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LibreOffice: The newest member of the ODF family

By now I’m sure you have all heard the news of the Document Foundation and LibreOffice.  Personally, I’m still sorting this out.  I have good friends, as well as good professional  relations, on both sides of this split.  They’re all “good guys” in my book and I’m proud to have worked with all of them over the years.  I hope we can figure out some way for this collaboration to continue well into the future.  But if forced to take sides, then my loyalties are clearly going to fall to to ODF rather than to any one implementation.  The ODF open standard transcends implementations and code bases.  It is bigger than any one product.  ODF is what enables the user to have choice.

So I am very pleased to read in their press release that the Document Foundation is firmly committed to the ODF standard.  I encourage them to turn those words into actions and to join the OASIS ODF TC and to participate in the ODF Plugfests. As OASIS ODF TC Chair, I extend to them a warm welcome.

Both OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice are open source products under LGPL and like any fork there will initially be little difference between the products.  But the open source communities behind them are very different.   The Document Foundation has announced a more open community.  This increased openness could enable great things, for example a better product, but this is not guaranteed.  The challenge for the Document Foundation will be to take their greater openness and to rapidly grow a diverse membership of talented contributors and to evolve their open source product in a way that distinguishes itself from alternatives — open source and proprietary — on the market today.  The key milestone I think will be if someday the Document Foundation can claim a headcount of developers that equals or exceeds that which Oracle has working on OpenOffice.org.  In the end code talks, and developers write code.

This will be an interesting test of openness in action.  This is as close as we have seen to “twins separated at birth”, a rare but key subject for studying the relative contribution of hereditary and environmental factors on the development of personal traits.  With LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org we have a similar “experiment”, a separation of identical code bases, with the same license, only varying the openness of the community.  However this may turn out we will learn much from it.

On the other hand, I am also mindful that behind every set of twins separated at birth there is a sad story, and science’s gain comes sometime from misfortune.  This is true as well for LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org.  Although we will learn much from the parallel evolution of these two projects, I think it would have been far better if this split had not been necessary, if circumstances had allowed us to all work together on the goals that we, for the most part, all share.

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