Oracle, OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice

9:03 am community, freesoftware

There has been a lot of commentary in recent days about the OpenOffice.org community council decision to ask people who have aligned themselves with The Document Foundation (TDF) to resign their seats on the council. So, of course, what we need is a little bit more commentary.

First, when reading the minutes, it’s worth noting that this was not a voted decision. At 21:50, Louis Suarez-Potts proposed “that the TDF members of the CC consider the points those of us who have not joined TDF have made about conflict of interest and confusion [and] resign their offices, so as to remove the apparent conflict of interest their current representational roles produce”. He then proposed a deadline of Tuesday “to deal with this” – by emergency meeting of the council. So there was no decision to expel anyone, Louis made a proposal which did not obtain a consensus decision. That said, reading the minutes, there is clear alignment between supporters of TDF on one side and the rest of the council on the other side. And “the rest of the council” is Louis Suarez-Potts, Andreas Bartel, Eike Rathke, Juergen Schmidt, Matthias Huetsch and Martin Hollmichel on behalf of Stefan Taxhet – all Oracle employees.

Second, let’s put this in perspective. Louis is the OpenOffice.org community manager, and has been for several years. Andreas, Eike, Juergen, Matthias and Stefan are all former Sun employees, and as best as I can tell, also former StarDivision employees. So this is hardly an Oracle corporate decree. It is a group of long-time contributors to OpenOffice.org taking a position on the community council vis à vis LibreOffice. I have been telling people for years that corporations don’t get to be members of free software communities – although their employees might. Let’s apply that same standard when commenting on actions by individuals, and assume less cloak-and-dagger. “Oracle” have not decided anything here.

That said, looking at the council structure, it’s clear that it has been set up so as to make it very difficult for Oracle/Sun employees to ever find themselves in a minority on the council, if they do decide to act as a block.

Third, let’s look at the substance of the discussion itself. The Document Foundation defines itself as “an independent self-governing meritocratic Foundation, created by leading members of the OpenOffice.org Community”. Implicit in this is a criticism of OpenOffice.org: the project is not independent, self-governing or meritocratic. Calls for OpenOffice.org to be managed by an independent not-for-profit are not new – in fact, I was one of those calling for it over the past few years. So clearly, the creation of The Document Foundation is a reaction to perceived and actual dysfunction in the operation of OpenOffice.org. In fact, in its initial communications, The Document Foundation clearly stated that the name LibreOffice was provisional, and that they hoped that Oracle would allow the foundation to use the traditional OpenOffice.org name – in other words, TDF wants LibreOffice to supersede OpenOffice.org as a project.

How, then, can people who have aligned themselves with the new initiative keep a straight face and say they are not trying to undermine OpenOffice.org? Traditional contributors to OpenOffice.org are now faced with a choice: will I update my source code daily from OOo, or from LibreOffice? I have met project volunteers who had no prior knowledge of the split who are now torn between two groups. They feel like they have to decide. For the instigators of the revolution to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

I’ve been told that I’m conflating “OpenOffice.org” the project, and the OpenOffice.org community council, which was created to represent “the OpenOffice.org community” – and that all of the non-Oracle community representatives feel it’s in the best interests of the OOo community to align with TDF, and as such it is Oracle representatives on the council who are in conflict of interest with what is best for the community they are representing. That may be the case, I’ll leave you to decide. It seems to me that supporting LibreOffice implies withdrawing support for OpenOffice.org, and thus forfeiting any mandate you might have to represent the OpenOffice.org community. Individual community members will surely make up their own mind.

