The Future of OpenOffice.org: How Not to Write a Press Release
Monday, October 17 2011 @ 06:23 AM CDT
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Since 2005, I see that I have written over 227 blog entries about ODF (I say more than, because the very earliest got lost in an earlier platform migration). Throughout the greatest part of this six year period, OpenOffice was the poster child ODF implementation - the one with the most users, the most press attention, the most corporate support - tens of millions of dollars of it, from Sun Microsystems. Of course, there were other impressive implementations, both open source and proprietary alike. OpenOffice, though, was always the default ODF implementation referenced by the press.
But the long-stalled acquisition of Sun by Oracle brought uncertainty, and ultimately abandonment. Along the way, the much neglected community of OpenOffice contributors felt the strain, finally forking as a result. This gave the new project - LibreOffice, hosted by The Document Foundation, a new non-profit created for that purpose - an early head start in regaining lost ground. The Document Foundation and LibreOffice today enjoy the enthusiastic support of a growing community that has already released it's own updated version of the original OpenOffice code. And then, at long last, the legacy code base, too, gained a new lease on life, when last June Oracle offered, and the Apache Foundation accepted, ownership of the code and the OpenOffice trademark, into the Apache Incubator.
With the Apache Foundation providing a new home, the question in many peoples' minds was whether the bruised and abused remnant of the OpenOffice project would be able to get back on its feet, dust itself off, and regain its prior importance in the marketplace. And also, what would this mean for LibreOffice?
Last week, the Apache Foundation issued a press release meant to address these questions. How successful was it? Well, let's just say that when it comes to public relations, the Apache Foundation is a very good open source developer. A fair summary of the press release is that it's a hodge podge of statements, some opaque, others unnecessary, and some hopelessly confused. In other words, just when OpenOffice could use a clear, concise statement of what has been accomplished since June and what the project hopes to accomplish next, we get something with little information, much confusion, and no indication of what to expect when.
For those that wish to form their own conclusions, the press release is reproduced in full at the end of this blog entry. For those that don't, here's my summary of what the Apache Foundation has to say about the state and future of OpenOffice:
1. We don't solicit code, and didn't solicit this code; it was offered to us. No news here - it was clear that IBM, among others, were urging Apache to take the code.
2. It's a very popular project, with ten time times the contributors of any other Apache incubator project - some 70 contributors. That's good news.
3. There has been a lot of disinformation in the press about the OpenOffice project. Most importantly, accounts of the demise of OpenOffice are false. Important to say, but the project needs to deliver in order to convince OpenOffice's historical user base that they should stick with OO.
4. Here's one of the opaque statements: "Whilst the ASF operates in the open –our code and project mailing lists are publicly accessible– ASF governance permits for projects to make information and code freely available when the project deems them ready to be released. Apache OpenOffice.org is not at risk." I guess this means "you can go see for yourself," but feel free to draw your own conclusions.
5. Apache is OK with the fact that OpenOffice is the only user-facing software project it hosts. Well, OK. Not that anyone was wondering, though.
6. Apache has a unique approach - "The Apache Way" - some people may doubt that OpenOffice will succeed under it. We think it will. Well, again, OK, but people will judge success by what the next release includes, and how long it takes to appear.
7. It's cool to make money consulting about the subject matter of an Apache project. Just don't mess with our trademarks, or we'll come after you. Excuse me - was this supposed to go in a different press release?
8. After four months, we're still getting our arms around what to do. This includes "assessing the elements necessary to update a product that hasn't had an official release in nearly a year; parts of the product's functionality encumbered by non-Apache-Licensed components;" and then, here comes the bizarre part, "a code base that has been forked and maintained by a community pursuing market dominance. As such, it is critical that we remain pragmatic about the project's next steps during this transition phase."
Hello? Market dominance? I'm not quite sure what this is intended to address. If it means that the Apache Foundation believes the OpenLibre community hopes that it will be more successful than the OpenOffice community, this is an odd choice of words, not to mention terribly relevant. Given the number of ODF compliant products already in the marketplace, not to mention a certain proprietary office suite that still has one or two users out there, the number of users of OpenOffice vs. the number of OpenLibre users, and vis-versa, is one of the least important factors for either project to focus on.
9. Here's another one that needs to be quoted: "At the ASF, the answer is openness, not further fragmentation. There is ample room for multiple solutions in the marketplace that are Powered by Apache." Well, OpenLibre isn't hosted by Apache, and it also can run on a system that doesn't really on any of Apache's signature software. Also, fragmentation isn't the flip side of openness.
10. Differences of opinion are good; diversity of participation is a requirement for an Apache project. OK, that's fine.
11. This one, at least, is a commendable statement: "We congratulate the LibreOffice community on their success over their inaugural year and wish them luck in their future endeavors. We look forward to opening up the dialogue between Open Document Format-oriented communities to deepen understanding and cease the unwarranted spread of misinformation." That's as it should be, and hopefully LibreOffice community feels the same way.
