OpenOffice.org Abandons Oracle to Become LibreOffice

An open source collective known as the The Document Foundation has seized control of the OpenOffice suite. The product has been given the temporary name of “LibreOffice” following a major restructuring effort that declares independence from Oracle.

OpenOffice is an important product for small businesses and freelancers. For Linux users, it’s one of the best office suites available and provides good compatibility with Microsoft documents. For Windows users, it’s a viable free alternative to Microsoft Office.

Until recently, OpenOffice’s principal developer was Sun Microsystems. It was used as the basis for Sun’s commercial Star Office product, so many OOo developers worked on the product full-time. However, the product’s future had been uncertain following Oracle’s acquisition of Sun in early 2010. The company recently re-branded the product but had made no public commitment to future development.

The Document Foundation is an independent self-governing group formed by leading members of the OpenOffice.org community. The suite has been forked and renamed “LibreOffice” because Oracle still owns the OpenOffice.org brand. In a slightly cheeky move, the group has invited Oracle to join and donate the OpenOffice name. I wish I’d been in Larry Ellison’s office when that letter arrived!

Several articles are reporting that the move will liberate ongoing development. In theory, full independence and no commercial interference improves the suite’s prospects.

However, I’m less convinced by the short-term outlook. Unless Oracle release the OpenOffice name and associated web domains, development forks can confuse end users (and does anyone else think “LibreOffice” is an awful name?) Funding issues may arise and Oracle could make life difficult for the Foundation.

It’s an interesting development and decisions made during the next few months will be critical to the future evolution of the project.