What the heck is happening with OpenOffice? (UPDATE)

Oracle abandoned OpenOffice, but now it seems, thanks to IBM, that it may live on with another organization.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

This weekend was filled with rumors about the fate of OpenOffice. Oracle essentially abandoned OpenOffice, after The Document Foundation's LibreOffice fork but rumor has it that IBM wants the project to continue. The big question, which is still unresolved as I write this, is, "How?"

At the moment, almost all of what I have are comments from people close to the matter who are unable to go on the record. That said, here's my current understanding of what's going on with OpenOffice.

First, after Oracle booted out the LibreOffice fork developers from OpenOffice, Oracle still didn't want to invest anymore in OpenOffice. As Edward Screven, Oracle's Chief Corporate Architect, said in April, "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. We intend to begin working immediately with community members to further the continued success of Open Office. Oracle will continue to strongly support the adoption of open standards-based document formats, such as the Open Document Format (ODF)."

If that sounds like a contradiction in terms: OpenOffice is doing so well that Oracle doesn't want to manage-read pay for it-you're not the only one to see it that way. As Louis Suárez-Potts' OpenOffice's Community Manager and former Oracle staffer, told my buddy Brian Proffitt that no one's really sure what Oracle plans for OpenOffice, or what's more important, what it means for the ODF.

"People like the ODF simply because of its enormously successful flexibility," Suárez-Potts told Proffitt. OpenOffice, LibreOffice, IBM's Symphony and Google Docs all use ODF. But, with Oracle taking a hands off approach to OpenOffice and ODF, what does that mean for the format?

Suárez-Potts saw four possible futures for OpenOffice. Neglect, which is where we're at now, was the worst choice by far. The others were to spin OpenOffice to a new foundation with broad industry support; join it with an already existing open-source foundation with broad corporate support such as the Apache Software Foundation or The Eclipse Foundation; or to join up with the Document Foundation's LibreOffice fork.

It now seems that IBM, which has invested millions in OpenOffice over the years, and uses it as the basis for its Symphony office suite, preferred the option of OpenOffice being spun off to The Apache Foundation. Oracle, which I'm told has contractual obligations to IBM to see that OpenOffice continued to be developed, was fine with this. Unfortunately for IBM and Oracle, my sources tell me that Apache was not so enamored of the idea and has turned it down.

I can see why Apache would want to steer clear of the deal. Apache has not been on good terms with Oracle for several months now after fighting with the company over how Oracle had been managing the Java Community Process. In addition, Apache had also had problems with IBM and Oracle over their support for the open-source Java Standard Edition (SE) OpenJDK over Apache's open-source Java SE Project Harmony. In addition, much of OpenOffice's GPL code isn't compatible with the Apache Foundations' Apache license.

The Document Foundation thinks Oracle should donate OpenOffice's code and intellectual property (IP) to them. Italo Vignoli, a member of the Document Foundation's steering committee, told me, that if Oracle does spin these materials off to another body, "Oracle is missing the opportunity to re-unite the OOo community governance. The Document Foundation remains open to every company and individual that wishes to participate in co-development. There has never been a better time to get involved and advance the state of the art in free-software office suites."

But what will really happen? I don't know.

I do know, based on all the bits and pieces I've been hearing that Oracle, at least, doesn't want to give the OpenOffice to LibreOffice. IBM feels more neutral about it. In the end, I see OpenOffice going to another organization. My best guess at this point is that it will be The Eclipse Foundation. One way or the other, it appears that OpenOffice will continue on.

UPDATE: Sources tell me that Apache has decided to take on OpenOffice. I expect to see the official word come out this week. It may be as early as tomorrow. sjvn--3:42 PM Eastern, May 31, 2011.

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