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Discordant Notes Surround IBM's Symphony Move

By Katherine Noyes
Jul 18, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Following last month's excitement over the ongoing saga, it seemed like things on that front were quieting down at last.

Discordant Notes Surround IBM's Symphony Move

It was just early June, of course, when Oracle decided to donate OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation rather than to LibreOffice -- a move at least one blogger equated with a "spiteful child, smashing their toys instead of sharing."

Well, so much for any kind of lasting quiet since then. Last week, none other than IBM announced that it was donating its Lotus Symphony office suite to the Apache project, thus throwing its own weight behind the Oracle-affiliated project as well.

A Bomb Is Dropped

"We're going to contribute the standalone version of Lotus Symphony to the Apache project, under the Apache 2.0 license," wrote IBM's Rob Weir in an email on Wednesday.

"We'll also work with project members to prioritize which pieces make sense to integrate into OpenOffice," Weir added.

The news spread through the Linux blogosphere like the proverbial wildfire, causing conflagrations of conversation on forums far and wide. Opinions were nothing if not diverse.

'This Makes Sense'

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, took a positive view of the move.

"This makes sense for IBM," Travers said. "It ultimately means less maintenance on their shoulders for a product they don't charge license fees for. The neutral license also ensures that this is a win for the FOSS community generally, regardless of politics between OpenOffice and LibreOffice."

In the end, it is "a good thing," Travers asserted.

"Once again IBM has shown themselves to be a company which is willing to contribute to FOSS when it serves their interests, which is all we can expect from any commercial company," he concluded. "I think it shows that more is on its way."

'They're Dumping It Off'

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza, however, had a different view.

"I had to google to even know what Lotus Symphony is; the name 'Lotus' is now inseparable from 'Notes' in my mind, and I cannot hear it without a shudder of disgust," Espinoza told Linux Girl.

"It appears to be a fork of OO.o, so I suppose it's a good sign to see it being offered back for merging -- if there's actually anything there worth using," Espinoza added. "I don't really have any problem with OO.o's interface until you get to preferences, so I guess I don't really care."

The move is more an example of "abandonware" than a useful donation, he opined. "It's not worth maintaining, so they're dumping it off. Since it's based on OO.o they can't really kill it, so why not set it free in exchange for some free goodwill, while improving their bottom line at the same time?"

'OO Just Hit Another Oh-Oh'

Indeed, "it's one way to extricate your company from a project without looking like you've given up on it, but that's basically what's happening," agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "If this keeps up, the Apache Foundation will get a reputation as a dumping ground for dying forks."

While LibreOffice continues to move forward, "OO just hit another oh-oh -- they have to see what, if any, code they can use from Symphony," Hudson noted. "More delays, when they're already behind. Yes, people are saying that the code donation by IBM was a sop to Oracle, and that may well be, but the net effect is to drop a boat anchor right through the hull of a becalmed ship."

As "anyone who's worked with code" knows, "the absolute last thing you want when you're trying to get up to speed is millions of lines of foreign code dumped on you," Hudson added. "It's the code equivalent of Fred Brooks (The Mythical Man-Month) saying, 'adding more people to a late project just makes it later.'"

The result could even be classified as "a new trojan variant," Hudson suggested. "Code that will cause your project to crash and burn without even being run."

'A Lot of Work for No Benefit'

Blogger Robert Pogson saw it similarly.

"I'm disappointed that IBM is going along with Oracle to convert to the ASF license," Pogson said. "This is a lot of work for no benefit. It also complicates the possibility of LibreOffice and ever getting back together."

LibreOffice, in fact, is "thriving, while looks like it will take months to get on track," Pogson pointed out. "It all seems pointless."

IBM has, of course, "done a lot to promote FLOSS" over the years, he added. "But this is a questionable move. Competition is good, but on a large project like an office suite, there will be a lot of duplication of effort. The Symphony extensions are unlikely to ever fit with LibreOffice and the good work in LibreOffice is unlikely to ever find its way to"

So, "what's the point?" Pogson concluded. "Oracle and IBM could have joined The Document Foundation and been up to speed instantly."

'The Mindshare Left Ages Ago'

What will happen next? Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack didn't hesitate to make a prediction.

"What will happen next is that the LibreOffice people will just pick off what features they think will be good from the IBM donation, since the license lets them do that," Mack told Linux Girl. "It is far too late for the OpenOffice project to regain the prominence it had before the fork, since the mindshare left ages ago."

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