12. Apache welcomes all types of participation in OpenOffice.org. "This is our chance to be able to pull together our talents towards a cohesive goal and protect the project's ecosystem."
13. And finally, the most cogent statement in the entire press release" "At a minimum, we owe that to the hundreds of millions of users of OpenOffice.org."
Here's hoping that what is going on within the OpenOffice project is more coherent than what is coming out of the PR committee. But while clearly the technical work is far more important than press relations, external impressions do matter. Those that care about the future of OpenOffice would be wise to invest more time and effort in letting past, present and potential future users know how things are really going. Otherwise, LibreOffice can be expected to outpace it in the marketplace. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but in a marketplace that has been as starved for competition for as long as the office productivity suite market has been, having two strong contenders for user attention rather than one would be a true breath of fresh air. Here's hoping.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Apache Software Foundation Statement on Apache OpenOffice.org
On 1 June 2011, Oracle Corporation submitted the OpenOffice.org code base to The Apache Software Foundation. That submission was accepted, and the project is now being developed as a podling in the Apache Incubator under the ASF's meritocratic process informally dubbed "The Apache Way".
OpenOffice.org is now officially part of the Apache family.
The project is known as Apache OpenOffice.org (incubating).
Over its 12-year history, the ASF has welcomed contributions from individuals and organizations alike, but, as a policy, does not solicit code donations. The OpenOffice.org code base was not pursued by the ASF prior to its acceptance into the Apache Incubator.
The Apache OpenOffice.org Podling Project Management Committee (PPMC) and Committer list are nearly 10 times greater than those of other projects in the Apache Incubator, demonstrating the tremendous interest in this project.
As with many highly-visible products, there has been speculation and conjecture about the future of OpenOffice.org at Apache. More recently, destructive statements have been published by both members of the greater FOSS community and former contributors to the original OpenOffice.org product, suggesting that the project has failed during the 18 weeks since its acceptance into the Apache Incubator.
Whilst the ASF operates in the open –our code and project mailing lists are publicly accessible– ASF governance permits for projects to make information and code freely available when the project deems them ready to be released. Apache OpenOffice.org is not at risk.
As an end-user-facing product, OpenOffice.org is unique in comparison to the other nearly 170 products currently being developed, incubated, and shepherded at the ASF. Considered to be "ingredient brands", countless competing Web server, Cloud computing, data handling, and other solutions behind the products serving millions of users worldwide are, unbeknown to most, "Powered by Apache".
And we're OK with that.
More than 70 project Committers are actively collaborating to ensure that the future of the OpenOffice.org code base and community are in alignment with The Apache Way. The project's extensive plans include assessing the elements necessary to update a product that hasn't had an official release in nearly a year; parts of the product's functionality encumbered by non-Apache-Licensed components; and a code base that has been forked and maintained by a community pursuing market dominance. As such, it is critical that we remain pragmatic about the project's next steps during this transition phase.
We understand that stakeholders of a project with a 10+ year history --be they former product managers or casual users-- may be unfamiliar with The Apache Way and question its methods. Those following the project's migration to process and culture unique to the Apache community may challenge the future sustainability of the project.
Such concerns are not atypical with the incubation of Open Source projects with well-established communities -- the successful graduation of Apache Subversion and Apache SpamAssassin, among others, are proof that The Apache Way works.
As an all-volunteer organization, we do not compensate any contributors to develop Apache code. We do, however, support those individuals with relevant expertise to pursue consulting/remuneration opportunities with interested parties, but must reiterate that they are barred from doing so on behalf of the ASF or any Apache initiatives -- be they Top-level Projects (TLPs) or emerging products in the Apache Incubator and Labs. Otherwise, they would be in violation of the Apache trademark policy, which the ASF strongly defends in order to protect its communities.
At the ASF, the answer is openness, not further fragmentation. There is ample room for multiple solutions in the marketplace that are Powered by Apache. We welcome differences of opinion: a requirement at Apache is that a healthy project be supported by an open, diverse community comprising multiple organizations and individual contributors.
We congratulate the LibreOffice community on their success over their inaugural year and wish them luck in their future endeavors. We look forward to opening up the dialogue between Open Document Format-oriented communities to deepen understanding and cease the unwarranted spread of misinformation.
We welcome input and participation in the form of constructive contributions to Apache OpenOffice.org. There are myriad ways to help, from code development and documentation to community relations and "help desk" forums support to licensing and localization, and more.
The way to move this forward is via the ASF, which owns the OpenOffice.org trademark and official code base. This is our chance to be able to pull together our talents towards a cohesive goal and protect the project's ecosystem.
At a minimum, we owe that to the hundreds of millions of users of OpenOffice.org.
-- the ASF Press team and Apache OpenOffice.org incubating mentors