OpenOffice.org becomes LibreOffice

Or, as The Register characteristically puts it, “OpenOffice files Oracle divorce papers”.

This is a very interesting development, and the new LibreOffice project looks much more like a normal community-based open-source project than OpenOffice.org ever did, with its weird requirement that contributors surrendered their copyright to Sun (then Oracle). The purpose of that always seemed to me that it enabled Sun/Oracle, as the copyright holder, to skip around the viral nature of the GPL and strike deals with other corporations over the code base (so you won't see the all source code for IBM Lotus Symphony freely available, for example). Another consequence was that some useful work done by the Go-OOo project never found its way back into OpenOffice.org — now though we learn that “that the enhancements produced by the Go-OOo team will be merged into LibreOffice, effective immediately”. In particular I hope this will see better support for OOXML in the future – surely a necessity if LibreOffice is ever to succeed in the substitution game.

One wrinkle is the “cease fire” agreed between Microsoft and Sun (and inherited by Oracle) in which OpenOffice appeared to be granted safety from Patent action by Microsoft. Presumably this will not apply to to the new LibreOffice project …

While this development seems like it might be very good news for open source office suites, it is very unfortunate that the brand has been fragmented with yet another new name for would-be users to get their heads round.

Comments (8) -

  • Florian Mueller

    10/1/2010 3:42:57 PM |

    When the agreement between Microsoft and Sun was announced, I saw reports according to which it only related to Sun's proprietary StarOffice product, which included OpenOffice but also proprietary components and as a whole was proprietary ("open core" business model). One of the reports said that even Sun itself could have been sued for using OpenOffice instead of StarOffice, theoretically.

    Even if contrary to those reports there had been a license related to OpenOffice, I can't imagine it would extend to forks. The problem for a patent holder with a license benefiting forks is that you just don't know what the forkers are going to do with it, so you have to write a blank check.

  • Alex

    10/1/2010 4:25:55 PM |

    @Florian

    IANAL, but the agreement between Sun and MSFT has a clause it specifically relating to "the product developed by Sun and generally known as Open Office" which seems (to my layman's eye) to include it in the cease fire.

    I believe as far as the implementation of the file format goes, both OOXML and ODF are safe (at least from action by the bug players involved in the standardization processes). What is less clear is whether any patents apply to application features ...

  • Florian Mueller

    10/1/2010 4:40:03 PM |

    @Alex I've now taken a look at the SEC filing. The words you quote appear in a section that gives Open Office less protection under the agreement than other Sun products. Concerning Open Office, the patent deal "shall apply fully to Sun but shall not apply to Authorized Licensees of Open Office or any other third party", which means that forkers are explicitly excluded.

    Also, note that the agreement relates to past (prior to signing) infringement as well as a "stand-still period". The original stand-still period ended after six months, but the agreement can be renewed annually, thereby extending that period. The way I read the agreement, renewal is completely up to Microsoft (if they pay a fee, there's a renewal; if they don't, expiration).

    Star Office indeed has a privileged status: "The Parties acknowledge that the product currently marketed by Sun as Star Office shall not be affected by this Section IV." (Section IV contains limitations specific to Open Office, but Star Office gets the benefit of the full scope of the agreement).

    I couldn't find anything in that SEC filing that would affect the implementation of file formats.

  • André Rebentisch

    10/2/2010 9:45:32 AM |

    The OpenOffice.org project uses the LGPLv3.

  • Frank

    10/5/2010 4:40:15 AM |

    surrendered their copyright to Sun (then Oracle)
    They were never forced to surrender their copyright. They shared it with Sun/Oracle retaining their rights.

    that the enhancements produced by the Go-OOo team will be merged into LibreOffice
    Have you taken a look at LibO's mailing list recently. Good luck with all the "enhancements" considering all the hacking going on there. This may be a way to please FLOSS development evangelists. Any benefit to an office user remains yet to be proven.

    to skip around the viral nature of the GPL and strike deals with other corporations over the code base
    Firstly: OOo is LGPL as was mentioned before, not GPL.
    Secondly: why would you think is it bad to "strike deals". Wouldn't you think a corp can try to make money off of that project? Do you think Google, Redhat, Ubuntu, and Novell are supporting this for charity?
    Thirdly: you will very soon discover with LibO that distributed ownership of contributions will make it very hard for LibO to move in a business environment.

    While this development seems like it might be very good news for open source office suites
    You are absolutely right. It may seem like very good news. Yet it isn't. This schism only has one beneficiary. Ballmer et all are probably laughing their asses off right now. This weakens the position of Open Source Office suites in the business space and degrades it to the playground of FLOSS zealots.

  • Alex

    10/5/2010 5:01:27 AM |

    @Frank

    Well, the copyright assignment issue seems to have been a source of tension over the last few years, as reported in articles like:

    http://www.linux.com/archive/feed/119689

    and of course "striking deals" need not be a bad thing, but if contributors feel they are being used unreasonably to that end then things can turn sour -- witness the high-profile implosions around OpenSolaris last year.

    Of course it remains to be seen whether LibO is a success, I certainly wouldn't characterize the backers of and contributors to the project as "FLOSS zealots" (with perhaps one or two exceptions).

    • Frank

      10/6/2010 4:50:44 AM |

      Yes the CA issue has been discussed for a long time. Both parties have their point. Both parties made their mistakes.

      The whole discussion is currently very emotional. I am very curious where we end up in 6 or 12 months when the dust settled and both sides focus on the users again, many of which are probably pretty confused and worried right now.

  • Alex

    10/6/2010 2:32:37 PM |

    @Frank

    I am curious too. One of the problems with OpenOffice.org was, I think, that it was insufficiently user-focueed and too much in hoc to various corporate policies which were a weird mix of standards warfare and attempts to re-define the office market around 'adoption based marketing' (to borrow one of Sun's phrases). That and the fact that the application itself is rather - stolid.

    There's no doubt though that aligning LibO with the market better will be a huge task that demands correspondingly huge resources. We shall see what happens!

Comments are closed