The free software world generally sees a fork in a development project as a
bad thing. The ability
to fork is a crucial freedom, but the
exercise of that ability is seen much like initiating a divorce. Sometimes
it is necessary, but it is rarely an event which brings joy.
Little attention, however, has been paid to the idea of a parallel
fork, which we will define as a fork which continues to follow the
changes in the original project. The Linux kernel has been the subject of
large numbers of parallel forks over the years; distributor kernels,
architecture-specific trees, and development trees have diverged widely
from the mainline kernel and each other, but they also track the updates to
the mainline. Projects which are patched by distributors (such as
cdrecord) can also be seen as parallel forks. Yet another example might be
functions as a testing ground for bleeding-edge Sylpheed features.
Parallel forks can be the best of both worlds: they retain a tie to the
original project, but also are responsive to whatever forces created the
fork in the first place.
A parallel fork worthy of some attention is ooo-build, a version of
OpenOffice.org maintained by the folks at Ximian. Version 1.3.0 of
ooo-build was announced on August 18.
This fork was motivated by several issues, which are explained in depth at
the project web site. What it comes down to, however, is that the
OpenOffice.org process is slow, bureaucratic, and difficult for outsiders
to contribute to. As the web site says, "this is no way to create
excitement and provide fast problem fixes." So ooo-build was set up
as a place where would-be contributors can get their changes in quickly
and, with luck, see those changes used and possibly propagated back into
What does the 1.3.0 release offer?
This package contains Desktop integration work for OpenOffice.org,
several back-ported features & speedups, and a much simplified
build wrapper, making an OO.o build / install possible for the
There is a detailed list, which includes a number of bug fixes, GTK+ and
KDE file selector support, Lotus 123 importing, improved icons, and much
more. Oh, and the obnoxious business where OOo calls your file "modified"
every time you print it has been fixed.
The ooo-build parallel fork is a good thing: it brings the notoriously
unapproachable OpenOffice.org development process closer to what the rest
of the community expects to deal with. It can be a useful staging ground
which gets new features to users quickly, and enables stability testing
which can help smooth the eventual merging of those features into OpenOffice.org. It is
not the sort of acrimonious separation which normally comes to mind when
the word "fork" is mentioned; it is, instead, more of an impedance matching
mechanism. ooo-build should result in a better OpenOffice.org experience
for everybody involved.
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