Tag Archives: openoffice

OpenOffice moving to Apache; next step reunification with LibreOffice

Oracle has announced that it is contributing the OpenOffice.org code, the source for the free productivity suite that competes with Microsoft Office, to the Apache Software Foundation’s Incubator:

Incubation is the first step for a project to be considered among the diverse Open Source initiatives overseen by the ASF. A submitted project and its community will join the more than 50 projects in the Apache Incubator, and will benefit from the Foundation’s widely-emulated meritocratic process, stewardship, outreach, support, community events, and guiding principles that are affectionately known as "The Apache Way".

Everybody love the Apache Foundation so this is good news for the future of the project, though the Document Foundation, formed by renegade OpenOffice.org contributors fed up with Oracle’s stewardship, says the event is neutral from their perspective. The Document Foundation welcomes the ability to reuse code that will now but under the Apache License, but adds:

The Document Foundation would welcome the reuniting of the OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice projects into a single community of equals in the wake of the departure of Oracle. The step Oracle has taken today was no doubt taken in good faith, but does not appear to directly achieve this goal. The Apache community, which we respect enormously, has very different expectations and norms – licensing, membership and more – to the existing OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice projects. We regret the missed opportunity but are committed to working with all active community members to devise the best possible future for LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org.

It seems inevitable that the two projects will be reunited, and it seems that dialogue has already begun:

TDF is therefore willing to start talking with Apache Software Foundation, following the email from ASF President Jim Jagielski, who is anticipating frequent contacts between the Apache Software Foundation and The Document Foundation over the next few months.

A curious story, but one that seems likely to end in a good way. IBM, which is a big supporter of the ODF XML document formats used in OpenOffice, is welcoming the move:

Over the long-term, we plan to work with other Apache contributors to extend the vision of productivity beyond documents. We are learning much more about the semantic web through our additional work on LotusLive Symphony, and the vision in the research and lab teams has to extend productivity into new realms. Meanwhile, the Apache community can be expected to accelerate adoption of ODF as a primary set of document formats, and to drive ODF compatibility in other products and solutions in the future.

says Ed Brill. It is good to read about new approaches to productivity, because this has been a weakness in OpenOffice which is sometimes perceived a a kind of inferior-but-free equivalent to Microsoft Office. In the meantime, Microsoft has worked to make its own suite more distinctive, to defend a territory that accounts for a significant share of its profits. The ribbon user interface is part of that strategy, but more significant is its integration with SharePoint, and the emergence of Office Open XML as a unifying format for editing documents in desktop Office and within the browser using Office Web Apps.

Unifying the open source teams behind OpenOffice and getting it away from Oracle are both important steps towards making the project more compelling.

Oracle says OpenOffice non-strategic, ceases commercial versions. Time to reunite with Libre Office?

The OpenOffice story has taken a curious turn today with Oracle announcing that it intends to cease the commercial versions of this office suite and to move the project a non-commercial organisation.

What the press release does not say is that there is already a non-commercial organisation working on the OpenOffice code. The Document Foundation was formed  in September 2010 against Oracle’s wishes. This online OpenOffice meeting shows some of the tensions:

(21:59:42) louis_to: your role in the Document Foundation and LibreOffice makes your role as a representative in the OOo CC untenable and impossible
(22:00:01) Andreas_UX: I would support that. I think that the more we discuss the more we will harden the fronts
(22:00:17) louis_to: it causes confusion, it is a plain conflict of interest, as TDF split from OOo

In this dialog, louis_to is Louis Suárez-Potts who works at Oracle as OpenOffice.org community manager.

Oracle’s Edward Screven, Chief Corporate Architect, says in the new press release:

We believe the OpenOffice.org project would be best managed by an organization focused on serving that broad constituency on a non-commercial basis. We intend to begin working immediately with community members to further the continued success of Open Office.

Why is Oracle distancing itself from OpenOffice? The implication is that it is non-strategic and not broadly adopted among Oracle customers, because these two factors are given as reasons for continuing with Linux and MySQL:

We will continue to make large investments in open source technologies that are strategic to our customers including Linux and MySQL. Oracle is focused on Linux and MySQL because both of these products have won broad based adoption among commercial and government customers.

The question now: will Oracle try to set up an independent foundation to compete with the Document Foundation? Or will there be a reconciliation, which would seem the only sensible way forward?

Background: OpenOffice was originally a commercial suite called Star Office. It was bought by Sun and made free and open source in an attempt to loosen Microsoft’s hold on business computing. While OpenOffice has been popular, in the business world OpenOffice has had little impact on the success of Windows and Office. That said, it is possible that Microsoft’s development of the Office Ribbon and the huge effort behind Office 2007 was partly driven by a desire to differentiate and improve its product in response to the OpenOffice competition.

Open season for patent litigation makes case for reform

It seems to be open season for software patent litigation. Oracle is suing Google over its use of Java in Android. Paul Allen’s Interval Licensing is suing AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Yahoo and others – the Wall Street Journal has an illustrated discussion of the patents involved here. Let’s not forget that Apple is suing HTC and that Nokia is suing Apple (and being counter-sued).

What’s next? I was reminded of this post by former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. He confirms the supposition that large tech companies refrain from litigation – or at least, litigate less than they might, refrain is too strong a word right now – because they recognize that while they may have valid claims against others, they also most likely infringe on patents held by others.

The gist of Schwartz’s post is that Microsoft approached Sun with the claim that OpenOffice, owned by Sun, infringes on patents held by Microsoft thanks to its work on MIcrosoft Office:

Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.”

