Should OpenOffice Be Closed?
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 19 August 2015

An open letter to the Apache OpenOffice team argues that the project should bow out and redirect potential users to LibreOffice instead.

The letter comes from Christian Schaller, a software engineering manager at Red Hat, a company that is actively involved in the ongoing development of LibreOffice.

His letter was prompted by discovering that OpenOffice has been installed on his mother's new laptop, revealing that when non-technical users look for open source office software it is all too easy to be lured into using what is effectively a dead product.


OpenOffice has an impressive history. It has its original roots, dating back to 1985 in a proprietary product called Star Office, This was acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999 and in the following year Sun open sourced the code with the idea of building a community that would provide a free an open alternative to Microsoft Office.

The initial release of was in 2002 and it was developed with Sun's sponsorship alongside the commercial product StarOffice which was marketed by Sun and an open source version until Sun was acquired by Oracle in January 2010. 

Oracle renamed Star Office Oracle Open Office and in September 2010 that the open source community decided to distance itself from Oracle by creating the Document Foundation.

Although the Document Foundation had the support of almost the entire OpenOffice programming community, including Novell, Red Hat and Google, Oracle not only refused to join it also declined to donate the OpenOffice brand to the project which adopted the name LibreOffice for its suite. 

OpenOffice, still backed by Oracle and IBM, then entered a race with LibreOffice - and lost.

The first release of the forked project was LibreOffice 3.3 in January 2010 and provided all the new features of 3.3 that was released just two days later. LibreOffice 3.4 arrived in June 2011 but before 3.4 was released Oracle handed over the project to the Apache Software Foundation so when its 3.4 version was released in 2012 it didn't have new features but instead was  the first version to be Apache IP policy compliant.

LibreOffice has recently released its Version 5.0 whereas is currently at 4.1.1, released in August 2014. More importantly while LibreOffice has added features that users welcome, has not, even though its website might lead you to think differently.



It is this message that Shaller want's Apache to do something about. In his open letter he writes:

In it he writes:

while a lot of us who comes from technical backgrounds have already caught on to the need to migrate from OpenOffice to LibreOffice, there are still many non-technical users out there who are still defaulting to installing OpenOffice when they are looking for an open source Office Suite, because that is the one they came across 5 years ago. And I believe that the Apache Foundation, being an organization dedicated to open source software, care about the general quality and perception of open source software and thus would share my interest in making sure that all users of open source software gets the best experience possible, even if the project in question isn’t using their code license of preference.

One response this post elicited on  Hacker News was:

Glad this letter was linked here. Despite being technical I had no idea that OpenOffice was in death throws. I'll switch to LibreOffice immediately.

Another commenter suggest that LibreOffice should be more proactive about raising its profile:

The libre office team should really start a campaign to make everyone know that OpenOffice is dead and Libre Office is the future. The standard user still thinks that OpenOffice is the free office and most of the standard users would never have heard of Libre Office.


Looking to future prospects, things for seem bleak. Having lost its IBM paid developers there is little ongoing activity. A comment points out:

"OpenOffice had only eight commits by four authors vs LibreOffice's 4,434 commits by 106 authors in the last month." 

This prompted  the suggestion that the few remaining contributors should move their allegiance to LibreOffice.

This idea seems good to me and to be in accord with the ideals of open source. It makes me wonder what prevents such as move.  Is it that they too don't know about LibreOffice?  Or are they still trying to compete in a race that seems to be over?

This is however a more general problem, not confined to this specific pair of products. So what mechanism should be put in place to signal when open source software is dead?

In the case of proprietary software when the competition gets too stiff and the user base shrinks products get handed over to others. as evidenced in the past by Novell, Boreland and WordPerfect, and eventually dumped, remember Lotus SmartSuite. 

The Apache Software Foundation does have a mechanism for dealing with projects that have reached their end of life - it is the Apache Attic and over 30 projects have followed its process for retiring gracefully. But it is up to the projects themselves to take this decision and not the ASF.

It is the huge advantage of open source that it can live on forever - and at the same time a huge disadvantage from the users' point of view.




More Information

An Open Letter to Apache Foundation and Apache OpenOffice team

Related Articles

New bid for freedom by OpenOffice 

Oracle Hands Over OpenOffice To Community

LibreOffice Development Status Report


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 19 August 2015 )