Members of the OpenOffice.org community have announced a new foundation to help foster development of the free office suite under a new name, LibreOffice. Dubbed The Document Foundation, the new foundation is designed to provide an "open, independent, and meritocratic" organization for creating a free software office suite.
According to the group's initial press release, the new organization was created "in the belief that an independent foundation is the best fit for the community's core values of openness, transparency, and valuing people for their contribution."
OpenOffice.org started life as StarOffice, a proprietary office suite developed by StarDivision. The company was acquired in 1999 by Sun, and released as open source in 2000. The company also announced a foundation for the project, but some participants complained that the foundation was not independent of Sun nor always acting in the interest of the larger project. OpenOffice.org has been immensely popular among users as free software alternative to Microsoft Office, but many developers were less than enthused by the governance structures of OpenOffice.org as a project and its copyright assignment policies.
The new foundation will be led initially by several project leads and former members of OpenOffice.org's Community Council that make up a steering committee. The steering committee includes André Schnabel, Caolán McNamara, Charles-H. Schulz, Florian Effenberger, Sophie Gautier, Italo Vignoli, Olivier Hallot, and Thorsten Behrens.
Michael Meeks, who has headed up a "branch" of OpenOffice.org (or fork, if you prefer) called Go-oo, is a deputy member of the steering committee for the new foundation. Meeks says that "the time is ripe" for a vendor neutral place to contribute, following Oracle's acquisition of Sun earlier this year. Oracle has been invited to participate in the new Foundation. As of yet, the company has not accepted the invitation.
Many other companies will be participating, however. Meeks says that Novell, Red Hat, Canonical are all in support of the project, and will be shipping LibreOffice with their respective distributions. The project also has the support of the Free Software Foundation's Richard Stallman, who voiced approval of the mission statement of only recommending free software. Meeks also says that Debian and other projects plan to ship LibreOffice, and the Mac OS X project NeoOffice will be rebasing on LibreOffice.
OpenOffice.org development has been a bit lackluster in the past year or two. The project has continued to put forward new releases, but without many major new features. Meeks says that the group is now working on "a big picture development plan to be announced in a month or so." Part of that is development related, part of that is community improvements. "We want to include people's changes and features, to clean the code up, and break down the barriers to entry that stopped people contributing. One of those was the requirement that a single company should own the copyright to every code change. We intend to use the model that Linux, Mozilla, GNOME, and many other successful Free software projects use of where everyone owns part of the franchise in proportion to their contribution."
One of the features not yet on the drawing board is a Web-based LibreOffice. "Clearly if people want to adapt LibreOffice to work in this way, they are most welcome to, and we would be interested in our core being re-used in this way." Though some users have started using mobile office suites, Meeks says that "the days of the fat-client have a good long while to run."
"For example I'm routinely frustrated by my mobile phone (which should have connectivity everywhere) not being able to show me a map while roaming due to connectivity cost. There is clearly still lots of room for the re-assurance of fat client apps, with data stored safely in the cloud somewhere. Another example might be the lunacy of depending on conference networking to project your presentation from the web."
Want to get your hands on LibreOffice? Along with the initial announcement, the project has shipped a beta release for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, and has released source code. This is a beta, and may have some glitches or other issues. See the release notes for more information.