Welcome LibreOffice!

It’s been more than a week now since the Great OpenOffice Fork of 2010, and the dust is beginning to settle.

If you haven’t heard, last Monday a large chunk of the  OpenOffice.org (OOo) development community announced the formation of The Document Foundation (TDF), and would create a new office suite based on OOo, called LibreOffice. The announcement carried endorsements from many heavy hitters in the open source and corporate worlds, including Google, Novell, Red Hat, and Canonical. Even the GNOME Foundation (while noting the existence of its own small suite) had nice things to say at the launch.

Absent from the party were a pair of giants: IBM and Oracle. The latter was not surprising, as the database company put this train in motion by acquiring Sun Microsystems, the firm who had released OpenOffice into the wild some years back. TDF invited Oracle to participate in the effort, and expressed hope they would release the copyrights to the OpenOffice name. Yep, that was going to happen. Monday, Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols reported that Oracle has officially declined to participate in the Foundation.

With more than 100 million users, we believe OpenOffice.org is the most advanced, most feature-rich open-source implementation and will strongly encourage the OpenOffice community to continue to contribute through www.openoffice.org.

Today, Italo Vignoli of TDF reports, among many interesting numbers, that the LibreOffice beta has been downloaded some 80,000 times in its first week of existence. The beta consists of rebranded OpenOffice v3.3 code. There’s a support forum for those users now running too.

Here’s a sample of some of the best reporting and thinking I saw, outside of the mainstream tech press, on the announcement:

Now comes the fallout, as the rest of the OpenOffice community has to pick sides. Eric Bachard of the OOo Education project initially posted a skeptical article called “No LibreOffice for Me” to his blog, but apparently pulled it in the intervening time. Jean Hollis Weber of the Documentation Project (close to my heart, of course) wondered about the future: “At this point I’m not quite sure what this will mean for my role as Co-Lead of the OpenOffice.org Documentation Project, given my enthusiasm for the Foundation.”

While most of the coverage and blogging about LibreOffice and TDF was quite positive, Matt Asay of Canonical expressed a dissent that I saw a lot of in roaming around online in his essay for GigaOm: “LibreOffice: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (and Gone).”

It’s unclear what a web-light, client-heavy Microsoft Office clone can hope to achieve in terms of real innovation. And why are we worried about replicating Microsoft Office functionality, which has long been the aim of the OpenOffice community? While some Excel spreadsheet jocks may live in Microsoft Office, very few of the rest of us give it more than a cursory glance on a regular basis. It’s not that we’re not engaged in “office productivity,” either. We just work differently now.

While I don’t begrudge Asay’s ability to work with Google Docs and Zoho in his day job, I can tell you that there are millions of us still using word processors and the like installed on a desktop, safely behind a corporate firewall. Maybe that will change over time, but for now, I’d much prefer using LibreOffice than that other dominant suite.

I wish the LibreOffice team the best of luck building their new suite, and devising many new and effective ways of communicating. Keeping KOffice on their toes as well!

As we watch this community grow, I hope the openSUSE community can learn some lessons as well. One thought from this corner: Suddenly the idea of an independent foundation to manage the community doesn’t sound so out in left field. With the openSUSE Conference coming up, there’s a lot to discuss.