CyberTech Rambler

November 3, 2010

Exodus of developers from OpenOffice.org

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:42 pm

There is an exodus of developers from OpenOffice.org to The Document Foundation, i.e., LibreOffice. That is only to be expected. There is a long laundry list of discontent with OpenOffice.org’s management policy and The Document Foundation is formed precisely to cure the most complained about grievances.

Andy Updegrove do a good article on forking, governance and corporate sponsorship, so there is no need for me to do one. The only thing I will add is history looks to be repeating itself. The last big complain about governance is the Eclipse Platform. Of course, we all know the outcome, and the outcome was good, i.e., the formation of Eclipse Foundation as an independent steward for the platform.

In both cases, we have a major corporate overlord overseeing the project. Nobody is claiming that IBM in the case of Eclipse, or SUN in the case of OpenOffice.org, is doing a really lousy job. Rather, their corporate overloadship causes friction. In the case of Eclipse it mainly affects other corporations, and we see them holding back, or contributing not as much as they like to to Eclipse before IBM ceded Eclipse Platform to Eclipse Foundation.  Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you. I did not see it initially as well  However,  on hindsight,  looking at the proliferation of activities after Eclipse Foundation was formed, it is clear that other companies were wary about IBM’s dominance pre-Eclipse Foundation.

I guess corporate bodies are more seasoned and battle-harden than the the open source community in general. Most of us in the open source community are probably a bit naive in thinking that a benevolent corporate dictator is not necessary a bad thing. Some even think that as long as there is a Free Software version of their contribution it does not matter who actually owns the copyright (and therefore it is ok to sign away one’s copyright). This saga with OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice is going to be a big eye opener for us all.

In the long run, the saga is good for the community. We are in the process of seeing corporations mingling with open source and it will take time to rewrite the rules of contribution over and over again until we finally settle on something all parties are happy with (or can live with). Next few years is going to be interesting as the dance between the two intensifies.

If any, this saga reinforce the need to make sure one really know who you are assigning your copyright to. My principle is always that you should think very carefully before assigning your copyright to corporate entities, regardless of whether is it MySQL, OpenOffice.org or Canonical. I think we can give them small little crumbs on efficiency ground, but anything that is bigger than that the answer has to be a no. One big question they cannot explain to me why they want a copyright assignment, instead of simply us giving them a royalty-free, perpetual and unlimited license. The later has served  the open source community well and I do not see a need for the copyright assignment.

I, however, won’t think twice to assign my copyright to Free Software Foundation. Their track record speaks for themselves. Assigning copyrights in this case makes efficiency sense when it comes to promoting free software via copyright enforcement, and unlike corporate entity, the risk that FSF change course and stop serving the community of free software is almost zero.

It is my belief that the biggest loser in all this saga is Oracle. Frankly, I don’t think it cares. I think it believe it can weather this and perhaps it is right.

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1 Comment »

  1. I think that you have stated the case very well. Indeed, the history of Eclipse was exactly as stated. IBM had made a huge investment (over $40 million, as I recall) in the Eclipse code, etc., and it took it a long time to reach the conclusion to let go. But until it did, Eclipse was not very successful.

    Sun had the same problem with OpenOffice, in part because it had made an investment that was much higher. It never did get to the point of letting go, and the OOo project suffered accordingly, with other large companies (like IBM), that could have benefited from a strong OpenOffice suite in the marketplace, refusing to participate. So corporations, as well as developers, lose when a single company can’t bring itself to let go.

    Perhaps with Oracle’s acquisition of Sun the message will finally get through, and other corporate custodians – current and future – will take appropriate action.

    We’ll see.

    – Andy

    Comment by Andy Updegrove — November 4, 2010 @ 7:50 am | Reply


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