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Interview: How LibreOffice Broke Free from Oracle

libreoffice_logo_2010.jpgBreaking up is never easy to do, but the split between Oracle and the new LibreOffice (news, site) team has been one of the more traumatic recent events in IT. CMSWire asked the new team's Italo Vignoli what went on behind the scenes and what can we expect to see now from Libre/OpenOffice.

Is It Open Season on Open Source?

The relationship between acquired open source projects in major corporations always seems to spark trouble. Oracle's acquisition of Sun seems to have more than its fair share of panic and drama. The latest bout being when most of the OpenOffice team marched off into the sunset to form LibreOffice.

The break-up sparked a lot of interest and support for the new team, but even though there was plenty of high visibility reaction in the form of chat logs and press releases, it was hard to gauge how the people involved were handling the situation. So, we asked Italo Vignoli, a member of the Steering Committee at LibreOffice what has been going on, and will happen in the company's future.

Geoff Spick: Tell us about how OpenOffice worked within Oracle?

Italo Vignoli: OpenOffice.org was a large project, where there was a small group of corporate developers and a huge number of volunteers, who — by definition — are using their free time to contribute to the project. Volunteers were handling localization, QA and marketing.

GS: Were any of you in-house at Oracle, and how did the process of departing go (or how is it going)?

IV: A couple of people used to be Sun employees, but left quite a long time ago and are now employed by Novell and Red Hat. The other people were volunteers and therefore did not belong to any formal OOo organization.

The process of leaving has not been as smooth as we would have liked. Oracle feels there is a conflict of interest and has asked some people to leave the community. I have been resigned from my role as community budget approver by a gentleman with an Oracle business card who has decided that he was a better community member than myself.

GS: Where is most of the team based and what tools do they use for working together?

IV: We are spread around the world, as we are a true international community. We use wikis and mailing lists, but also conference calls. For some tasks, we also use IRC, although this is better suited to development tasks.

GS: Did the process of separation feel like a "rush for the exits" or was it a hard decision for some people?

IV: It has been a hard decision for most people, as they have been instrumental for building the OOo brand in most countries. We still believe in OOo, although we do not believe in a corporate-sponsored free software project.

We feel that corporate-sponsored free software projects belong to previous decades, as free software was not perceived as good enough to be self-sustaining. After 20 years, free software is mature enough for a self-sustaining business model, with corporate sponsors as members of the community.

GS: How would you describe the overall feel of the "new team" as it becomes a distinct entity from what went before?

IV: There is a huge amount of enthusiasm, and a nice progress of our activities (although we all would like to do even more, but it is rather difficult to sustain a fast pace for a long time when you have only a fraction of your time available). At the moment, we are focused on building the infrastructure and the legal entity.

GS: What are the main aims for the first few months of operation for LibreOffice?

IV: There is an overall objective of building a foundation based on openness and transparency, a development objective of building a stable release with some nice additional features over OOo, a marketing objective of creating and maintaining buzz around the project, etcetera.

The Document Foundation is a very ambitious project, and is aiming very high to show that a free software community can be as good as — or even better than — any corporate environment.

GS: Can we expect to see some big differences between LibreOffice and OpenOffice, or will the divergence be more subtle?

 

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