OpenOffice.org and the Unnecessary Ultimatum

A dispute within the OpenOffice leadership team concerning support of The Document Foundation is causing a great internal rift.
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Last week, the OpenOffice.org Community Council requested the resignation of members who supported The Document Foundation, the recent fork of the OpenOffice.org project. This week, the results are revealed: resignations of key people, and a growing tendency to choose sides in the community. And the tragedy is that none of this angst seems necessary.

The request follows the recent creation of The Document Foundation (TDF), to provide an independent governing body for the development of the OpenOffice.org (OOo) code, and the announcement of LibreOffice, The Document Foundation's fork of the OpenOffice.org code.

Although The Document Foundation invited Oracle Corporation, the current owners of the OpenOffice.org code after acquiring it earlier this year along with the rest of the assets of Sun Microsystems, to join, Oracle declined. However, Oracle did issue a news release affirming its continued dedication to OpenOffice.org.

Matters came to a head last week during an IRC meeting of the Community Council. Stating that " it is of utmost importance that we do not confuse users and contributors as to what is what, as to the identity of OpenOffice.org," Chair Louis Suarez-Potts described the creation of The Document Foundation as "a plain conflict of interest," he went on to say that, "the point is quite clear. If the TDF members do not disassociate themselves from [The Document Foundation, then they must resign by Tuesday [October 26]."

Considering that five of the eleven Community Council members are members of The Document Foundation, the insistence on their resignation can hardly be anything but disruptive. The four members are Deputy Chair Sophie Gautier; Native Language Representatives Olivier Hallot and Charles-H. Schultz; Community Representative Cor Nouws, and Product Development Representative Christoph Noack.

However, when you add other members of The Document Foundation's steering committee, the potential for self-inflicted injury to OpenOffice.org becomes even more serious. Among the members of the steering committee are Caolan McNamara, a prominent member of the OpenOffice.org Engineer Steering Committee; Florian Effenberger, the Marketing Project Lead, and the project lead for several localizations, including Brazilian, Danish, and German.

As I write, at least one of the steering committee -- Florian Effenberger -- has resigned, even though not called upon to do so. He joins Community Council member Christoh Noack and Charles L. Schulz.

So far, no one has announced that they will resign from The Document Foundation to stay in OpenOffice.org. However, Oracle remains the employee of the majority of OpenOffice.org developers, so, at the coding level, the situation might have little effect. Yet, with an increasing number of people choosing sides, some problems seem likely.

The result just may be a fracturing of the tentative community that OpenOffice.org has managed to create.

Choosing Sides

To anyone who follows OpenOffice.org, the split seems hardly surprising. The uncertainty over Oracle's plans for OpenOffice.org has left at least some community members mistrustful. When The Document Foundation was first announced on the OpenOffice.org Discuss list, one of the first responses was to call upon Oracle to "do the decent thing" and support the foundation.

Even Oracle employee Thomas Lange, writing to contradict the suggestion that no one at Oracle monitored the list, felt obliged to add, "However, most of those who do are in no position to make such decisions."

In this atmosphere, the announcement of The Document Foundation was welcomed, but not uncritically. Recognizing several of the foundation's steering committee as members of Go-OO, a previous splinter group from OpenOffice.org, Cor Nouws cannot help remarking that it "is a tragic quirk of history that people whom I criticized in private and public for the way they acted [towards] OpenOffice.org, are among the first ones that support the long-awaited foundation."

Similarly, Ariel Constenla-Haile, noting that Novell and Red Hat employees are included among The Document Foundation, questions the motives from the group, as well as the fact that how it will be governed is still being determined. From such remarks, it appears that support for The Document Foundation is based more on uncertainty about Oracle than unqualified enthusiasm for the new project.

By contrast, those who continue to support OpenOffice.org most strongly tend to be Oracle employees. For example, developer Malte Timmermann asks, "How can [OpenOffice.org] gain from this? It's not clear to me how contributions to [LibreOffice] will make their way to OpenOffice.org."

Mathias Bauer, a long-time manager of OpenOffice.org development, is even more outspoken. Describing the ultimatum as "a valid request," he suggests that anyone with a leading position in OpenOffice.org who cannot give OpenOffice.org priority should resign. On the whole, the OpenOffice.org supporters seem more hardline and less willing to compromise.


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