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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