NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2011
Oracle and the Future of OpenOffice.org
By Geof Goodrum, President,
Washington Area Computer User Group, VA
December 2010 issue, The Cursor
president (at) wacug.org (click to email author)

Oracle Corporation, a technology company best known for its flagship commercial relational database management software, is alienating the Open Source community it once embraced. In 2008, Sun Microsystems acquired MySQL AB, the company that developed and provided commercial support for the highly popular relational database management system (RDBMS) software, MySQL, which is available in both Open Source and commercial license versions. MySQL is very popular (estimated at over eleven million installations) as backend software used by web sites world-wide, comprising part of the “LAMP” (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PERL/PHP/Python) software stack.

Sun Microsystems is perhaps best known for the Java programming language used to develop software that can run on a wide variety of computer platforms. The Open Source community has been pushing for the release of control over the Java language specification to the community since at least 2004. In 2006, Sun released Java software components under the GNU General Public License, but continued to release “non-free” executable versions.

Sun Microsystems also sponsored the OpenOffice.org community project, which developed and distributed a free, Open Source productivity suite comparable to Microsoft Office and built upon code from the commercial StarOffice product, previously acquired by Sun.

In 2010, Oracle Corporation completed acquisition of Sun Microsystems, including MySQL, Java, and OpenOffice.org. During the acquisition, the MySQL community expressed concerns that Oracle would discontinue support for MySQL as it competed with Oracle's commercial RDBMS products. While this has not happened, Oracle recently doubled MySQL support service costs.

In August 2010, Oracle sued Google over its implementation of Java in the Linux-based Android operating system, claiming infringement on seven patents. This move alienated the Java developer community.

In September, a core group of over30 leading contributors to the OpenOffice.org project formed The Document Foundation with support from organizations including Red Hat, Novell, Google, Open Source Initiative, Canonical, and the Free Software Foundation. The Document Foundation's primary purpose is to support the community development of LibreOffice, a productivity suite built upon the OpenOffice.org source code. This move was in response to ongoing concerns about Oracle's governance and development process for the OpenOffice.org project, including Oracle's reluctance to accept patches to the software. The Document Foundation's stated mission is to facilitate the evolution of the OpenOffice.org Community into a new open, independent, and meritocratic organizational structure within the next few months. An independent Foundation is a better match to the values of our contributors, users, and supporters, and will enable a more effective, efficient, transparent, and inclusive Community. We will protect past investments by building on the solid achievements of our first decade, encourage wide participation in the Community, and co-ordinate activity across the Community.

Oracle responded to the formation of The Document Foundation by insisting that members step down from their positions on the OpenOffice.org project as it created a conflict of interest. As a result, it appears that community developers are migrating from OpenOffice.org to work on LibreOffice.

At this point, it appears that Oracle has squandered whatever credibility it had with the Open Source (MySQL, Java, OpenOffice.org) developer community, and the future of the original OpenOffice.org project is very questionable.

However, expect to see rapid development and improved software quality for LibreOffice under The Document Foundation.

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