OpenOffice.org developers move to break ties with Oracle

Developers of OpenOffice.org have created a new foundation and a new brand, LibreOffice, to promote the software suite

Some developers of the OpenOffice.org desktop productivity suite announced a break from Oracle on Tuesday, introducing a new name for the project and establishing a new foundation to guide its future.

They will distribute a version of the open-source office productivity suite under the name "LibreOffice," under the purview of an independent organization called The Document Foundation.

The move underscores the tensions between the open-source community and Oracle over open-source projects such as OpenOffice.org and the free database application MySQL that were managed by Sun Microsystems before its acquisition by Oracle.

OpenOffice.org is an outgrowth of the StarOffice suite made by the German company StarDivision. Sun bought StarDivision in 1999 and launched OpenOffice.org -- based on StarOffice -- in 2000.

Oracle completed its acquisition of Sun earlier this year and has dedicated developers to OpenOffice.org. But members of the OpenOffice.org community haven't been happy despite Oracle's release of two stable versions of the software since taking control of the project.

There was a feeling that Oracle regarded the community as "more part of the problem" than the solution, said Charles H. Schulz, a project lead for worldwide language development for OpenOffice.org and a member of its community board.

Schulz said he doesn't consider LibreOffice a fork of OpenOffice.org but rather a continuation of the original project. LibreOffice is now available for download on the The Document Foundation's new Web site.

Oracle is not an automatic member of the new foundation, but has been invited to participate.

The Document Foundation has asked Oracle if it can used the trademark for OpenOffice.org. If Oracle says no, then the new name of the office suite will stay, Schulz said.

"We are very happy if Oracle wants to work with us on the trademark but failing that we have LibreOffice, Schulz said.

Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Oracle owns the copyright to the code for OpenOffice.org, but that code is also under a free software license which gives others the right to modify and distribute it, Schulz said.

The foundation said its launch has received broad support from other companies with a stake in open-source software: it lists among its supporters Google, Red Hat, and Canonical, which develops the Ubuntu open-source operating system. Canonical said it will ship OpenLibre with future releases of Ubuntu.

But what remains to be seen is whether the project leaders for applications such as Writer and Calc -- which directly compete with office applications from Microsoft such as Word and Excel -- will continue in their same positions. Many of those people still have Oracle or Sun e-mail addresses.

The challenge for The Document Foundation will be to grow a diverse group of contributors for the project and continue to develop LibreOffice in a way that distinguishes it from other products, wrote Rob Weir, an ODF (Open Document Format) architect with IBM, on his personal blog.

"The key milestone, I think, will be if someday the Document Foundation can claim a headcount of developers that equals or exceeds that which Oracle has working on OpenOffice.org," Weir wrote. "In the end code talks, and developers write code."

The establishment of a foundation for OpenOffice.org was long overdue, however, wrote Andrew Updegrove, an attorney who founded ConsortiumInfo.org, a website that covers standards.

OpenOffice.org became the most successful competitor to Microsoft's Office franchise over the last 10 years, but Sun maintained too much control over it, Updegrove wrote. Other companies might have contributed more personnel and funding.

"The bad news is that in the same time period the OpenOffice suite could have become so much more," he wrote.

An IBM spokeswoman based in the Netherlands said the company views the latest move as another way to promote collaboration around open standards, including further adoption of the ODF document format. IBM's Symphony office productivity suite is based on OpenOffice.org technology.

The Document Foundation said it will continue to use ODF and hopes to drive its further use in government organizations and enterprises. Microsoft's Office software is compatible with ODF, but the company has advocated use of its own latest document format, Office Open XML (OOXML).

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) approved ISO/IEC DIS 29500, the official name for the OOXML specification, as a standard in August 2008.

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