OpenOffice.org -> LibreOffice, oh my…

As a writer, I am proud to say that I have used OpenOffice.org as my primary office suite for over 5 years, and could not be happier with it. While I must admit that Microsoft Office is a good office suite product, I rather dislike its user interface (the ribbon, and all that), and prefer to keep my documents in a non-proprietary format (that is, the OpenDocument format). However, not all is well on the OpenOffice.org front these days.

It is no small news that OpenOffice.org, perhaps the only significant (not to mention free) compeditor to Microsoft Office, is in a bit of a topsy-turvy state right now. But first some background. While OpenOffice.org is indeed an open source software project released under the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), the trademark for OpenOffice.org itself is (or was) owned by Sun Microsystems — OpenOffice.org’s biggest corporate partner and contributor. However, on January 27, 2010, Sun was acquired by Oracle Corporation along with all its assets, which of course include not only the trademark to OpenOffice.org, but several other open source projects as well, such as the popular, free, and open source database MySQL (which directly competes with Oracle’s own horrendously expensive database). Although Oracle can do nothing to stop, kill, or even take over a software project whose code-base is released under the GPL or LGPL, they can cause serious disruption.  Many feared this would happen to MySQL, but few expected a big fuss over OpenOffice.org. After all, Oracle stands to gain ground tremendous against Microsoft by continuing to support and promote OpenOffice.org.

But then something very strange happened. A number of OpenOffice.org developers decided to fork (that is, branched off) the project to create LibreOffice under the Document Foundation project. Before I get into how stupid a name is “LibreOffice”,  I first need to mention that I have no idea what is going on with Oracle’s internal corporate politics, or what plans Oracle really has for OpenOffice.org, or what truly motivated this forking of the OpenOffice.org project in the first place. None of that really concerns me. What does concern me as an avid user of OpenOffice.org is simply having a good office suite with a word processor and spread sheet that is suitable for all my needs. My main fear is that splitting the OpenOffice.org community into the OpenOffice.org camp and the LibreOffice camp will ultimately spell the doom of both projects. In other words, “united we stand, divide we fall.”

Oracle is a huge company, and they may have plans to further develop OpenOffice.org as a competitor to Microsoft Office. They certainly have the money to do so. If, on the other hand, Oracle has no interest in supporting OpenOffice.org, they should turn over the trademark to the Document Foundation so they can market the project as OpenOffice.org, rather than LibreOffice (in fact, the Document Foundation has asked Oracle to do just that). If Oracle refuses, and just sits on the trademark while OpenOffice.org dies, then everyone looses.

In my opinion, LibreOffice is doomed, and the only way it can survive is if Oracle grants the Document Foundation usage of the name OpenOffice.org to use instead. It has taken 10 years for the name OpenOffice.org to catch on with any significant name recognition, and to abandon that name recognition and start from scratch with a moniker as lame as LibreOffice is suicide. I don’t know who came up with LibreOffice, but they were obviously not marketing experts. Not only is LibreOffice not catchy, but it is also neither hip, cool, catchy, terse, nor remotely recognizable. To be sure, I understand that “libre” means “free” (from French, Spanish, or derivative from Latin), but it just sounds lame when combined with the word office. If Oracle does not grant the Document Foundation usage of the name OpenOffice.org, I hope they elect to use a better name. Wait, here’s an idea — perhaps they could give the community a chance to vote on a name. Isn’t open source about the ideals of democracy as applied to software development? Hmm…

Anyway, here’s a few alternative ideas to LibreOffice that I’ve come up with:

  • ONOffice (ONOffice is Not Office — that’s just a joke, but still better that LibreOffice)
  • GnuOffice (as “the office suite released under the GNU General Public License”)
  • FreeOffice (because that’s what it is)
  • CommonOffice (not great but better than LibreOffice)
  • [insert-any-verb-or-noun]Office (bound to be better than LibreOffice)

Or they could just abandon the usage of -Office all together, and go for something else like “OpenSuite”, “FreeSuite”, “DocumentSuite”, or something else long those lines.

My point is simply this: LibreOffice is a dumb name. If the fork is a true split, and OpenOffice.org continues development under Oracle while LibreOffice goes its own way, I will have to judge which I feel is better as far as features, stability, and quality are concerned — and if Oracle OpenOffice is better, I plan to stick with it. Of course, if Oracle stops development of OpenOffice.org, I will of course use LibreOffice. I can only hope they pick a better name. After all, if Oracle stops OpenOffice.org development, and LibreOffice flounders due to the abysmal marketing and name recognition failure that will inevitably follow this ill-conceived name change, then the vision that was OpenOffice.org will surely perish.

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1 Response

  1. Gary Cota says:

    I was wondering why OOo hasn’t had any updates recently…

    It took me months to talk management into using OOo as an alternative to MS Office. I finally got permission to being a pilot program on a couple of dozen workstations. I had even purchased OpenOffice Enterprise in order to manage the OOo through Active Directory. Unfortunately converting more PCs to OOo will now be more difficult because of this news.

    I totally agree with you. The split could weaken both OOo and LibreOffice and potentially drive end-users back to MS Office. From a technical perspective OpenOffice is a very stable product. And with Sun backing OOo, management had a big company for name recognition. Ditto with Oracle but Microsoft groupies will surely use the break up to strengthen their argument for continuing the use of MS Office in the corporate environment.

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