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OpenOffice is replaced by LibreOffice, a vendor-neutral product overseen by the Document Foundation. The project has key corporate contributors, including Red Hat and Google.  (Source: Linux Software News)

Larry Ellison tried to maintain control of OpenOffice by kicking supporters of LibreOffice off the OO Community Council. He was defeated, though, when most of the remaining developers quit the OO project. Losing cash, Oracle decided to give in and free OpenOffice.  (Source: Getty Images)
Oracle kills its support of OOo project, OOo will continue on as a vendor-neutral branch -- LibreOffice

Oracle Corp. (ORCL) has announced [press release] that it will stop developing the free (oOo) suite.  

The news follows Oracle's clash with key community contributors of the project over their decision to fork OpenOffice, creating a vendor-neutral distribution dubbed "LibreOffice".

At first blush Oracle's decision may seem like a victory for the company, but in reality it is a major defeat for the business software giant.  Oracle fought to make itself king of the OpenOffice project, but the community rebelled, abandoning support.  Seeing the project fall into the red, Oracle was forced to pull the plug on one of Sun Microsystems' most attractive products.

So how did we get here?

I. Sun Frees StarOffice

The roots of (OOo) trace back to a German office company StarDivision AG.  StarDivision made an office suite called StarOffice, which was little known in the U.S.

At the time Microsoft had virtually crushed its word processing rivals -- WordPerfect and the Apple-exclusive MacWrite -- and its spreadsheet rivals -- Quattro, Lotus 1-2-3, and Apple-exclusives (like Wingz and Resolve) [source].  By 1999, Microsoft owned over 90 percent of the office software market -- a virtual monopoly.

Then in 1999 Sun Microsystems, Inc. purchased StarDivision.  With version 5.2 it began offering the suite for free.  The following year it made an even bigger decision -- it was rebranding the suite as "OpenOffice" and would publish the source under the GNU Lesser General Public License(LGPL) and the Sun Industry Standards Source License (SISSL).

Sun founded a community group called the OpenOffice Community Council that helped it make important decisions on the project, and even contributed code to the work in progress.  This alliance would grow to include significant corporate contributors, including Novell, Inc. (NOVL), Red Hat, Inc. (RHT), International Business Machines' (IBM), Google Inc. (GOOG), and others.

The project took a little while to get going.  The website launched in October 2000, but the first major version of the software -- OOo 1.0 -- didn't launch until May 2002 for Windows and Linux.  A Mac version launched a year later in June 2003.

The program was written in a mix of C++ code and Sun's own Java code.

In September 2003 OOo 1.1 was released with what would become one of the suite's key advantages over Microsoft Office -- export to PDF.  

In September 2005, Sun and the OpenOffice Community Council agreed to ditch the SISSL license and exclusively license under the LGPL.  Then in October 2005 OOo 2.0 was released to the public.  And in October 2008 version 3.0 was released to the public.

II. Oracle Snatches Up Sun

Then in April 2009 a fortuitous agreement was announced.  Oracle would buy Sun for $7.4B USD.  The deal was completed in January 2010.  

With it, the future of the suite was called into question.

But Oracle promised to play nicely, telling its users and its fellow corporate contributors that its new division would continue to lead the development of the suite.  Since then, two minor versions -- OOo 3.1 in Feb. 2010 and OOo 3.2 in January of this year -- were released.

But fears of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's heavy-handed tactics proved prophetic.  Last Friday Oracle released a quiet announcement that it would no longer be participating in OOo development.

The company wrote:

Oracle Corporation today is announcing its intention to move to a purely community-based open source project and to no longer offer a commercial version of Open Office.

Edward Screven, Oracle's Chief Corporate Architect, writes, "Given the breadth of interest in free personal productivity applications and the rapid evolution of personal computing technologies, we believe the 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. Oracle will continue to strongly support the adoption of open standards-based document formats, such as the Open Document Format (ODF)."

The move won't kill the project, but it will significantly changes it as it marks the end of major dedicated Sun support for the project.

III. Why'd Oracle Decide to Let OOo Go?

By 2010, the OOo project had succeeded in one of its key goals -- it had taken a significant amount of market share from Microsoft Office.  According to an estimate by Valve Corp. in July 2010, 14.63 percent of users used OpenOffice.  Other numbers pointed to 9 percent of users in the U.S. employing the suite and up to 20 percent in some European nations using it [source].

Yet, for all that success the project was facing insurrection in its ranks of key contributors.

Friction in the OOo project had been mounting for years, even as the project picked up steam.  Sun was perceived as a bit of a dictator when it came to cooperating with contributors to help them get patents on their ideas.  It also often forced contributors through lengthy code reviews that were perceived as inefficient by some.

