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Natty Narwhal Ditches OpenOffice for LibreOffice

Natty Narwhal Ditches OpenOffice for LibreOffice

Future versions of Ubuntu will ship with LibreOffice, the fork of OpenOffice created by developers disillusioned with Oracle's lukewarm -- at best -- relationship with the open source community. "Oracle is probably the prototypical vendor of commercial software, and its vision of open doesn't include a lot of open source," said Jonathan Eunice, principal IT analyst at Illuminata.

By Richard Adhikari
01/25/11 5:00 AM PT

Canonical, which leads the Ubuntu project, has reportedly decided to switch from the OpenOffice productivity suite to LibreOffice in future versions of the popular Linux distribution.

Version 11.04 of Ubuntu, also known as "Natty Narwhal," is expected to be the first release to incorporate LibreOffice.

LibreOffice is a fork in the OpenOffice suite that was created by the volunteers behind OpenOffice.org, who felt Oracle wasn't supporting the open source community as strongly as it should.

Those volunteers set up The Document Foundation in September and began working on the fork, which they named "LibreOffice."

"LibreOffice has good people, and its appearance probably means Oracle is messing up," Bill Roth, executive vice president at LogLogic, told LinuxInsider.

Viva LibreOffice?

The Document Foundation announced LibreOffice 3.3 Release Candidate 4 last Thursday.

"It looks like LibreOffice is serious," said LogLogic's Roth, formerly the group product manager in charge of open sourcing and launching OpenOffice.org. "Caolan McNamara is involved, and he was one of the original engineers."

Red Hat will also reportedly support LibreOffice in its Fedora open source Linux distribution. Further, Novell will reportedly use LibreOffice in openSUSE.

LibreOffice reportedly supports all major operating systems -- Windows, Mac, and Linux distros including Ubuntu, Fedora, Suse, Mandriva and Debian.

The Canonical Switch

Canonical's decision to replace OpenOffice with LibreOffice may come as no surprise to Ubuntu fans. Canonical founder and former CEO Mark Shuttleworth said last year that Ubuntu would support LibreOffice, shortly after The Document Foundation was established.

That could have been due to a combination of adherence to open source principles and shrewd business calculation. In October, after the establishment of The Document Foundation, 33 developers wrote an open letter expressing dissatisfaction with Oracle's approach to OpenOffice.org and pledging to develop LibreOffice.

Canonical couldn't respond to requests for comment, company representative Joseph Eckert told LinuxInsider, because it's "based in London, and the folks who could answer your query have all gone home."

The Hate's On for Oracle

The establishment of The Document Foundation as a home for LibreOffice highlights the mistrust felt by the open source community toward Oracle after it purchased Sun Microsystems, which launched OpenOffice.org.

Many in the open source community expressed doubts that Oracle would support OpenOffice.org. Further, the open letter written by the 33 developers who switched allegiance in October to The Document Foundation alluded to what can be interpreted as Oracle's attempts to shape OpenOffice.org on the one hand, and its neglect of suggestions to further OpenOffice on the other.

"Oracle is probably the prototypical vendor of commercial software, and its vision of open doesn't include a lot of open source," Jonathan Eunice, principal IT analyst at Illuminata, told LinuxInsider.

"Oracle has been less than forthcoming about its plans, funding or support for open source projects, including OpenOffice and MySQL," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider. "Given that, it's not surprising that developers decided to launch The Document Foundation and LibreOffice."

A Possible Case for Oracle

Perhaps critics, including the open source community, aren't being fair to Oracle.

"The problem with OpenOffice.org was that it was never truly funded the way it should be, but that underscores the fact that open source is not free," LogLogic's Roth pointed out.

"By my estimation, Oracle would have to spend (US)$1 million to $1.5 million a year on OpenOffice.org, and that's not counting the head cost of developers," Roth said. "Oracle's got tough business people, and they probably realized OpenOffice.org isn't going to make them any money. It looks like a case of Oracle's hard business processes going against the open source community."

Oracle spokesperson Deborah Hellinger declined comment.

Other Issues Around LibreOffice

Work on LibreOffice has proceeded rapidly, giving rise to questions about whether it is fully baked. Perhaps those fears are unfounded.

"The last version I tested had some fit-and-finish glitches, but that's par for the course," Illuminata's Eunice remarked. "I suspect they're getting resolved as we speak."

LibreOffice has many of the features of OpenOffice, for now.

"The feature sets might diverge over time, but the fork is so recent that there hasn't been much time for serious divergence," Eunice stated.

The biggest point of departure between the two is that LibreOffice includes OpenXML technologies from Go-oo, Pund-IT's King said. Go-oo is an open office development project.

Meanwhile, there's been a flurry of activity around OpenOffice.org.

Oracle participated in the Open Document Format plugfest in Ocbober. Also, Oracle has been issuing new release candidates for OpenOffice.org 3.3.0 frequently, sometimes weekly.

"I would think Oracle would want to either greatly step up its office software presence or wind it down -- but so far, I don't see a clear plan to do either," Eunice said. "Sun meandered similarly for years."


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