A fork is like a schoolyard football game. Tommy brings a ball to school, and gets to be captain of a team every time, picks the best players for himself, because if he doesn’t, he threatens to take his ball away. After a few weeks of this, the other players get annoyed, and everyone chips in to buy a ball for the group. At this point, Tommy has lost all power – he still has his ball, but he’s not team captain any more. He gets left standing against the wall till the very end to teach him a lesson in humility. So he sits out the games for a while in protest, starts a competing game at the other end of the yard with his ball and his rules. All the best players go to the other game, though, and some of the kids make fun of “Tommy’s” game – invitations to give up his game & join the new one seem more like taunts than honest efforts to include him. After a while, he realises that playing football with others is more fun, and more important, than playing with his football.

I welcome the creation of The Document Foundation. I believe that it will be good for office software on the free desktop. I would prefer supporters of TDF to be dignified and forthright during the split, and to come straight out and say “we think TDF offers a better future for OOo than OOo does – so come join us”. Let the dust settle, and maybe in 6 months or a year, when the functionality gap between LO and OOo has widened a little, propose once more that Oracle and IBM engage with the foundation. At that point, such a proposal will seem like an honest effort at reconciliation. Right now, it feels more like rubbing Tommy’s nose in it.

Updated to reflect feedback, 11:30, 2010-10-21

22 Responses

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  2. Rob Weir Says:

    IMHO, the entire OpenOffice Community Council should resign and hold immediate new elections. Not just the LibreOfice guys, but everyone.

    It is impossible to see the creation of the Document Foundation as anything but a “vote of no confidence” in the current OpenOffice.org leadership. So instead of debating who has or does not have a conflict of interest, why not send the question to the community’s membership for a vote?

    Remember, the Community Council represents the membership. At this point it is not entirely clear to me who the remaining membership is and what they want. I don’t think there was ever a better time to clarify this with an election than now. And this would be a much more representative process than having current Community Council members, who may or may not represent the remaining members, conduct their own personal purges in our name.

    Or put another way, just because there was a revolution does not mean that we pretend that the OpenOffice community does not need reform. If anything it is even more clear that reform is needed. So let’s get on with it!

  3. dragonbite Says:

    The football analogy is pretty good.

    I do hope they do offer a sincere, friendly offer to Oracle and IBM when the times comes.

  4. Just Sean Says:

    Why must someone that is “for” TDF automatically be “against” OOo?

    Can’t someone be “for” both communities and contribute to both? I know people who contribute to both Fedora and OpenSuse without being “against” either one of them.

  5. Merk Says:

    I think the hidden message of the whole situation is that the Oracle/Sun/StarDivision employees want to retain full control of what happens with OpenOffice.org.

    1. The very first commits in LibreOffice were code clean-ups, removals of obscure comments, removals of dead code that have been in there for more than ten years. Wouldn’t you think that such patches have already been filed at qa.openoffice.org? The people with commit access are simply ignoring outside help.

    2. The Oracle/Sun/StarDivision developers are difficult people to work with. Did you see hdu’s repeated taunting in the Minutes of the IRC meeting? More than once he ‘haha-ed’, and repeated several times Janik’s message.

    The core developers of OpenOffice.org are probably elitists who think they are the best for the job and they do not need help. The XFree86 project showed a similar behavior and they are now forgotten because all distros switched to X.Org. With OpenOffice.org it is not easy as many users are on Windows.

    The core of the problem is the old developers. If this issue is not solved, then the problem will get worse. Should Oracle make a move? Should the sane voices from the Oracle employees speak up? One of the most important people, Luis, is sadly not up to the task.

  6. Dave Neary Says:

    Why must someone that is “for” TDF automatically be “against” OOo?

    Because The Document Foundation was created as a direct reaction to flaws in Ooo. Fedora is not a fork of OpenSuse. A better example would be NetBSD & OpenBSD.

  7. Links 21/10/2010: Launchpad Conflict, FossAlliance Debut | Techrights Says:

    […] Oracle, OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice There has been a lot of commentary in recent days about the OpenOffice.org community council decision to ask people who have aligned themselves with The Document Foundation (TDF) to resign their seats on the council. So, of course, what we need is a little bit more commentary. […]

  8. rangnar Says:

    I won’t argue. You can look at OOo and LibreOffice as two communities that fight each other. But that is a sad point of view.

