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Ellison's Oracle washes hands of OpenOffice

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Oracle is turning OpenOffice into a purely community project, and no longer plans to offer a commercial version of the collaboration suite loved by many.

The database giant said on Friday that it believed OpenOffice would be best managed by an organization focused on serving the broad constituency on a non-commercial basis.

Oracle chief corporate architect Edward Screven said in a brief statement: "We intend to begin working immediately with community members to further the continued success of Open Office," adding that "Oracle will continue to strongly support the adoption of open standards-based document formats, such as the Open Document Format (ODF)."

When asked by The Reg if Oracle were in talks with the Document Foundation or whether it would turn over OpenOffice to a completely new organization, Oracle declined to comment.

The Document Foundation was created in September 2010 by community members of the OpenOffice project when Oracle refused to release OpenOffice as an independent project. The Document Foundation is building the OpenOffice fork Libre Office.

It's not clear, meanwhile, whether the Document Foundation has a future when OpenOffice is back in the open. Much will depend on what kind of governance model Oracle releases OpenOffice under. Also, too, whether Oracle will – as is likely – retain the OpenOffice trademark, which would mean that it would retain the ultimate form of control over what changes go into OpenOffice.

Italo Vignoli, a Document Foundation co-founder and steering committee member, told The Reg the group is not currently in a position to comment on the Oracle announcement.

Friday's news is a massive turnaround by a company that just seven months ago refused to relinquish power over the OpenOffice project that it inherited from Sun Microsystems.

It was a stance that saw OpenOffice community members walk out and set up the Document Foundation and Libre Office in September 2010 – eight months after Oracle took over OpenOffice from Sun.

Not only did the community members building OpenOffice leave, but Oracle also took a drubbing from some of its peers in tech and members of the open-source community.

Google, Novel, Red Hat, Ubuntu-maintainer Canonical, and the Open Source Initiative all issued forthright statements of support for the formation of the Document Foundation.

Prior to the Oracle divorce, OpenOffice devs had tried to use the break in Sun's ownership to turn OpenOffice into an independent project. Sun had been the majority committer, and held control over the project and trademark. Both passed to Oracle with its acquisition.

Immediately following the split, Oracle's attitude was pretty much that the Libre Foundation was free to do what it wanted because it's all open source – and with a hearty flip of the middle finger wished the Foundation well. "The beauty of open source is that it can be forked by anyone who chooses, as was done today," Oracle said in a statement in response to the Foundation's creation.

Oracle offered no reason for its sudden change on Friday. Oracle may well have had a Saul-like road-to-Damascus conversion to the principles of open source. Sources close to the company have been telling us lately that Oracle has realized it has taken needless lumps for its actions on open source and Java, and is learning how to work with the open source projects it inherited from Sun.

Equally likely, however, politics, practicalities, and money played their part.

A successful desktop-collaboration suite has never been the center of Oracle's activities, and so it has never had the people or the resources to dedicate to such products. The divorce with the OpenOffice community, meanwhile, left Oracle in charge of something in which it has very little interest or experience. When the Sun deal closed, we came across Oracle people nosing around open source events actually trying to track down people inside companies responsible for working on OpenOffice so they could make contact.

From that perspective, it was easy for Oracle to swallow some pride and cut OpenOffice lose. Also, it's easy for Oracle to lose the revenue – such as it was – thanks to Oracle's focus mostly on the server.

As for politics: one of OpenOffice's biggest proponents is IBM, and the systems giant that Oracle has courted to carve up Java's development cannot have been happy by the implications of last year's divorce on the development of OpenOffice. Although LibreOffice provided an alternative, it's sorely lacking in the kind of brand recognition held by OpenOffice, while as a fork it was within Oracle's power to accept changes in LibreOffice back in the main code base.

It's entirely possible, therefore, that IBM has spoken to Oracle and made it realize that it's better for OpenOffice, IBM, and for everybody if Oracle just lets go of this one.

Among the ideas Oracle had lined up for OpenOffice under its control: a call to rewrite it using the closed-source JavaFX language for interface development that nobody care's about but Oracle.

A flushed Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison at JavaOne in 2009 urged OpenOffice devs "to quickly build their version of a spreadsheet or a word app using JavaFX." We spoke to OpenOfficers after this, who told us that rewriting OpenOffice in JavaFX made no sense.

A year later, Screven claimed that Ellison had been talking about using JavaFX in conjunction with the then-planned Cloud Office from Oracle. This was intended to provide a Google Apps–like experience when editing word and spreadsheet docs, group collaboration and meetings inside the browser, and integration with the OpenOffice suite on the desktop.

Oracle Cloud Office, however, seems to have evaporated. A search of links provided by Oracle at the time here, here, here, and here to the planned Cloud Office all turn up error-404 pages saying the pages cannot be found. An Oracle Cloud Office page link cached by Google also pulls up an error 404. ®

This article has been updated to include comment from the Document Foundation's Italo Vignoli.

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