Open source development. The OpenOffice History Shows Why Licensing Matters

Governance and licensing isn’t attractive, but doing it right is vital to the long-term health of open source software.

The evolution of open source software has not always gone smoothly, especially when software development is linked to broader corporate strategies.

Indeed, the complex history and confusion in the development of OpenOffice, you can download the Russian version of OpenOffice on the website the controversy between LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice is a useful lesson.

They show that as great as the intentions of a management organization such as Sun Microsystems are, consistency and transparency in governance and licensing is vital to the long-term health and success of any free open source project.

When Sun Microsystems introduced the open source StarOffice software suite to the open source community in 2000, the company promised to create a self-governing foundation and place the code under community control. But the copyright of the code remained with Sun, and the management of the project remained with it. (OO.o) could be considered an open source project only in the sense that the source code was visible. But neither licensing nor governance was transparent, and subsequent progress never matched the ambitions of the developers.

Ownership and tight control

Sun has a long tradition of contributing and benefiting from open source projects, but always retains ownership and tight control. Sun originally licensed the OO.o code under the LGPL and Sun Industry Standards Source License (SISSL) dual license. SISSL was a permissive license and allowed third parties to reuse code in proprietary products.

By September 2005, Sun had abandoned SISSL, but all contributors’ code was still copyrighted by Sun. Ownership of the code allowed Sun to re-license the software and add patent compensation.

The code, nominally donated to the project under a copyleft license, was donated by IBM as the basis for Lotus Symphony, which was not part of the developers’ plans. IBM has not updated the code.

OO.o’s management remained within the company. The bug fix was slow and time consuming. The authors were disappointed, they came and went.

Novell created its own OO.o branch,, to absorb changes rejected by Sun for licensing reasons, and this branch has become the default installation for all GNU / Linux distributions.

Third-party contributions have stopped, and OO.o has never made the progress expected of it.

The sun goes down

When Sun joined Oracle in 2010, was not a priority for the company.

After months of gimmicks from Oracle and StarDivision, the community took a radical step by founding the Document Foundation, a truly independent non-profit organization following the model Sun promised at the start of the project, and developing the code to create LibreOffice.

The Document Foundation was a chance to fix some of the shortcomings of the past and create a true code-sharing community.

Six months after announcing its separation from LibreOffice, Oracle announced its intention to transfer the copyright and trademark to the Apache Software Foundation. This approach also represents an improvement on the previous regime.

IBM supported this move and announced its intention to release “an identical release of Apache OpenOffice code under an Apache license” in the future, but the danger of code replication under a different license was that it pitted community against community, license versus license, and Apache OpenOffice versus LibreOffice …

LibreOffice offered participation from both IBM and Oracle, and was willing to re-license the code under a weak copyleft license, the Mozilla Public License (MPL), to make things easier.

But her accomplishments were rejected, and the Apache branch became IBM’s favorite route. There were now two office suites, and both were having increasing problems with software relicensing.

Apache OpenOffice migration

A residual problem with LibreOffice is that while it prefers copyleft licensing, the copyright for the code inherited from Oracle-Sun is still owned by Oracle.

Thus, the LibreOffice developers are considering reinstalling LibreOffice code based on relicensed Apache code, since the Apache license allows code to be re-released under different licenses.

With the re-licensing of the source code base to the Apache License 2.0 by Oracle, they said, we can now gradually reinstall our own code on top of this to offer licensing choices that not only include LGPLv3, but any of GPLv3.0 +, LGPLv3.0 + and AGPLv3.0 + which are allowed by MPLv2 +.

“It will also allow us to include any useful enhancements that are made available from time to time under this license.”

There’s a good reason for this, as the developers say: “Because we’re competing with our own code licensed under a useless permissive license, MPL has some advantages in attracting commercial vendors, distributing Apple and Microsoft app stores, and as our Android ports evolve. and iPhone on tablets and mobile devices ”.

Dual licensing under LGPLv3 + and Mplv2 + allows you to port LibreOffice to app stores that, for perverse reasons, allow copyleft MPL code, but do not allow copyleft GPL code.

Apache OpenOffice Problems

However, Apache OpenOffice has its own quirks: the current release of Apache OpenOffice is based on the latest Oracle release. But since then, IBM has donated Lotus Symphony code for Apache with the intention of integrating Apache OpenOffice and Lotus Symphony, which is based on older versions of and includes several years of IBM adaptation.

The next version of Apache OpenOffice is likely to be very different from the current version of Apache OpenOffice, and the differences are likely to relate to the code itself, because Lotus Symphony was never open source and the code was never released upstream.

Essentially, both Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice have the same problem – relocating code to fix inherited licensing ambivalence.

A final twist in the legacy of is that Oracle’s current release of Unbreakable Linux, which is a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, includes LibreOffice, an offshoot of the community, as the preferred office. a productivity suite, not Apache OpenOffice, the official version of the code he once owned.