Apache asserts OpenOffice stewardship

Despite the LibreOffice fork, the Apache Software Foundation wants to maintain OpenOffice leadership

Despite the growing momentum of the LibreOffice fork of OpenOffice, the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) is urging the community of volunteer developers to rally around the OpenOffice code base as the canonical version of the open source software suite.

The OpenOffice project is now officially an Apache Podling, which is the first step in becoming a full-fledged Apache project, the organization announced Friday. In June, Oracle submitted the OpenOffice.org code base to Apache as a possible project.

"There is ample room for multiple solutions in the marketplace," a statement from the ASF read, while adding that "the way to move this forward is via the ASF, which owns the OpenOffice.org trademark and official code base. This is our chance to be able to pull together our talents towards a cohesive goal and protect the project's ecosystem."

Apache made the announcement on the week of the Document Foundation's LibreOffice conference, taking place this week in Paris.

LibreOffice was created in September 2010, when OpenOffice developers, then worried about Oracle's control of the code base, started the Document Foundation to develop a separate version of the software.

Since its launch, LibreOffice has been widely adopted, and has attracted its own army of developers apart from the OpenOffice effort. The organization estimates that there are now over 25 million LibreOffice users, which can be downloaded for free and comes bundled with many popular Linux distributions such as Ubuntu. Earlier this week, the Document Foundation announced that various agencies of the French government were shifting 500,000 of their desktops from OpenOffice to LibreOffice.

LibreOffice has also attracted the contributions of 270 developers and another 270 localizers, who tweak the program for use in different languages.

When Oracle donated the OpenOffice assets to ASF in June, the Document Foundation asserted that Apache may not have been the best home for the project. "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," a Document Foundation's statement read.

The ASF is now saying that, while its approach is different from the Document Foundation's, it can work well for OpenOffice.

OpenOffice is different from other Apache projects in a number of ways, the ASF admitted. For instance, OpenOffice, in terms of both users and developers, is larger than the typical Apache project. The OpenOffice.org Podling project management committee (PPMC), as well as the number of code submitters, are nearly 10 times greater than those of other projects in the Apache Incubator.

Also, the ASF, which has been active for 12 years, typically oversees projects that serve more technical needs, such as the Apache Web server software, and the Hadoop data analysis platform. OpenOffice, on the other hand, has a wide base of non-technical users. First released in 2001, the software was created as an open source alternative to commercial office suite products, most notably Microsoft Office.

Despite these differences, OpenOffice is a good fit for the ASF, the organization insisted.

"We understand that stakeholders of a project with a 10 [plus] year history--be they former product managers or casual users--may be unfamiliar with The Apache Way and question its methods," the statement read. "Such concerns are not atypical with the incubation of Open Source projects with well established communities--the successful graduation of Apache Subversion and Apache SpamAssassin, among others, are proof that the Apache way works.

Earlier this week, members of the OpenOffice project kicked off a fundraiser to raise the money needed to keep offering the software as a free download. OpenOffice is downloaded an average of 1.5 million times a day, according to the project's maintainers.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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