Is OpenOffice in trouble? This is the fear of one of the project managers of OpenOffice who is alarmed by the lack of volunteers engaged in the design of the office suite.
In information technology, projects are born, live, and die. Nothing is immutable, even in the domain of free software. Sooner or later, OpenOffice.org might come face to face with this reality. This is certainly the scenario envisioned by Dennis Hamilton, the president of the committee that produced the OpenOffice.org project, who made a public statement on September 1st:
“I have regularly observed that the Apache OpenOffice project has limited capacity for sustaining the project in an energetic manner. It is also my considered opinion that there is no ready supply of developers who have the capacity, capability, and will to supplement the roughly half-dozen volunteers holding the project together.” he writes in the introduction to his long statement. For him, because of a lack of support, OpenOffice is doomed to a death sentence.
A free alternative to Microsoft Office
It is true that OpenOffice does not stand out for its intense activity. It was last updated on October 28th, 2015, with the release of version 4.1.2. It was also the only version released in 2015. A year before, OpenOffice 4.1 released drafts (April 29th, 2014) and 4.1.1 (August 21st, 2014). In short, there was only one major new release over two years; the other two were only maintenance updates.
In comparison, LibreOffice displayed a completely different appearance: the project, which is derived from OpenOffice, accumulates important drafts (4.4 in early 2015, 5.1 in February and now 5.2, to name just three), not to mention the flood of patches that are published between each new version. Between 2014 and 2016, there were five major versions of LibreOffice versus one for OpenOffice.
“RETIREMENT OF THE PROJECT IS A SERIOUS POSSIBILITY”
As Dennis Hamilton states, it would be negligent “not to point out that the retirement of the project is a serious possibility.” But, by openly talking of a possible stop, will they unwittingly cause a self-fulfilling prophecy? By reading it, will users not turn to other tools? Volunteers throw in the towel?
OpenOffice, which is also the term given to Apache OpenOffice, seems to have never really recovered from the 2009 acquisition of Sun Microsystems by Oracle for $7.4 billion. Following this operation highly contested by supporters of free software, dozens of developers jumped ship to found LibreOffice.
Launched in January 2011, version 3.3 of OpenOffice.org 3.3 is the last to have seen the light of day. Then there was a break. The following versions have been published under the auspices of the Apache Foundation, hence the name Apache OpenOffice, and Oracle produced a version on June 1st, 2011. Meanwhile, LibreOffice has emerged and this is the Document Foundation that organizes the work of the office suite.
Dennis Hamilton’s reflections also invited questions about the role the Apache Foundation could play.
The foundation has never been able to care for OpenOffice properly and allow it to grow up at a faster pace to rival LibreOffice and remain a viable alternative to Microsoft Office. The question now is if Dennis Hamilton’s statements will have a shock effect and put the project in the race once again… or if it will be one more nail stuck into the coffin of OpenOffice.