    Have a look at Konquerer, Safari and webKit. You can support one base and spin out different, even competing products out of it.

    Don’t underestimate the reasons of the supporters of LibreOffice, i.e. Brasil. Their point of view and your arguments lack any intersection.

    Even your comparison is weak. There are people bored with the game and voted to play another one. That’s what’s happening. The rules, the team and the play are no more interesting. Part of the team will move on. They left. If you like to play in a good team, you have to move on.

  9. plino Says:

    Best article I have read since the TDF split.

    I agree completely on the football allegory.

    TDF should move on and prove that has something to offer that couldn’t be done under the OOo.

    Signed
    An ex-member of the OOo QA team who gave up reporting bugs that were simply ignored :)

  10. Thomas Holbrook II Says:

    With what happened to OpenSolaris, it would be difficult to blame the people for forming TDF in the first place. The announcement regarding Oracle’s commitment to OpenOffice.org came after the announcement of TDF, so the move may have kept it alive. At the same time, I hope that more development control in the hands of volunteers can produce a better office suite that is faster and easier on resources. :)

  11. Linux News » Oracle, OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice Says:

    […] Complete Story […]

  12. FireOffice Says:

    I have an idea, what about porting ooo/libreoffice to firefox as a platform. making an oowriter plugin for firefox, slimming it down.

  13. foo Says:

    @Rob: Reelection of the CC now is not really a good idea. Most members of the community are still unsure about how serious they can take the TDF stuff. Maybe in half a year when everyone at least has a basic idea what TDF turns out to be.
    @Just Sean: For marketing there are two products now: OOo and LO. It makes no sense to marketing for both. For code you could in theory contribute to both, but TDF is very hostile rallying against OOos contribution procedures. In a way code contributors can be part of both projects: Simply stay with OOo, your contributions will end in both projects.
    @Merk, plino: Actually, the first thing that was patched in LO was a patch that was indeed lying around in the bugtracker for years. It was assigned to thb@openoffice.org, who has commit rights in OOo since ages, but never fixed it there. So why was it suddenly possible in LO? And thb@… not really to blame there, he likely just had so much work in OOo elsewhere. To handle everything in the bugtrackers you need hardcore developers and many of them. Some cleanup of comments is nice, but if you can there are so many things to fix that is much more important. Your point about the StarDivision guys being elitists is not really to hitting the mark. Some of those guys do not live and breathe “open source”, but simply contribute to the product without much interaction with the community outside. However, these contributions still are the major part of the visible and invisible changes to OOo (and LO too, BTW) and very hard to replace without a major sponsor.

  14. werner Says:

    I think it’s very good to renew also the Oo programmers. The program didn’t go more good forwards in the last years, ignoring the users. Let the old inventary with oracle and LibO goef forwards with renewed spirit

  15. links for 2010-10-25 | philipoakley.org Says:

    […] Safe as Milk » Blog Archive » Oracle, OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice There has been a lot of commentary in recent days about the OpenOffice.org community council decision to ask people who have aligned themselves with The Document Foundation (TDF) to resign their seats on the council. So, of course, what we need is a little bit more commentary. (tags: libreoffice openoffice) […]

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  17. Bernard Swiss Says:

    It would appear that “the community” is rather dissatisfied with the management of OOo, and the Oracle issue was the last straw in provoking a fork.

    So they’ve set up a “competing” organization, to try and fix the ongoing problems caused by the old guard retaining excessive control.

    However, the TDF people appear to to making a strong effort to leave the door open for the old StarDivision/Oracle coterie to continue high-level participation, in a manner that allows this “old guard” to retain some influence and especially to save face.

    But for this to work, the StarDivision/Oracle guy’s have to admit (if only to themselves) that certain changes are overdue, and cooperate with the transition. Otherwise, they will lose both their influence and face.