Contributors were also upset that Sun (and later Oracle) made many decisions against the OO Community Council's recommendations or without contacting the Council.

In September 2010, those frustrations boiled over, with key contributors founding a new council dubbed the Document Foundation, and branching the OpenOffice project to form a new codebase dubbed "LibreOffice" (from the French word for freedom/liberty "libre").

The new codebase's chief goal was to continue the OOo's core goal of creating quality third-party office software, while transforming the project into a vendor-neutral effort.  The idea received support from former OOo corporate loyalists like Novell, Red Hat, Google, Canonical, and others.

Oracle did not take kindly to the TDF's plans of a "vendor-neutral" branch.  It sought to eject TDF supporters from their roles in the OpenOffice project.  OpenOffice contributors did not roll over.  They met Oracle's strong-handed tactics with active rebellion.  

The community essentially quit the OOo project, focusing their efforts on LibreOffice.

IV. OOo is Dead, Long Live LibreOffice

While Sun always took the lead in OOo development, the community contributed major chunks of code to it as well.  As the software was free, solely financed by a handful of ads and donations, the community was always the key to keeping the project financially tenable.

With the community abandoning OOo, Oracle had no choice, but to throw in the towel.  While the decision may sound, at first glance, like Oracle "won" and controlled its fate, in reality it is the TDF who proved victorious.

With the death of OpenOffice, LibreOffice lives on, inheriting its legacy.  

LibreOffice 3.3.2 can be downloaded here.  And you can find Beta 1 of the next minor release, 3.4 here.

LibreOffice, like OpenOffice before it, is heavily funded by donations.  If you use the software or support the project's goals, you are encouraged to donate.  You can also get involved with contributing code here.


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Winner is microsoft
By Slaimus on 4/18/2011 10:35:48 AM , Rating: 2
The real winner here is Microsoft. Now the only other commercially supported (by a sizable corporation) alternative is gone.

The Novell alliance has really paid dividends for Microsoft.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By Motoman on 4/18/2011 11:05:46 AM , Rating: 2
You mean besides IBM Lotus Symphony? Or Corel WordPerfect Office?

Sure, Corel isn't anywhere near the leagues of IBM or Oracle...but they're not exactly a small company either - especially in the software world.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By Ammohunt on 4/18/2011 1:56:11 PM , Rating: 3
Lotus Symphony? does anyone besides IBM and mainframe shops still run Lotus <shiver>.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By kitonne on 4/18/2011 2:26:39 PM , Rating: 2
140K people still working for my last employer are stuck with Lotus Notes 6.5 as the CIO decided to skip the upgrade fees and keep what worked in place. Last I've heard they were upgrading to 8.x, due to complete before 2012....

RE: Winner is microsoft
By Skywalker123 on 4/18/2011 5:18:51 PM , Rating: 2
People still use WordPerfect?

RE: Winner is microsoft
By rcc on 4/18/2011 6:10:07 PM , Rating: 4
Evidently a large part of the legal world does.

I'm not sure that says anything good about either one though.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By Motoman on 4/19/2011 4:10:42 PM , Rating: 2
For the price you can get it for, it's a vastly better deal that MS Works - let alone the atrociously priced MS Office.

...although, it's hard to argue against free OO/Lotus Symphony at that point.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By JasonMick on 4/18/11, Rating: -1
RE: Winner is microsoft
By kitonne on 4/18/2011 1:13:44 PM , Rating: 5
Loss of commercial support is a biggie. Many corporations will not use a free product because of lack of support, and it looks like right now you cannot purchase support for LibreOffice from a known company, like Sun/Oracle.

Corporations need training and somebody to call when things go wrong, and are willing to pay for it.

Hope somebody will pick up the ball - a revenue stream is on the table, with Oracle bailing out, but it needs to happen yesterday. Without a source of paid support some existing users may go back to Microsoft, and it would be a shame, as LibreOffice looks better then Open Office in my ad-hoc Excel compatibility tests (some color change / retention after save issues went away).

Novell, Google, etc. are supporting the project with contributions (both $$$ and code) but as far as I know they are not offering end-user paid support, as Sun used to do. If I am wrong, PLEASE provide some links - Thank you!

