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Oracle has donated the source code for OpenOffice to Apache in a surprise move

The open source office productivity suite OpenOffice has a surprising new home: Apache. There had been some speculation Oracle might donate the project to the The Document Foundation, the group of developers that forked OpenOffice to launch LibreOffice last autumn.

OpenOffice will join Apache Software Foundation as an “incubator” project, Oracle said on 1 June. As an incubator project, OpenOffice must mature and prove its viability and sustainability before graduating to full project status. Oracle has assigned the trademark to Apache, as well.

Relinquishing control

“The Apache Software foundation’s model makes it possible for commercial and individual volunteer contributors to collaborate on open source product development,” Oracle said.

Oracle had promised that it will fully relinquish control over the open source project and donate it to the community on 15 April. The company also appears to be trying to silence its critics who claim the database giant is anti-open source. Donating the code to venerable Apache, home of the popular Apache Web Server, proves that Oracle is committed to the developer and open source communities, the company said.

“Donating to Apache gives this popular consumer software a mature, open, and well established infrastructure to continue well into the future,” said Luke Kowalski, the vice-president of Oracle’s corporate architecture group.

The move was surprising, as Oracle and Apache have had a contentious relationship over another open source project, Java. Oracle subpoenaed Apache as part of its lawsuit against Google for violating Java patents in the Android mobile operating system. Oracle also blocked Apache’s Project Harmony from getting a Java licence, which resulted in Apache quitting the Java Community Process in protest.

IBM relies heavily on OpenOffice and the Open Document Format (ODF) for its own Lotus Symphony office suite. The company, who had been lobbying for Oracle to spin off Open Office in the first place, immediately welcomed Oracle’s decision.

“We look forward to engaging with other community members to advance the technology beginning with our strong support of the incubation process for OpenOffice at Apache,” said Kevin Cavanaugh, vice-president of collaboration solutions at IBM.

What future for LibreOffice?

It is unclear what will happen to LibreOffice’s cadre of supporters as OpenOffice moves into Apache’s fold. Red Hat, Novell, Canonical, the Open Source Initiative, the Free Software Foundation and Google backed The Document Foundation and LibreOffice.

LibreOffice was launched by core OpenOffice community members who were frustrated by Oracle’s tight control over the project, which the company had inherited as part of its Sun Microsystems acquisition.

Another point of contention between LibreOffice and OpenOffice will be over licensing. OpenOffice, as an Apache project, will now be released under the Apache Software Licence. Previously, OpenOffice was licensed under GNU Public Licence (GPL), GNU Lesser General Public Licence version 3 (LGPLv3) and Mozilla Public Licence (MPL). Under GPL, LGPL and MPL, developers who modify and reuse code are required to give it back to the community. Under Apache’s licence, developers don’t have to give back the modified code.

By donating OpenOffice to Apache Oracle missed the opportunity to “re-unite” the OpenOffice community, according to Italio Vignoli, a member of the Document Foundation’s steering committee. The differences between the Apache Licence and the LGPLv3+/MPL means none of the “rich innovation” from LibreOffice’s contributors could be incorporated back into OpenOffice, Vignoli said. OpenOffice also has “many pieces of code” that are “not compatible” with Apache’s licence, and will have to be “dropped or rewritten”, said Vignoli.

The spell checker, cryptography support and many file filters are among the many features that Oracle does not own the rights to in OpenOffice as they belong to the individual developers now working on LibreOffice. Those features, licensed under LGPL/MPL, can’t be moved to Apache at this time.

However, any features that are included in OpenOffice can be rolled into LibreOffice, The Document Foundation noted in a blog post.

“We regret the missed opportunity but are committed to working with all remaining community members to devise the best possible future for LibreOffice and,” Vignoli said.