The OpenOffice.org suite of open source applications is now at a fork in the road. One path follows Oracle, the current owner of the OpenOffice.org trademarks and the leader of the mainline of the application development. A new path starting today is being split off by a community of developers organized under a group called the Document Foundation.
The Document Foundation is building its own branch of OpenOffice.org, officially called LibreOffice. The new effort has the backing of all major Linux distributions, including Red Hat, Novell and Ubuntu, as well as the support of the Free Software Foundation (FSF).
While LibreOffice is a break from the Oracle-led project, backers stressed that the new effort is not about pointing fingers at Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), but rather about building a better open source office suite.
"It's technically a fork, but if you look at it from the community side, it's the real continuity of the project," Italo Vignoli, a member of the Document Foundation's Steering Committee told InternetNews.com. "We feel that the project needs an independent foundation to grow further than it has grown over the last 10 years. Technically speaking it's a fork, but it's not a fork in the sense that we're going in a different direction. We are keeping the direction of Open Office and we want to make it even more open and competitive as a project and we want more developers and contributors."
Oracle obtained the OpenOffice.org trademarks and leadership of the project as part of its acquisition of Sun Microsystems earlier this year.
Vignoli stressed that nothing specifically was wrong with Oracle's leadership of OpenOffice.org. Instead, in the view of the Document Foundation and its supporters, there is a need for an independent organization to help guide the development of the open source office suite, which is a critical part of most Linux distributions. Vignoli noted that Oracle has been invited to become part of the new effort as well.
Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Getting a whole lot of people involved in the project really requires a vendor-neutral nonprofit to be set up so that everyone is on an equal footing, to act as peers working together in a constructive way," Michael Meeks, distinguished engineer at Novell, told InternetNews.com. "I think it will seed and kickstart lots of investment into Open Office and hopefully lead to a lot of distributed collaboration."
As part of the new OpenOffice.org fork, LibreOffice is today making available beta code for the project. Currently numbered as LibreOffice 3.3, the code isn't exactly a replicate of Oracle's OpenOffice.org 3.3 beta. The last stable release of OpenOffice.org was the version, 3.2 which came out in February. Oracle's OpenOffice.org release is also at the 3.3 beta milestone.
Meeks noted that there had been multiple patches that had been floating around in the OpenOffice community that had not yet been applied to the official Oracle project.
"We've taken a different approach with LibreOffice, instead of having patches floating around against the Oracle version of OpenOffice, we are the new upstream," Meeks said. "We're shipping a beta on day one and there are a number of things that need to be fixed."