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OpenOffice In Danger Of Retirement, Warns Project Leader

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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Lack of developers blamed, but others cite poor support from Apache for the Microsoft Office alternative

The leader of OpenOffice project has warned that the open source alternative to Microsoft Office is in danger of ending with “a bang or a whimper.”

The warning came in a frank email from volunteer VP of the project, Dennis Hamilton, to the few remaining OpenOffice developers.

Serious Possibility

In the email Hamilton outlined the limited developer pool for OpenOffice and discussed the procedures involved in a hypothetical shutdown of the project.

The email reveals that OpenOffice now only has six core developers, which means that “the Apache OpenOffice project has limited capacity for sustaining the project in an energetic manner”.

And Hamilton lamented the prospect of attracting new developers to help roll out new releases and fix security vulnerabilities.

“It is also my considered opinion that there is no ready supply of developers who have the capacity, capability, and will to supplement the roughly half-dozen volunteers holding the project together,” wrote Hamilton. “It doesn’t matter what the reasons for that might be.”

“I cannot predict how this will all work out. It is remiss of me not to point out that retirement of the project is a serious possibility,” he wrote.

“There are those who fear that discussing retirement can become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he added. “My concern is that the project could end with a bang or a whimper. My interest is in seeing any retirement happen gracefully. That means we need to consider it as a contingency. For contingency plans, no time is a good time, but earlier is always better than later.”

He then goes onto list the scenario involving a hypothetical shutdown of the open source project, which includes the closure of the Apache Planet OpenOffice Blog, the termination of its Twitter account and any Facebook page under control of the project.

Hamilton’s email prompted a response from another longtime OpenOffice developer, who pointed out that the management of the project under Apache has been more restrictive and that its public relations is very poor.

“If we look at LibreOffice and compare: LibreOffice, that is *good* (not more) software and *excellent* public relations,” wrote Dr. Michael Stehmann. “OpenOffice, that is *exellent* software and *pretty bad* public relations.”

Developer Turmoil

The origins of OpenOffice and its developer crisis is an interesting one. Sun Microsystems inherited OpenOffice.org after it acquired German company StarDivision in 1999, along with its StarOffice suite. Sun then launched OpenOffice.org (based on StarOffice) in 2000.

Sun was in turn acquired by Oracle in 2010 after a bitter and protracted acquisition process.

That move proved to be deeply unpopular with the OpenOffice community, and in September 2010, the simmering tensions between Oracle and open source advocates erupted into the open after a number of OpenOffice developers announced their independence from Oracle.

libre-office-logoThey did this with the creation of an independent organisation called ‘The Document Foundation‘ (TDF), from which they began to distribute a version of the open-source office productivity suite under the name “LibreOffice.”

The creation of LibreOffice prompted developers to jump ship from OpenOffice to the LibreOffice project. Oracle tried to ease matters and in April 2011 by saying that it would turn the OpenOffice.org office suite into a full community-based project.

And months later in June 2011 Oracle announced that OpenOffice had joined the Apache Software Foundation as an “incubator” project. Apache then graduated it to a top-level project a few months later, amid reassurances of its commitment to the project.

The Apache Software Foundation revealed in 2013 that OpenOffice had a value of $21 million (£13.4m) a day, and was averaging 131,455 downloads per day. There doesn’t seem to be an accurate headcount of active users.

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