CyberTech Rambler

June 16, 2011

My view on OpenOffice.org to Apache Incubator

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:15 pm

Well, Oracle managed to get OpenOffice.org into Apache Incubator. The vote itself was not a surprise, neither is the ‘landslide’ in favour of it.

The world’s reception of OpenOffice.org move is as expected: LibreOffice supporter and FSF don’t like it, IBM-ers love it (Rob Weir’s postings here and here) which is not surprising because IBM is perceive to be the biggest winner and I believe, behind the scenes, one of the significant instigator for this move).

Me? Not really that sure whether it is a good for open source office productivity suit.

First, what I think are the negative side:

The biggest problem I see is  I cannot see how OpenOffice.org fit in with other projects hosted by Apache Foundation. OpenOffice.org is by-and-large an end user product. Most if not all Apache Foundation projects are development tools. Even their ‘flagship’ (Apache Webserver) is not an end user project. You need to put in quite a lot of effort (in the form of creating webpages) to make its deployment make sense for you, or as my colleague said: “You don’t use Apache webserver, you _develope_ your webserver”. So how does an end user product fit in to it?

Second, fragmentation of the pool of developers available to LibreOffice project. Whether Rob Weir like it or not, taking the total number of developers available for OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice as 100%, i.e., as in his  ‘scarcity fallacy’ chart (first chart), there will be developers who would had worked for LibreOffice should OpenOffice.org is not an option. I obviously see this as a zero sum game. Rob Weir says it isn’t. Part of his argument is that as open/mixed source takes developers/users away from proprietary software vendors, all of us benefit. I understand that and agree that in terms of absolute head count, both are bound to see an increase as  open/mixed source are indeed taking developers away from proprietary software vendor. However, in percentage terms, having a choice means both parties lose developers that would had worked for them.

The positive side:

The biggest is of course the Apache License for OpenOffice.org has the potential to capture a larger audience than Lesser General Public License of LibreOffice.org can ever do. I don’t whole-heartedly thinks that because people can keep modification private so Apache License must be bad. History has thought us that keeping modification private, e.g. the almost utter failure of Unix favours that originated from BSD Unix, brings only short term profits. A lot of companies and developers realize that it is in their interest to contribute back.

We now have a bigger voice in the OpenDocumentFormat fight against OOXML and it is called the Apache Foundation. At the end of the day the key  to interooperability is ODF, not OpenOffice.org. The more we  can reach out to other users/developer the better.

My original brainstorming says why not strip the ODF part of OpenOffice.org and give that to Apache, everything else, e.g. the UI etc to LibreOffice. The reason having a version of ODF that any software, open source or otherwise, can use is very important. Apache License give people the confidence to do this. Possibility of vendor’s modification becoming proprietary stranglehold later, i.e. like what Microsoft did to RTF? Not impossible but extremely unlikely and therefore worth the risk. Moreover, ODF part fits in with other Apache project really nicely.

Finally, what I think is undecided:

Who will win? OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice.org. My money is on LibreOffice.org. History says that GPL and LGPL-ed versions of the same software are more likely to survive the test of time. Besides, after considering everything, I am bias enough to think that LibreOffice is probably the better home for OpenOffice.org.

Is the fragmentation a good thing? In the long run, I think it is. There is this one big hurdle call duplicated work at both LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice.org. However, I think both parties has enough developers that this duplication is not as serious an impediment the way smaller community suffers from. The rivalry between the two means we will see more competition and better products. It also means we finally get out of the comparison to MSOffice trap.

 

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