OpenOffice may be fading into the sunset

Lack of volunteers and effort for the open source project is killing the Microsoft Office alternative

OpenOffice may be fading into the sunset

OpenOffice, the productivity suite viewed as an alternative to Microsoft Office developed as an open source project, is at serious risk of being closed down due to a lack of help. There have been only three updates since 2013, with the last coming in October 2015.

The developers behind it have not only been slow to update the software, but they were slow to fix it. A major security flaw in July took a month to be patched, and while they were working on it, people with the project suggested switching to Microsoft Office or LibreOffice as temporary workarounds. 

An email entitled "What would OpenOffice retirement involve?" (and first noted by Ars Technica) was sent out last week by Dennis Hamilton, vice president of Apache OpenOffice, a volunteer position that reports to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) board.

"It is my considered opinion that there is no ready supply of developers who have the capacity, capability and will to supplement the roughly half-dozen volunteers holding the project together," Hamilton wrote.

No decisions have been made yet, but Hamilton said "retirement of the project is a serious possibility," since the Apache board has asked what the project's considerations are "with respect to retirement." So, clearly the board has had enough.

This is not a new problem, as the Apache Foundation noted in its January 2015 board meeting it was having trouble finding volunteers to work on the project.

OpenOffice began life as a commercial project called StarOffice at Sun Microsystems in 1999. It was renamed OpenOffice in 2002 and released as a free open-source project to compete with Microsoft's Office suite, which by that point was standard issue in virtually all businesses.

Sun was purchased by Oracle in 2010, and a year later Oracle decided to discontinue development efforts and donated it to the ASF. A large portion of the volunteers working on OpenOffice forked the project and launched LibreOffice. Since then, work on OpenOffice has been in a steady decline.

It's not a surprising development, especially given how many of its original developers bailed out in favor of LibreOffice. Open-source projects have always been built on volunteerism, but there are only so many bodies to go around, and a project like an Office productivity suite is no trivial task. I can't see the market supporting two Office alternatives given the ubiquity of Office and Office 365. So, this was inevitable.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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