The problem with (Not so) OpenOffice.org

OpenOffice and other open-source projects are hobbled by their corporate masters. It's time to open up OpenOffice for its own good.

OpenOffice.org (download for Windows | Mac) has a range of problems: Monolithic architecture, declining interest in fat-client software, etc. But it's primary problem may be its corporate ownership, as Michael Meeks, long-time OpenOffice developer and Novell employee, notes:

I think one of the sad things we see at the moment is the decreasing amount of interest in investing in OpenOffice.org. So we see Sun cutting back their developer count on OpenOffice.org, while we still see them demand ownership for all of the code, which kinda retards other people investing in it....

But the sad thing is [Sun's] failure to build a community around it, getting other people involved. And that's tied to Sun owning OpenOffice.org. It's a Sun project. They own all of the code, they demand ownership rights, and that just really retards developer interest. I mean: [Who] would want to work cleaning someone else's gun?

This isn't just a Sun problem. Michael's comment speaks to a much broader problem as more and more open source goes corporate: How do you encourage development as a corporation?

This is much easier for non-profits like the Linux Foundation, Mozilla, Eclipse, etc., even when the contributors are overwhelmingly corporate in nature. It's more palatable to contribute to a community than a company.

Yes, companies do receive contributions, but they tend to come from partners and customers, and not as much from the organic, unaffiliated community. Is this a bad thing?

I'm not sure it matters. That's just the way it is. But I understand Michael's point, and think that OpenOffice.org is not strategic enough to Sun to justify keeping it under its corporate guidance any longer. It needs to be given a foundation's guidance, and a foundation's ability to attract outside development. OpenOffice.org has largely been an effort between Sun and Novell for too long.

It's time to open it up.


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