LibreOffice gets free software stamp of approval in fight against Oracle and Microsoft

Richard Stallman endorses "Libre" over Oracle's OpenOffice

Software rights activist Richard Stallman is backing LibreOffice in the quest to provide a free software alternative to Microsoft Office. has long been the primary free and open source alternative to Microsoft's word processing, spreadsheet and presentation creation software. But OpenOffice proponents who become concerned over Oracle's control over the software, which it acquired along with the Sun Microsystems purchase, created a new fork called LibreOffice.

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Stallman, who launched the free software movement nearly three decades ago by creating the GNU operating system and Free Software Foundation, tells me he had issues with OpenOffice even before the Oracle acquisition. But the LibreOffice fork has answered his concerns.

Stallman believes all software should be "free," not in terms of price but in the ability to use, modify and redistribute source code however a user wishes. OpenOffice earned his criticism by directing users toward non-free extensions.

"OpenOffice's code is free software," Stallman says. "It's released under a free software license. Well, that's good. But the people who did the work ... weren't interested in users' freedom and they set up a site with a list of extensions you could download. Some of the extensions were proprietary. So the Free Software Foundation spoke with them, saying this puts us in a bad situation, we can't recommend OpenOffice the way it is because that means we're recommending something that leads people to proprietary software."

FSF asked OpenOffice creators to remove the proprietary programs from the list of extensions. "They said no," Stallman said. "So we launched a project to create another list of extensions which would have only the free extensions, which were most of the extensions."

But the LibreOffice fork, begun last year by the new Document Foundation, adopts the Free Software Foundation's preferred list of extensions, according to Stallman.

"They started using our list of free extensions," he says. "As you can see from the name they chose they're free software supporters and they had a different set of priorities from what an open source supporter would have. Open source supporters can develop free software but they don't see a reason to make sure they always develop free software, and especially that they only promote free software."

Red Hat, Novell, Canonical and Google are among the Document Foundation's supporters.

I'm already using LibreOffice at home, and it looks and feels just like OpenOffice. You can expect distributions such as Ubuntu to favor LibreOffice over OpenOffice in future releases, and you can download the software for Mac or Windows as well.

To check out Stallman's thoughts on new threats posed by smartphones and the state of the free software movement, read the rest of the interview here.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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