The announcement yesterday that Oracle proposed OpenOffice.org as an Apache Incubator project was heavy on impact, but light on detail. To get a bit more information about the hand-off, I checked in with Apache Software Foundation (ASF) president Jim Jagielski.
The ASF is best known for project like the ubiquitous Apache HTTP server — but Apache is home to dozens of projects. Still, doesn't OpenOffice.org seem just a bit out of place here? Jagielski says no. "Although Apache is mostly known for server-side code (either complete servers, middle-ware, libraries, etc...) we do have some client-side and userland projects. Apache OFBiz is likely the best example." In fact, Jagielski says what is "typical" for Apache is "building (or even "re-building") communities around those codebases."
He says that makes Apache the perfect place to "help 'repair' the community" around OpenOffice.org. "I've already contacted the Document Foundation, which sponsors LibreOffice, with hopes that we can work together to benefit the existing community, as well as really grow the community at large: both developers and users."
Of course, the OO.org community isn't the only strained relationship here. The ASF has loudly complained about Oracle, and left the Java Community Process in November of last year. Isn't it a little awkward to have Oracle knocking on the ASF's door a few months later? Jagielski says that it shows Oracle "considers the ASF a true FOSS leader." He acknowledges that Oracle and the ASF "won't see eye-to-eye on everything," but "when there is agreement regarding Open Source, Oracle considers the ASF as the best example of open source communities."
Licensing also enters into it — Jagielski says that he thinks "having the OO.org codebase under the Apache License was also quite attractive." At least to Oracle and IBM. The LibreOffice fork is licensed under the Lesser GNU General Public License version 3 (LGPLv3) and Mozilla Public License (MPL), both of which are reciprocal — thus requiring distributors to provide the code for derivative versions. As Greg Stein points out on the Apache list, this may not be something IBM was interested in doing with its Lotus Symphony suite. (Whether IBM is right for wanting to work on a non-copyleft project is left as an exercise to the reader.)
Why does IBM's interest matter? Because Oracle isn't going to be putting forward the engineering resources. According to the proposal sent to Apache, Oracle says that the initial developers "will be employed by IBM, Linux distribution companies, and likely public sector agencies." It seems unlikely that Novell's LibreOffice contributors are going to be joining up immediately, so most of the paid development seems likely to come from IBM. Jagielski says that Oracle is expected to help with the incubation process but then "the current expectation is once the podling graduates, Oracle will gracefully bow out of the project."
There is some concern about this, though. Even with IBM likely to contribute, OpenOffice.org is a big codebase. Other projects handed off from corporate sponsors have floundered a bit in the Incubator, which leads to concern that OpenOffice.org could fail as well.
However, as IBM's Rob Weir notes, OpenOffice.org needs to demonstrate diversity to graduate from the Incubator. So too much IBM and/or Oracle influence won't help OO.org make it as a main project.
It's important to note that the OO.org project is not automatically accepted. Jagielski says that it will be voted on, likely after some back-and-forth over Oracle's initial proposal. "Assuming the vote passes, the donated OO.org code is imported into our repository and the podling starts the Incubation process: building code and building community. This also entails IP tracking, etc."
Jagielski says that he's aware "there has been a backlog of patches and enhancements to the OO.org codebase which have not been merged yet." If OO.org is accepted, he says the next step is to "boot-strap development, and community building, by encouraging that anyone who has such unmerged patches to join the podling."
It's been suggested that some code may have to be removed from OpenOffice.org due to licensing. Jagielski says that code owned by Oracle will be licensed/donated to the ASF, though some external dependencies may have incompatible licensing. He expects that will be handled during Incubation and suggests "that is one way where the Document Foundation and the ASF could work together; By having OO more modular, with the base code AL2.0 licensed, it increases it's usefulness (ala the Apache httpd web server)..."
Weir also encourages the idea of doing core OO.org development in Apache and then having additional work done by derivatives. Whether the LibreOffice folks go for that is another question.
It's also worth reading the Apache Office, anyone post by Shane Curcuru for more details on how to join the Apache Incubator project and how that dovetails with OpenOffice.org.
Will OO.org flourish under the Apache banner? I'd be curious to hear what you think.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.