RE: Winner is microsoft
By Ammohunt on 4/18/2011 2:01:15 PM , Rating: 2
Give it some time a company that supports other FOSS software will pick up LibreOffice. While i agree somewhat corporate support as it applies to critical infrastructure like an operating system or database sfotware i feel its less of a problem with an office suite.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By kitonne on 4/18/2011 2:22:47 PM , Rating: 2
Hope you are right and somebody steps in soon to offer support. I have seen in a lot of places Office (mostly MS Office) tightly integrated into document and office work flows (from conference room reservations to time cards). There is a lot of ad-hoc developed code, most of it as macros, which can bring things like executive reports (even payroll or billing) to a standstill when they stop working as expected due to an update or just a new data pattern.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By Ammohunt on 4/18/2011 2:56:33 PM , Rating: 2
Due to people attempting to use spreadsheets as relational databases? i hear you but with good programing practice,code control, documentation and QA alot of the support headache can be mitigated. MS Office used as groupware has no equal/rival. OOO/LibreOffice used as a stand alone office suite as compared to MS Office is pretty strong.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By JasonMick on 4/18/2011 2:07:30 PM , Rating: 2
Loss of commercial support is a biggie. Many corporations will not use a free product because of lack of support, and it looks like right now you cannot purchase support for LibreOffice from a known company, like Sun/Oracle.

Again, I wouldn't call this "loss of commercial support". I would consider this "loss of Oracle's commercial support". As I said LibreOffice is still very much supported by BIG coporations such as Google.

Corporations need training and somebody to call when things go wrong, and are willing to pay for it.

That's true.

However, I'm willing to wager TDF members including Novell and Google will elect to offer such services for LibreOffice, in lieu of Oracle's decision.

Granted such efforts have not yet been announced, but the whole LibreOffice project is just getting rolling.

Hope somebody will pick up the ball - a revenue stream is on the table, with Oracle bailing out, but it needs to happen yesterday. Without a source of paid support some existing users may go back to Microsoft, and it would be a shame, as LibreOffice looks better then Open Office in my ad-hoc Excel compatibility tests (some color change / retention after save issues went away).

Again, I wouldn't be quite so pessimistic.

Will OOo/LibreOffice lose some business users in the short term? Sure.

But large corporate distributions of OOo are still a rarity.

Most OOo use is from individuals -- and individuals/small companies are very capable of running LibreOffice without much a learning curve. And there's plenty of documentation for the new suite to help them out in that regard.

Ultimately, this is a transition period, and like any, it will have its pains. But I wouldn't be all gloom and doom about LibreOffice.

It DOES have corporate support and ultimately one or more of those players will likely step up to offer purchasable training, installation, and product support services.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By vignyan on 4/18/2011 2:16:57 PM , Rating: 4
I am really surprised that people even consider OOo as a competition to Microsoft Office... I run a Ubuntu 10.04 and have a Windows 7 VM just for the Office suite... I mean, c'mon... really, compare?

RE: Winner is microsoft
By kitonne on 4/18/2011 2:49:19 PM , Rating: 1

RE: Winner is microsoft
By JediJeb on 4/18/2011 6:13:04 PM , Rating: 4
If you are an advertising firm then MS Office may be the best choice, but for small businesses that only need word processing for memos and correspondence and spread sheets to do basic calculations why would they spend so much on MS Office when they can get OOo for free? With MS going to charging on per processor and per core basis it makes even more sense to get away from them.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By TheMadAlchemist on 4/18/2011 2:49:22 PM , Rating: 2
Novell has offered support for OO.o for ages and continue to do so for LibreOffice. Please check out this url for what is offered:

and this url for what it costs:

So, you are welcome.

RE: Winner is microsoft
By kitonne on 4/18/2011 2:53:34 PM , Rating: 2
Thank you! Price seems fair (list price, I would expect significant volume discounts).

RE: Winner is microsoft
By Slaimus on 4/18/2011 4:09:06 PM , Rating: 2
LibreOffice is commercially supported by Google, Novell, Red Hat, and others. I would say Google is a pretty "sizeable" corporation, wouldn't you agree?

The difference is that the project will no longer be controlled by a single corporation.

OpenOffice was always heavily driven by volunteer coding. Sun just steered the ship and forged through tricky parts of the coding. Expect the corporate members of TDF to play a similar role with LibreOffice.

What I see a case of "Embrace, extend and extinguish" by proxy.

MS Office is a Microsoft cash cow, so they seeded Novell to take them down.

Embrace - Novell joined as a top level contributor on.

Extend - Novell then started trying cause friction by adding support for Microsoft's Office Open XML, and creating a separate fork under and making that the default version in SUSE Linux as well as encouraging other distros to do so.

Extinguish - Finally, when the separate Go-OO group got enough momentum to separate itself, it did. That took down the original project, and with Novell in the driver seat on the direction of the new project. I can bet LibreOffice will have no clashes with Microsoft in the future.

Watch, I can already see stripping out Java and replacing it with .NET/Mono not too far in the horizon for LibreOffice.

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser
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