The Apache OpenOffice (AOO) project is in the final stretch toward its first
release, AOO 3.4, but there are still some hurdles to clear. The current
focus is largely on identifying and fixing the "release blocker" bugs that
are being found in various developer snapshots. All of that is pretty
normal for a project getting ready for a release, but AOO also needs to
handle a few other loose ends. Because it is an Apache incubator project
(a "podling" in Apache terms), it must undergo an intellectual property (IP)
review and get approval before making the release.
The IP concerns stem from the change in license after Oracle donated the
OpenOffice.org code to Apache. All Apache projects must release all of
their code under the Apache Software License (ASL); any OpenOffice.org
code that came directly from Oracle is easily switched from the LGPL, but
code from other projects that has been incorporated into the office suite
may not be available under the ASL. That has led AOO to carefully audit
all of the code used and to remove or replace any non-ASL pieces. The IP
review will then vet those changes to try to ensure that nothing has been
missed. The process
is well documented on the incubator site.
In fact, there is a truly eye-opening amount of documentation at the Apache incubator site that describes,
sometimes in great detail, the life of a podling. It covers such things as
how the podling should get set up in terms of organization and
infrastructure, how it should prepare for a
release and get IP clearance, along with the steps needed to eventually
graduate to a
Software Foundation (ASF) project. On one hand, documenting all of these
processes is important and useful, but the sheer level of bureaucracy has
to be daunting to some.
A podling first needs to get set up in the Apache infrastructure, which means
setting up mailing lists and a Subversion repository for its code, but it
must also learn "The Apache
Way". From all of the documentation, as well as the gentle prodding
from AOO mentors and other longtime Apache members on the ooo-dev mailing
is clear that the
ASF is quite happy with its policies and procedures—not surprising
given its level of success over the years. But all of that "extra" effort
has certainly delayed the release of 3.4, to the point where frustration
among users and developers is becoming evident.
The last release of OpenOffice.org (3.3) was more than a year ago in January
2011. Since that time, Oracle donated the
code to the ASF in June, but it has taken the better part of a year to
get close to a new release. That's not to say that the project has been
idle—far from it as documented
in Rob Weir's timeline—but it is a lot of work to move a project
of its size to a new home. In the meantime, though, there hasn't been a
lot of time to add new features.
New for 3.4
The most talked about new feature of AOO 3.4 is the native scalable
vector graphics (SVG)
import feature. OpenOffice.org had an external filter that used six
GPL/LGPL libraries, which needed to be replaced. The new
code has an SVG interpreter in the core, which provides better SVG support
while also reducing the memory
footprint and startup time—not to mention removing non-ASL code.
While the feature was available as a filter in
OpenOffice.org (and natively in Go-OO-derived versions of the suite
including LibreOffice), it is new for AOO.
As the 3.4
release notes draft points out, there are two classes of updates: those that
came from Oracle with the 3.4 beta in progress at the time of the transfer
and those that have been added by AOO contributors since then. The Oracle
contributions are largely incremental improvements to existing
functionality, while those created for AOO may be more visible to users.
Certainly SVG import fits in there, but there is also a new color picker
dialog, new regular expression engine, support for line caps (i.e. how
lines terminate and connect visually), and more.
All of the features and bug fixes are to the good, though they have been a
long time in coming. For Linux systems, the AOO 3.4 release is likely to
be a non-event as most distributions switched to LibreOffice (LO) long
ago. Most of the features from the 3.4 beta are already present in LO;
should any of the AOO additions be of interest, they can be adopted as
well, of course. It is in the Windows world (and to a lesser extent Mac
OS X) that any rivalry between AOO and LO will really play out.
Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice
It's clear that a rivalry does still exist between the projects, and that
the bad blood between them has not been cleared up. A recent
effort by Simon Phipps to clarify some
facts about AOO seems to have run aground at least partly because of
the unhappiness between the projects. After posting his query to the
mailing list, Phipps was
asked to put it into FAQ form on the wiki, which he did,
but that doesn't seem to have helped. It could be argued that his wording
was insufficiently neutral—many have—but his attempt was meant
to answer questions that are commonly asked in various forums, mailing
lists, and so on. His biggest mistake, it seems, was mentioning LO as a
possible interim solution until the 3.4 release is ready. Eventually, Phipps
gave up trying to work on the FAQ after
Weir rewrote most of it.
Some users are understandably concerned that no releases of any form of
"OpenOffice" have been made for more than a year now. Undoubtedly they are
interested in new features, but bugs, particularly security bugs, haven't
been addressed in that time either. It may be that there are no known
security problems with OOo 3.3, but there
is reason to believe otherwise. Some
suggested the proprietary IBM
Lotus Symphony (which is based on the OpenOffice code) as an
alternative in the interim but that doesn't appear in the draft FAQ either
at this point.
That conversation, which spreads itself out over at least three threads, is
indicative of the tension between the two projects. There seems to be a
fair amount of energy being expended in fairly pointless—quite
possibly counter-productive—arguments about which project is the rightful
owner of the "OpenOffice" brand and community going forward, along with
things "in the press" and elsewhere that are deemed to be FUD. What's
really needed, as is often
pointed out, is to focus on the release. Right now, anyone asserting that
AOO is superior to other alternatives is missing an important point: there
is no AOO currently available and that won't change for a bit.
That is not to say that there aren't provocations from some on the LO
side—there are. But at this point, the split has happened and there
is no going back, so dwelling on it seems like wasted effort. It's likely
that as the projects mature, there will be less sniping; it's rare to see
KDE and GNOME engage in that sort of thing these days, for example. Once
there is an AOO release, and the project graduates to a full-fledged Apache
project, assuming that happens, some of the bad blood may start fading away.
Progress toward graduation
At least two of the podling mentors believe that progress is being made toward graduation. Ross Gardler listed numerous
steps the project has taken toward that goal, concluding:
In summary, yes I think the AOO project is well on its way to
graduation. A release is a pre-requisite to graduation as that is the
point at which the ASF is able to assert that the code is fully
license compliant. Once the first release is complete I imagine
graduation will not be far behind.
I look forward to seeing AOO code allowing the further adoption of ODF
alongside other great ODF related projects.
Joe Schaefer agreed, though he is "concerned about the level of commit activity
being on the low-side". He hopes to see that pick up post-release
as the project heads toward a 4.0 release. But, both Schaefer and Gardler
are concerned about another problem, "learning to play nice with
those not fully aligned to 'the one true vision'", as Gardler put it. There is a strong chorus of
anti-LO sentiment that pervades the mailing list at times, even when it may
not be in the best interest of OpenOffice users. That chorus is often led
by Weir, who is one of the prime movers behind AOO and perhaps the most
prolific mailing list poster.
As Schaefer pointed out, that is not an "Apache-esque" view of things: "At Apache we aren't in competition with other projects,
we provide our work for the public benefit and leave
discretion about adoption to the public." But Weir disagrees with that view. In the end,
Weir's tone and demeanor seems to sometimes grate on contributors and
potential contributors as well as on some of the
In the end, though, as many point out, it will come down to the code. Can
AOO get a solid release out the door, and then continue that success down
the road? That, much more than any branding question, is going to
determine the long-term success of the project. At this point, it seems
that there are only a handful of release blocking bugs, and the first
release candidate may be imminent. But, so far, there have been no comments on
an attempt to get the wider Apache
community to start looking at the IP issues, so that may still take some time.
While it is in many ways unfortunate that the LO/AOO split ever occurred,
the projects can certainly benefit from competition. Even if code
can really only flow one way (and divergence is likely to limit that
eventually), good ideas can certainly flow both ways. There is plenty that
these two communities can work together on: ODF interoperability and
issues in the shared code, promoting free office suite alternatives, and
so on. One hopes we will see more of that in the future.
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