Reports of OpenOffice's death have been greatly exaggerated

The Apache OpenOffice project searches for a way forward.

openoffice seagull
Credit: Olly Clarke

Don’t believe everything you read in the press. Despite OpenOffice developers recently debating a shutdown of the open source productivity suite, the Apache Software Foundation is not ready to retire the project yet.

OpenOffice is not a ‘healthy project’

The Apache OpenOffice project isn’t done yet. On the mailing list, contributors are actively discussing what could be done to improve the project.

Even in the original discussion about what retiring the project would look like, there were outspoken dissenters. “I think even broaching this topic is a mistake. ‘Self-fulfilling prophecy?’,” wrote Phillip Rhodes on the project’s mailing list. Many contributors argue that the news posts being written about retirement are “FUD”—fear, uncertainty, and doubt—intended to hurt the project.

The project’s download page now includes a call for volunteers. Apache president Jim Jagielski tweeted on the subject: “Due to (incorrect) reports of its death, Apache #OpenOffice has rec’d an outpouring of support and development volunteers. Thx!”

Does this mean OpenOffice is healthy? No. LibreOffice still boasts more developers than Apache OpenOffice and is progressing much more quickly. Indeed, Linux distributions have by and large dumped OpenOffice for LibreOffice.

Even Jagielski agreed on the mailing list: “As noted over the last few months, it has become obvious to the board that [Apache OpenOffice] has not been a healthy project for some time.” But he disagrees that the project should be shut down. Still, he proposes something radical: focusing on being a framework or library rather than an end-user implementation, and renaming the project something else. OpenOffice would become a backend that projects like LibreOffice would build on, and the Apache OpenOffice website could redirect users to LibreOffice to download an open source office suite intended for end users.

That’s just one possibility, however. “The current status-quo is untenable and unacceptable. Change needs to happen. I suggested one route, nothing more, nothing less,” he replied to people who weren’t happy with his idea.

For now, it remains unclear which direction the project will ultimately go. But, if the mailing list is an indicator, many contributors feel passionately that OpenOffice should remain an office suite intended for end users

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