OpenOffice.org ditches Oracle, establishes Document Foundation - OpenOffice

The developers behind OpenOffice.org have ditched old partner Oracle, renamed their office software suite, and set up a new organisation called the Document Foundation as part of a significant revamp of the open source project.

OpenOffice was established in 2000 with the sponsorship of Sun Microsystems, which was later acquired by Oracle. The original development of the project was by a German-based software firm called Star Division, which Sun acquired in 1999. Oracle's later acquisition of Sun gave it significant control over the entire project, something which many of the developers clearly weren't keen about.

The Document Foundation said it has invited Oracle to become a member of the Foundation, which is probably an attempt to avoid conflict with it over OpenOffice. It has also asked Oracle to donate the brand name of OpenOffice to the Foundation so that it can continue to use that name. Until then it will be renamed LibreOffice.

The Foundation said that this decision to part ways with Oracle and go it alone was made “to fulfil the promise of independence written in the original charter”. It said that this move will generate increased competition and choice, benefiting customers.

“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 and the evolution of the project from the constraints represented by the commercial interests of a single company,” said Sophie Gautier, one of the leading members of the Document Foundation. “Free software advocates around the world have the extraordinary opportunity of joining the group of founding members today, to write a completely new chapter in the history of [free and open source software].”

Many in the industry have applauded the decision to establish the Document Foundation. Novell, Red Hat, the Open Source Initiative, Canonical, the GNOME Foundation, the Free Software Foundation and Google have all come out to praise the move, calling it a step in the right direction for open source.

“The creation of The Document Foundation is a great step forward in encouraging further development of open source office suites,” said Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager at Google. “Having a level playing field for all contributors is fundamental in creating a broad and active community around an open source software project. Google is proud to be a supporter of The Document Foundation and participate in the project.”

OpenOffice.org will still exist as an Oracle project, but many of the developers behind it will now be working on LibreOffice instead. A beta release of the latter is now available and there are plans to clean up the code and remove certain broken aspects of the software, as well as expand its use and functionality over time.

It is unclear how Oracle will react to the news, as it effectively amounts to a vote of no confidence in the company. It also follows a recent trend of top people leaving the company for greener pastures. Stewart Townsend, one of Sun's stalwarts, left last week, while yesterday Jeff Bonwick, head of the ZFS development, another of Sun's main projects, packed his bags. Oracle can't be happy to see so many of its staff making their exodus, but the Document Foundation's announcement is sure to be an even bigger surprise.