Apache Software Foundation announces release plans and IP concerns for OpenOffice.org

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Yesterday The Apache Software Foundation Blog posted "Open Letter to the Open Document Format Ecosystem" regarding the current state and future of OpenOffice.org, an open source project that has had a challenging year. Both it and LibreOffice released their 3.3 versions in January. Then in April, Oracle announced it would no longer offer commercial support for OpenOffice.org. In June, Oracle donated OpenOffice.org to The Apache Software Foundation.

In the second half of the year, OpenOffice.org (now Apache OpenOffice.org) progressed in the Apache incubation process, while LibreOffice released version 3.4 and will have the first bug-hunting sessions for 3.5 before the year is out. Fedora, Ubuntu, openSUSE, and other Linux distributions now use LibreOffice as their default office suite.

The six months since Oracle gave the OpenOffice.org code base to The Apache Software Foundation haven't answered many of the questions about what would be next for the project. This week's letter didn't finish answering all of them, but it did give us a timeline for the next steps for OpenOffice.org.

The letter focused largely on the intellectual property changes. OpenOffice.org entered Apache incubation in June, and OpenOffice.org 3.4 is tentatively slated for release in early 2012. This won't be a feature release, but a release for compliance with Apache IP policies under the Apache License 2.0.

In the letter, they write:

In such a large ecosystem it is impossible to agree upon a single vision for all participants, Apache OpenOffice does not seek to define a single vision, nor does it seek to be the only player. Instead we seek to offer a neutral and powerful collaboration opportunity.

The permissive Apache License 2.0 reduces restrictions on the use and distribution of our code and thus facilitates a diverse contributor and user base for the benefit of the whole Open Document Format ecosystem. Within an Apache project it is possible to rise above political, social and commercial differences in the pursuit of maximally effective implementations of freely available open standards and related software tools.

A note in the final lines of the letter stating "we wish to make it clear that no third party has been given approval to solicit donations of any kind on behalf of the Apache Software Foundation or any of its projects" suggests concern about a possible third player in the game for open source office software.

Team OpenOffice.org is a German non-profit that previously organized the OpenOffice.org Conference. They today announced release candidate "White Label Office 3.3.1," a maintenance release for OpenOffice.org. The naming choice was because, "Team OpenOffice.org and the ASF could not reach an agreement for a shared usage," the project writes in its FAQ.

Will the splintered office suite contributors come back together? Aanalyst Stephen O'Grady of RedMonk is quoted in a JavaWorld article, "[When] two codebases spring from the same roots and yet are competing for the same users and asymmetrically licensed, there is bound to be friction over contributions, usage and more. Efforts to bridge the two projects [LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org] have not been successful."

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Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and parenting.

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