Oracle Releases OpenOffice 3.3.0 RC Amid Drama
As of this week, the first release candidate of OpenOffice 3.3.0 is out. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be very big news. But given the drama that’s surrounded the OpenOffice project lately, and questions from some quarters over Oracle’s commitment to it, the release merits some remarks.
For most of the last decade, OpenOffice.org, the free, open-source, cross-platform office suite that claims market share of more than twenty percent in some European countries, was owned by Sun Microsystems. For years, Sun leveraged the product as a competitor against Microsoft Office, while also providing a vital component of the desktop software stack on Solaris and many open-source operating systems.
That was all good and well until earlier this year, when Oracle officially acquired Sun. With that move, Oracle inherited OpenOffice, along with a variety of other big-name open-source projects, including VirtualBox and MySQL.
And that’s when the drama began. Though Oracle has yet to make any official pronouncements on the future of the OpenOffice project or its code, its acquisition of the office suite prompted a consortium calling itself the Document Foundation in late September to announce LibreOffice, an OpenOffice “fork” (though the Foundation seems reluctant to use that word) disentangled from Oracle’s control. LibreOffice boasts a number of powerful backers, including Red Hat, Canonical, Novell, the Free Software Foundation and Google.
The eye-poking and shin-kicking between Oracle and the open-source world didn’t end there, however. The flames of ill-will have been continually stoked over the last few weeks, most recently by Oracle’s suggestion that backers of LibreOffice sever their ties to OpenOffice. The drama doesn’t show any signs of abating soon.
Release Candidate in Perspective
Only time will tell if the Document Foundation and Oracle will be able to cease their bickering and find common ground, though it seems doubtful that they’ll ever merge their code back together.
But what is clear, at least for the time being, is Oracle’s commitment to seeing the current OpenOffice release cycle through to completion, even without the support of developers who have joined the LibreOffice camp.
That may be of little solace to users who just want an open-source office suite that works, or to Linux developers who now have to choose between shipping their distributions with OpenOffice or LibreOffice, and deal with the political fallout that that decision entails. Nor is it great news for the open-source ecosystem in general, which already suffered from enough fragmentation and application redundancy before one of its flagship projects forked in September.
On the other hand, Oracle has at least sent a message to Microsoft that OpenOffice, and the significant brand recognition that it enjoys even among non-geeks, is not going to stagnate. Whether it will maintain the momentum that it has enjoyed previously is another question, as are the licensing terms that will govern the project in the future, but at least the application won’t be disappearing.