  18. Sam Says:

    Merk wrote:
    http://wiki.services.openoffice.org/wiki/Community_Council_Log_20101014
    Did you see hdu’s repeated taunting in the Minutes of the IRC meeting? More than once he ‘haha-ed’, and repeated several times Janik’s message.

    Huh? Did you mean mhu as the guy teasing Janik? There is no one named hdu mentioned in the council log. Getting two out of three letters right is better than nothing I guess but usually not sufficient.

  19. foo Says:

    @Sam: Indeed. Since hdu and mhu are both Oracle developers on OpenOffice.org I suspect Merk got only half the facts right before starting to troll (Michael Meeks is that you? ;D)

    mhu might indeed come across a bit unfortunate to outsiders here, but that is likely just a bit of passion. You will see the same when discussing technical issues with him. However, I expect the members of the CC to know how to take it.

    @Bernard Swiss about “leave the door open for the old guard”: The members of the “old guard” do not make the decision on stepping trough open doors as individuals — Oracle does, because Oracle pays. So it does not make any difference at all if the “Oracle guys” admit failures to themselves or the world. If TDF wants the “old guard” active on the project, they need to find someone to pay for them or they need to find terms that suit Oracle, when they expect them to keep paying for the contributors.

  20. C. Whitman Says:

    There are many different factors involved here, but basically there is one big problem blocking the projects from re-merging.

    Oracle, and Sun before them, have been using OpenOffice.org as a basis for an open core project. They are using OpenOffice.org as a basis for StarOffice/Oracle Open Office. In order for them to do this, contributions to the code have to have their copyrights signed over to Sun/Oracle. The Document Foundation, with LibreOffice, does not have this requirement (of course, since they are not affiliated with Sun/Oracle). So as code enters LibreOffice which does not have an Oracle copyright, it becomes impossible for OpenOffice.org to use that code.

    Of course, the impossibility is due to policy and the existence of Oracle Open Office, not directly for any legal reason. If Oracle decided to drop Oracle Open Office, or could make it open source (impossible as long as parts of it are licensed from other companies), or was ready to give up using new versions of OpenOffice.org as a basis for new versions of it, then the projects could be re-merged.

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  22. Bradley D. Thornton Says:

    Within the confines of the OOo/LO community, this was perhaps the best article I’ve seen on the topic – a ‘think piece’, indeed :)

    Yet beyond the walls of what might be claimed, “A Mutiny”, there’s a much larger dreadnought making headway through the deep blue sea, and no one out here in the real world knows what the admirals’ orders actually are.

    hm…

    Let’s see now. We have MariaDB – good stuff, just make sure to uninstall MySQL first ;)

    We have LibreOffice. I suppose I’ll eventually feel as comfortable typing that out as I currently find OpenOffice.org to spew from my fingertips when advocating OOo.

    Who knows what’s going to happen w/OpenSolaris, or the fork effort there. Many folks question the validity of taking it forward, what with all the Linux distros and BSD variants and such, but when it comes right down to it. There are process controls that simply don’t exist and probably never will in Linux or BSD that are part of Bill Joy’s core architecture of this most preferred and darling incarnation of SunOs.

    There’s been a completely community driven flavor of Java for some time now, although I suspect that if Oracle makes a wrong turn on that avenue it may REALLY take off.

    Solaris itself. I’m just too sad to say anything about that, except that I actually have the last shrinkwrapped version shipped as Solaris 10, and a library of the updates (on the presumption they won’t be available much longer).

    Sun Solaris, Sun SunOS. It makes sense thematically. But Oracle Solaris? We might be seeing “Oracle Diviner” soon, eh?

    And I’m sooo glad that I have a revision library of VirtualBox too – it didn’t take even a month before Oracle rescinded Sun’s free Solaris license – and that was what we thought was going to keep Sun Microsystems on the map.

    Bye Bye Sun4U… bye bye…

    We’ll miss you Sun :(