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From "Allen Pulsifer" <>
Subject OpenOffice Apache Incubator Proposal and uniting "The Community"
Date Thu, 02 Jun 2011 22:58:45 GMT
As a long time member of the community, I would like to offer
my thoughts on the Oracle/IBM proposal.

For a long time, we had the situation where Sun released OpenOffice under
the LGPL, but insisted that any contributions to the official OpenOffice
distribution include a copyright assignment to Sun, so Sun could include
those contributions in their proprietary StarOffice product.  The copyright
assignment also allowed Sun to license the code to third parties under any
license they wanted, and they apparently did just that, licensing the code
to IBM so they could also create their own proprietary derivative known as
IBM Lotus Symphony.

Fully understanding the situation with respect to the proprietary versions,
many of us willing contributed code that was used in both OpenOffice and
StarOffice and Symphony.  The LGPL license did however allow anyone who
wanted to take the code and create a derivative work that was also licensed
under the LGPL, and that is exactly what happened with The Document
Foundation created the fork that is now known as LibreOffice.

Following the LibreOffice fork, Oracle decided to drop the product entirely,
both its open source and its proprietary versions.  IBM however desired to
continue developing of both their proprietary version and the open source
version, while switching the open source version from the previous
copyright-assignment system to a more symmetrical Apache License.  Oracle
has apparently decided to accommodate IBM in this desire by releasing the
code under the Apache License.

AFAIKS, IBM's vision corresponds pretty closely to the Apache vision or
philosophy.  IBM envisions essentially that the Apache repository for
OpenOffice would become the focal point for common or core development,
while a number of companies would create their own derivative works with a
variety of licenses, some open-source and some closed-source.

I have no doubt that the latter part of that will happen--if OpenOffice is
licensed under the Apache License, I expect to see a multitude of derivative
works.  One of those derivative works of course will be IBM's own
closed-source Symphony.  Another likely derivative will be The Document
Foundation's open-source LibreOffice.  Other likely areas for derivatives

- Versions for specific locales, such as the current BrOffice in Brazil or
the current RedOffice in China;

- Versions for specific markets such as education or government;

- Versions for specific applications, which might include integrating the
code with other software such as an email client, a contact manager or a
document management system;

- Derivatives that rip out or adopt core selected code, such as document
handling or conversion code, for their own purposes.

- Ports to other platforms, such as Android, MacOS, tablet computers,
embedded systems, kiosks, etc.

I also expect to see many instances of people simply taking the code,
changing the branding or making minor tweaks and then selling it on the
internet.  The code is useful and valuable, and I expect many derivatives.
I believe users will be very creative in finding uses for it.

Each of those derivatives may be open source or closed source, depending on
the desires of the company or organization that creates it.  The Apache
License explicitly and deliberately permits this.

The more open question is whether the repository at Apache will become the
focal point of development, and if so, what form that will take.  The Apache
License permits developers to contribute back to the project, but it does
not require this.  If the developers do decide to contribute, the
contributions can take many forms: they can contribute back bug report, bug
fixes, new code and features, and/or documentation and other supporting
material--any, all or none of the above.

Given the wide variety of uses for the code, I expect the return
contributions to similarly vary widely.  I expect a number of users of the
code to contribute nothing back, while some contribute a little back.  It's
possible some will contribute quite a lot back, but that is not guaranteed.
I guess we will see.

Despite the fact the IBM's vision for OpenOffice seems to correspond pretty
closely to the Apache vision or philosophy, it should be noted that there
are some apparent differences between OpenOffice, in its current or
historical form, and other Apache projects.  First, while I am most familiar
with the Apache HTTP Server, I get the sense that most Apache projects are
intended for system administrators or software developers, both of which are
technical folk.  OpenOffice does not currently fit that model.  In its
current form, OpenOffice is a desktop application, not a server or a
software development toolkit.  It is used by primarily non-technical
end-users in an office or personal setting, not by technical people.
Second, if Apache takes on OpenOffice, it will instantly become the Apache
project with the largest number of end-users (if you include the number of
users of both the Apache version and its derivatives).  In fact, the number
of users of OpenOffice may be larger than all other Apache projects
combined.  Third, OpenOffice historically had (I think) a much larger
community around it than any current Apache project.  This community has
historically included people doing coding, localization, Q/A, documentation,
marketing, distribution and end-user support.  While other Apache projects
may have had some or all of these activities, I think it may be correct to
say that the size of the community around OpenOffice was historically larger
than all Apache projects combined.  Another difference I can see is that the
OpenOffice codebase is huge, complex and "old".  It has been under
development since 1984, approximately 10 years longer than the Apache HTTP
server.  Its source tarball is approximately 250 MB.  It has its own way of
doing just about everything, from its underlying object model (called UNO)
to its GUI framework.  Very few developers understand the code.  The code is
also poorly documented, with much of the documentation disorganized,
incomplete, unclear, out-of-date, and/or simply wrong.  Making changes to
the code is often a frustrating exercise in decoding several layers of
unnecessary abstraction spread across multiple source files, and then
digging in with multiple trial-and-error changes while generally breaking
more than you fix.  All that is to say, OpenOffice is a very big baby to
adopt, and will have unique and significant needs.  It may result in a huge
influx of people looking for all sorts of different things.  It is not clear
the Apache's existing infrastructure is sufficient to handle a project or
community of this size and complexity, and it may have to be upgrade with
new tools.  It would not surprise me if adopting OpenOffice did not result
in eventual changes in the Apache's organization and direction, possibly in
unpredictable ways--not that that is a bad thing, it's just something to
think about.

For some, the "elephant in the room" is The Document Foundation community.
This community has committed itself to continuing development of a LGPL
version under the LibreOffice name.  Of course, that effort can continue in
parallel.  Like any other project, LibreOffice is free to continue
developing its derivative version while integrating any and all
contributions licensed under the Apache License, and contributing back as
little or as much as it desires.

I personally can see the pluses and minuses of both licenses, and what works
for some, might not be the best for others.  I'm not going to get into the
question of which I prefer, because it seems moot at this point.  IBM, with
Oracle's agreement, is clearly going to go ahead with an Apache Licensed
version of the code whether the rest of us like it or not.

The question has been raised however whether it is possible to unite the two
communities, the
Licensed-version, and the existing TDF community.  In that regard, I think
it might be helpful to identify who the major "players" are.  On the one
side, the Apache Licensed version is clearly being driven by IBM.  On the
other side, the creation of the LGPL licensed version was driven primarily
by Novell, the distributor of SUSE, along with other Linux distributors such
as Red Hat and Canonical, the distributor of Ubuntu.  The community includes
many others, but a project of that size requires paid developers, and it is
those developers that form the core of the LibreOffice community.

My question is simple: has IBM consulted with the companies that are
currently paying developers to work on LibreOffice to determine what they
want to do?  Can these companies foresee paying developers to work on an
Apache Licensed version, or to make contributions to an Apache Licensed
version?  If so, do they also foresee paying developers to continue to work
in parallel on an LGPL version, and if so, how do they foresee these two
projects being coordinated?

Best Regards,


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