Sun’s retort was in relation to Java and .NET:

“We’ve looked at .NET, and you’re trampling all over a huge number of Java patents. So what will you pay us for every copy of Windows?”

following which everything went quiet. The value of .NET to Microsoft is greater than the value of OpenOffice to Sun or Oracle.

Oracle, however, seems more willing to litigate than Sun; and I doubt it cares much about OpenOffice. Might we see this issue reappear?

That said, Microsoft also has a large bank of patents; and who knows, some of them might be brought to bear against Java in the event of legislative war.

The risk though is that if everyone litigates, the industry descends into a kind of nuclear winter which paralyses everyone. Companies like Interval Licensing, which seemingly exist solely to profit from patents, have no incentive to hold back.

Can any good come of this? Well, increasing software patent chaos might bring some benefit, if it forces countries like the USA to legislate in order to fix the broken patent system.

Protecting intellectual property is good; but against that you have to weigh the potential damage to competition and innovation from these energy-sapping lawsuits.

We need patent reform now.

Novell’s Michael Meeks downbeat on OpenOffice.org project

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.

Office Web Apps better then Open Office for .docx on Linux

I’ve been reviewing Office and SharePoint 2010, and trying out Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, so I thought I would put the two together with a small experiment.

I borrowed a document from Microsoft’s press materials for Office 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, they are in .doc format, not the Open XML .docx that was introduced in Office 2007. That didn’t suit my purposes, so I converted it to .docx using Save As in Office 2010.


Then I stuck it on SharePoint 2010.

Next, I downloaded it to Ubuntu and opened it in Open Office. It was not a complete disaster, but the formatting was badly messed up.

Finally, still in Ubuntu, I navigated to SharePoint and viewed the same document there. It looked fine.

Even better, I was able to click Edit in Browser, make changes, and save. The appearance is not quite WYSIWYG in edit mode, but is the same as in IE on Windows.

The exercise illustrates two points. One is that Open Office is not a good choice for working with Open XML – incidentally, the document looked fine when opened in the old binary .doc format. The other is that SharePoint 2010 and Office Web Apps will have real value on mixed networks suffering from document compatibility issues with Office and its newer formats.

Microsoft accused of failure to observe Open XML standards process

XML specialist Alex Brown, who was involved in the ISO standardisation of Microsoft’s Open XML – still perhaps best known as OOXML – says Microsoft has failed to honour the commitments it made when the standard was approved. In particular, it seems little progress has been made between Office 2007 and Office 2010. The key problem is that Microsoft implemented Open XML before it was standardised. There were numerous changes made during the standardisation process, but what to do about the existing implementation? Loosely, the existing unacceptable format was given a “Transitional” status, while the more satisfactory, corrected format was called “Strict”. Microsoft promised to implement the “Strict” variant as soon as it could. Brown adds:

I was convinced at the time, and remain convinced today, that the division of OOXML into Strict and Transitional variants was the innovation which allowed the Standard to pass. Enough National Bodies could then vote in good conscience for OOXML knowing that their preferred, Strict, variant would be under their control into the future while the Transitional variant (which – remember – they had effectively rejected in 2007) would remain purely for the purpose of accurately specifying old documents: a useful aim in itself.

It is now two years since Open XML was approved, and Microsoft is on the brink of releasing a new version of Office. So does Office 2010 implement Open XML Strict? Apparently not – it’s the Transitional version. That is bad enough; worse still, according to Brown, it does not even conform correctly to that:

It is also a worrying commentary on the standards-savvyness of the Office developers that the first amateur attempts of part-time outsiders find problems with documents which Redmond’s internal QA processes have missed. I confidently predict that fuller validation of Office document is likely to reveal many problems both with those documents, and with the Standard itself, over the coming years.

Note that Brown is basing his remarks on the preview of Office 2010; we have not seen the final release yet. I can believe that Microsoft may fix some issues, but it looks vanishingly unlikely that Office 2010 will implement the “Strict” standard which ISO approved.

Brown’s remarks shed light on something I noticed when reviewing the preview:

As for Open XML, it’s notable that Microsoft neglects to mention it at all in its Reviewer’s Guide, even though this is supposedly the release that will fully implement ISO/IEC 29500. It is odd how this has gone from a cause to campaign for, to not-worth-mentioning in just over a year. To be fair, few users ever cared about XML formats themselves: it is only when documents get scrambled or fail to open that such things become important.

No wonder Microsoft said nothing about it, if in reality it has lost interest in conformance.

I think it is a good thing for Microsoft to standardise its Office formats. Selfish manipulation of standards committees on the other hand is not acceptable. One thing is for sure: if Brown is right and

without a change of direction, the entire OOXML project is now surely heading for failure.

then the company will only have itself to blame. Its nightmare will re-emerge: entire governments mandating OpenOffice for the sake of  standards conformance.

That said, and despite the hype, I regard Office 2010 as a minor release. 64-bit Excel, a few tweaks, and a first foray into browser-hosted versions. Microsoft often displays this pattern, following up a release with major changes – Office 2007, for example – with one that is really just a refinement of what went before. It is not impossible that somewhere in the corridors of Redmond a team is working on a new Office that does a much better job with the Open XML standard.

Over to Microsoft – serious about Open XML? Or just doing the minimum necessary to protect a lucrative market dominance – maybe a bit less than the minimum?

Update: Microsoft’s Doug Mahugh has replied to Brown’s comments here. I am writing separately about this.