Oracle Corp. (ORCL) has announced [press
release] that it will stop developing the free OpenOffice.org (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
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
So how did we get here?
I. Sun Frees StarOffice
The roots of OpenOffice.org (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
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 OpenOffice.org
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 OpenOffice.org 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 OpenOffice.org 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 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. 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
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
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
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
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
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
quote: Something so minor could have significant consequences.