September 24, 2007 1 Comment
OpenOffice.org has been in the news for a couple reasons this week. On one hand, IBM announced that is was releasing Lotus Symphony, an office suite that is based on OpenOffice.org code and runs in an Eclipse instance. On the other hand, some of the community is up in arms about the control Sun continues to have over the project. Note that I am not involved in the OOo community on a daily basis, so I don’t know if the CW article is just a journalistic powder keg or a legitimate impending feud. Looking at the issues at hand, I do have a little commentary however. When you look at successful Open Source projects of a certain size, they typically have some kind of benevolent dictator at the top. Sometimes it’s a person (Linux for example), sometimes it’s a Foundation (Firefox, Apache, Eclipse) and sometimes it’s a company (Alfresco,OpenOffice). Whatever the structure, that direction and leadership from the top is critical to the success of a project. It’s clear that up until now, Sun has been the “top” of the OpenOffice.org project. They employee about 85% of the contributors and all official commits must go through Hamburg. Don’t forget that OpenOffice.org is the result of Sun acquiring Star Office and open sourcing it. Keeping that in mind, it’s clear that some features have not made it into the product because Sun did not want it to happen. That being said, I think that overall Sun has done a very good job with the project.
Now, with IBM joining the project on an official level and also committing 35 head count from China, things may be set to change. Have we reached a point where Sun should let go and form an “OpenOffice.org Foundation”? If so, how much control of that organization should they retain? Or, is it OK for a company that started an Open Source project to maintain control if they are providing good leadership? OpenOffice.org is hugely important to the Open Source community, so this is an important discussion. I think that an OpenOffice.org Foundation makes the most sense in this case, but I could see a general argument for maintaining company control (at least in some cases). What do you think?
One final comment. I forget sometimes how difficult a position Sun has put themselves in after years of being schizo about Open Source. For the last couple of years they have done some truly awesome things, yet they continue to take a beating in the community. I wonder how long it is until some will think they have paid their dues. With some of the OpenSolaris vs. Linux posturing that is sure to come (more comments on that soon) my guess is that Sun may not get the credit they deserve for some time.