OpenOffice.org to Apache: What does it mean?June 3, 2011 4:10 pm freesoftware, General
As many have probably heard, Oracle and IBM jointly proposed that OpenOffice.org become an Apache project this week. The news surprised me, and made me think about what’s in it for each of the parties involved.
What does it mean for OpenOffice.org?
Apache project status brings with it a number of prerequisites which will affect the way the OpenOffice.org project runs pretty profoundly. The most obvious one will be a licence change. The copyright holder(s) – in this case Oracle must agree to release the code under the Apache Public Licence. In addition, there is a commitment to certain social norms, and to use the infrastructure provided by the Apache project. The Apache incubation process docs have all the info.
Among the items that need to be checked off before OpenOffice.org graduates to top-level project is a diverse developer base, and non-dependence on one company for support. It will be interesting to see how things evolve on this front in the coming months.
What’s in it for Oracle?
This is easy – Oracle off-loads OpenOffice.org, for which it has no further use, without damaging its relationship with IBM and other commercial OOo partners. They lose any revenues involved, but apparently they were resigned to losing those anyway. So for Oracle this is all up-side.
What’s in it for IBM?
IBM can continue to develop Symphony, with a licence it’s happy with. However, some of the criteria for membership will require IBM to put significant resources into developer and community recruitment, and development. Without Oracle or the LibreOffice supporters, there will be a void to fill. Rob Weir talks about this: “In particular, we need to attract a wide variety of project specialists. This includes C++ programmers (on Linux, Mac and Windows), QA (also on all platforms), help/documentation, UI/UCD, translation/globalization, accessibility, install, etc.”
What’s in it for Apache?
This is the one I really don’t get. The Apache Foundation doesn’t have any irons in the desktop software fire, so this is a departure for them. Somehow the Eclipse Foundation feels like it might have been a better match. Plus, by getting involved in the LibreOffice/OpenOffice war, Apache is running a risk.
But the Apache people I know are all fiercely proud of their open, inclusive and transparent operation – so there is no particular reason for them to reject an application for inclusion as an incubated project. In fact, an outright rejection would have been unprecedented. It remains to be seen whether the project will get through the incubation process, but with the sponsors and mentors involved, it’s likely that it will.
Anyway, the answer to the question right now, as far as I can see, is “not much”. At best, they will prove, if OpenOffice does eventually regain the momentum from LibreOffice, that the APL is better for building community than LGPL.
What does this mean for LibreOffice?
Well, at one level, not much has changed. LibreOffice is “pure” copyleft, and APL 2.0 is a GPL compatible non-copyleft licence, so LibreOffice can continue to integrate patches and features from OpenOffice, but the reverse remains impossible (except now for a different reason).
At another level, a lot has changed. Before this week, LibreOffice could legitimately claim to the the community bazaar project to Oracle’s cathedral. But moving to Apache gives some community cred to OpenOffice. Jeremy Allison’s comment on Rob Weir’s blog sums it up nicely: “This is about copyleft vs. non-copyleft licensing”. Some developers will prefer Apache’s philosophy of “do what you want with it”, and others will prefer the LGPL’s philosophy of “feel free to take, but if you build on it, share”. This is the first time I can think of that we will see Apache and GPL forks of the same project competing head to head for community and commercial developer mindshare. The results will be fascinating.
Inevitably, the project that succeeds in growing the more diverse developer base will win.