Oracle's OpenOffice Move May Be Too Little, Too Late

It's hard to say for certain what prompted Oracle to do an about-face on Friday and release OpenOffice.org to the community. After all, it was only a few short months ago that the company made clear its intentions to keep control of the productivity suite itself, spurring the creation of the Document Foundation and its LibreOffice fork.

LibreOffice, incidentally, is thriving in the meantime, having received support from the likes of Canonical and Red Hat and inclusion in their respective Linux distributions. Just a few hours after Oracle's announcement, in fact, the Document Foundation released LibreOffice 3.4 Beta 1.

Nevertheless, Oracle now plans to move OpenOffice.org "to a purely community-based open source project and to no longer offer a commercial version," it wrote in its press release.

Unanswered Questions

"Given the breadth of interest in free personal productivity applications and the rapid evolution of personal computing technologies, we believe the OpenOffice.org project would be best managed by an organization focused on serving that broad constituency on a non-commercial basis," said Edward Screven, Oracle's chief corporate architect, in a statement. "We intend to begin working immediately with community members to further the continued success of Open Office."

Oracle will "continue to strongly support the adoption of open standards-based document formats, such as the Open Document Format (ODF)," Screven added.

It's not yet entirely clear what, exactly, Oracle plans to do with the software. Will it give it to the Document Foundation, for instance? And will it retain rights to the OpenOffice brand? The answers to both questions remain to be seen, and Oracle has reportedly declined to comment about them.

It certainly seems safe to assume that the commercial version of the software hasn't been selling too well--not well enough, anyway, to justify Oracle's continuing investment. Oracle did, after all, simply inherit the software and trademark through its acquisition of Sun early last year.

The World Has Moved On

Either way, the question now appears to be who, if anyone, will really want to pick up OpenOffice and continue working on it at this stage in the game.

Now that the community has fairly unanimously moved on to LibreOffice, in other words, Oracle's move could well be too little, too late for the software suite. In a conversation this morning, for instance, Canonical spokesman Gerry Carr told me that, while OpenOffice is still available through its repositories, Ubuntu will continue to offer LibreOffice by default for the foreseeable future.

So, while it may be nice to see Oracle turn the software over to the community--whatever its motivations--it's going to be interesting to see where it goes from here. Now that we have LibreOffice, I'm just not sure there's a place for OpenOffice anymore.

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