There is a fascinating interview over on The H with Michael Meeks, who works at Novell on OpenOffice.org development. It would be wrong to call OpenOffice.org unsuccessful: it is a solid product that forms a viable alternative to Microsoft Office in many scenarios. Nevertheless, it has not disrupted the Microsoft Office market as much as perhaps could have been expected; and Meeks explains what may be the reasons – tight control by Sun (now Oracle) and a bureaucratic approach to project management that has stifled the enthusiasm of the open source community.
Contributors to OpenOffice.org are required to sign over copyright, which is a big ask if you are giving it freely. While Meeks does not say that the trust of contributors has been abused, he does say that that there is a lack of transparency and reassurance, specifically concerning IBM’s Symphony which is based on OpenOffice.org:
In some places they do feed stuff back. We see their changes, but parts of Symphony are not open source, and we don’t have the code for them, and interestingly, there is no source code available so far as I am aware of the version of OO.o that IBM is shipping inside their product, so clearly they’re not shipping this under the LGPLv3. IBM have a fairly public antipathy towards the GPL unfortunately, and as a consequence you have to wonder what terms are they shipping OpenOffice under – and as there is a lot of my code in there, not only my code but Novell’s code and a lot of other people’s code, you have to wonder ‘What were the terms and what was the deal? That’s a shame, and would really help improve the transparency and confidence in Sun’s stewardship around these things. The code was assigned to Sun, and I have no doubt there is no legal problem at all, but a lot of people have assigned their code to Sun in good faith, believing them to be good stewards. Maybe they are but its impossible to tell without knowing the terms under which third parties are shipping the code.
Meeks says that the Oracle takeover is an opportunity for things to get better. Even if you like Microsoft Office you should hope that it does, since a strong OpenOffice puts pressure on the competition to keep prices down and product development up. Further, Microsoft has no plans for Office on Linux that I know of – unless you count Office Web Apps.