This suggests that Oracle views LibreOffice as a hostile fork and will not join The Document Foundation as some had hoped. Since Oracle expressed earlier this week to keep supporting OpenOffice.org, this move is not surprising.
This news post did not surprise me at all. It was going to happen sooner or later. The fork of OpenOffice is called LibreOffice. The Document Foundation hopes though that Oracle will be kind enough to hand over the old name “OpenOffice” to the Document Foundation in the near future so they can continue working with that name.
A group of key contributors to the OpenOffice.org (OOo) project have formed a new organization called the Document Foundation to manage a community-driven fork of the popular open source office suite. Their goal is to liberate the project from Oracle’s control and create a more inclusive and participatory ecosystem around the software.
OOo was originally based on StarOffice, a product that Sun obtained in its acquisition of StarDivision in 1999. Sun opened the source code and invited the open source software community to participate in the project, but sold a closed, commercial version alongside. The project received considerable attention and is among the most widely-known open source applications. Several other major companies are involved heavily in development, including Novell and IBM. It’s worth noting that IBM’s Lotus Symphony product is based on OOo code.
There was obviously already some support for the idea of forking the OOo code base before Oracle acquired Sun, but the acquisition substantially increased the need for community-driven governance and helped to build swift consensus among independent stakeholders. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Oracle’s plans for OOo and there are well-founded concerns about the extent of Oracle’s commitment to openness.
The Document Foundation serves the long-standing need for a more inclusive culture around the project. The group is creating a fork of OOo called LibreOffice that will be distributed independently of OOo. The foundation’s steering committee is diverse and includes some key members of the OOo project. Corporate supporters include Novell, Red Hat, Canonical, and Google. A beta release of the fork is available for testing, but is not yet ready for production use.
Oracle has not yet issued an official response to the fork. It seems likely that Oracle will continue moving forward with its Cloud Office product, but it’s difficult to predict what kind of relationship the company will choose to have with the LibreOffice community. The fork diminishes Oracle’s declining open source credibility because it sends a strong signal that the community lacks confidence in Oracle’s leadership.
For regular end users of the open source office suite, the fork could potentially be a very positive change. It will remedy long-standing issues that have hindered development and lead to a stronger product with a healthier development community.