a web-light, client-heavy Microsoft Office clone can hope to achieve in terms of real innovation.

Then again, in countries where Internet connectivity is not ubiquitous or is limited to simple mobile devices, a desktop office suite that can run on an aging computer under Lubuntu is not the anachronism that it is in the land of Google Apps. And on operating systems that don't support Microsoft Office (like Ubuntu), an office suite remains useful. Even I, cloud-boy that I am, use an office suite regularly for high-fidelity documentation needs.

That being said, the Document Foundation would do well to take this opportunity and begin integrating the desktop tools they are forking with cloud-based services from Canonical and/or Google, then LibreOffice will stand a far better chance of staying relevant and, more importantly, driving innovation in its competitors, be they Microsoft, Apple, or Google.

Right now, LibreOffice is very much in beta. However, the next 6 months will be critical as the community can truly dig in and begin enhancing the software in ways they couldn't while Sun controlled the OpenOffice code. Will the community be able to do for productivity what they've done for operating systems and other incredible tools like Joomla!, Drupal, and Moodle? I hope so. I also hope they don't miss the chance to embrace the cloud in ways that resonate with developed markets while still providing necessary features for developing markets. All, of course, for free.

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