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Document Foundation To Take OpenOffice Code Outside Oracle

The code base for the open source look-alike suite to Microsoft Office has been moved outside Oracle by a new foundation, which claims it will further develop it.

The contributors and lead developers who make up the core of the OpenOffice open source project have decided to step outside of Oracle and form an independent, non-profit group called The Document Foundation.

Oracle owns the OpenOffice suite of office productivity applications, which came through its doors with the acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Sun had earlier acquired the Star Office suite of applications that originated as a commercial product set in Germany. Sun attempted to compete with Microsoft by making the applications more compatible with Microsoft Office and making them freely available as OpenOffice.

The founders of The Document Foundation are saying they do not plan to fork the code, but they are calling their version, LibreOffice. Oracle has been invited to join the group. If it declines, its developers and the volunteers behind LIbreOffice will have to work closely together to avoid two diverging code bases.

The foundation posted a FAQ that indicated it hoped Oracle will cooperate with its goals and even grant it use of the OpenOffice trademark. But if it doesn’t, it indicated it will pursue its own goals regardless. That makes the prospect of a fork in the open office code more likely within the next few releases of OpenOffice and LibreOffice. The FAQ said, “The trademark is owned by Oracle Corporation. Our hope is that Oracle will donate this to the Foundation, along with the other assets it holds in trust for the Community, in due course, once legal etc issues are resolved. However, we need to continue work in the meantime.”

The developers behind OpenOffice say its applications experienced ten years of growth with Sun and now they were establishing the foundation "to fulfill the promise of independence written in the original charter" of the OpenOffice project's group structure. The group's announcement said it will serve as "the cornerstone of a new ecosystem where individuals and organization can contribute to and benefit from the availability of a truly free office suite." Such wording implies the founders no longer view the code inside Oracle as "truly free."

The move didn't catch many by surprise. OpenOffice is based on the Open Document Format, an OASIS standard for representing electronic documents in XML, and several years ago, Sun, IBM and others formed an alliance to campaign for adoption of the ODF as a way to escape proprietary formats found in Microsoft Office. Microsoft responded with its own format, which it submitted to an international standards body for approval.

State governments and many private organizations in Brazil have adopted ODF as a preferred format, with Projeto Brasil producing its own version of OpenOffice, "Our country already has a large investment in the Open Document Format and the software tools fully supporting it," said Claudio Filho, chair of NGO. His group and The Document Foundation "share the same values and objectives and we are more than happy to be part of it," he said.

Chris DiBona, open source programs manager at Google, hailed the foundation as "a great step forward… Having a level playing field for all contributors is fundamental in creating a broad and active community," he said in today's announcement. Oracle is currently suing Google for its use of Java in the Android mobile operating system.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, said his firm will ship OpenLibre with its future distributions of Ubuntu Linux. Canonical documentation describes OpenOffice as "a near drop-in replacement" for Microsoft Office, meaning there are a few areas of incompatibility in slide or document translation from one to the other. The OpenLibre suite includes a word processor, spreadsheet, slide presentation, database, drawing and a math equation manager.

"We welcome the Document Foundation initiative and look forward to the innovation it is able to drive with a truly open community," said Simon Phipps, director of the Open Source Initiative, which manages the Open Source trademark and approves the issuance new open source licenses. Phipps is a former Sun executive dealing with open source strategy.

Free Software Foundation president Richard Stallman also welcomed the creation of LibreOffice. "I hope that the LibreOffice developers and the Oracle-employed developers of OpenOffice will be able to cooperate on development of the body of the code," he said.

Sophie Gautier, an OpenOffice community veteran and a former maintainer of the French OpenOffice project, was selected to speak for volunteer contributors. She said, "We believe that the foundation is a key step for the evolution of the free office suite, as it liberates the development of the code … from the constraints represented by the commercial interests of a single company." The foundation, she predicted, "will write a completely new chapter in the history of free and open source software."

Oracle spokespersons were not immediately available to comment.

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