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IBM calls time on Symphony OpenOffice fork

In tune with Oracle Apache plan

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IBM's putting its weight behind an Oracle-backed OpenOffice push rather than follow Google, Red Hat and others on an independent effort.

The latest version of IBM's Symphony collaboration suite, version 3.0.1, will likely be the last based on the computing and services giant's fork of the OpenOffice code base.

IBM is instead putting its "energy" into the Apache OpenOffice project, having contributed the Symphony code base to the Apache Software Foundation.

Ed Brill, director of messaging and collaboration for Lotus software, has blogged here: "We expect to distribute an 'IBM edition' of Apache OpenOffice in the future."

The decision sees IBM lining up against Google, Ubuntu-shop Canonical Red Hat, Novell and others who've thrown their hats in with The Document Foundation.

The Foundation is home to another OpenOffice fork called LibreOffice, and both the fork and Foundation were created by Google, Canonical, Red Hat and Novell in 2010 following a disagreement with newbie OpenOffice owner Oracle over the project's future and independence.

Oracle had inherited OpenOffice through its Sun Microsystems acquisition, a deal that saw Oracle also gain Sun's status as the project's largest single contributor and member.

OpenOfficers wanted to use the hiatus as an opportunity to re-invent OpenOffice as a vendor-independent and neutral effort.

Oracle, however, refused to let go and instead the members split, with Oracle only finally letting go in June 2011 by agreeing to contribute OpenOffice to ASF. Oracle, though, continues to own the OpenOffice trademark, and say who's allowed to use it.

LibreOffice, rather than OpenOffice, has become the default productivity suite for Ubuntu, SuSE Linux, openSuSE, Fedora, Mint Linux.

You can see a full list of Document Foundation members here.

The defections of the Linuxes didn't just mean a loss of credibility for OpenOffice and anybody such as IBM whose fork depended upon the suite. It also posed a potential problem for continued technical contributions.

Placing OpenOffice with Apache potentially ensured the project's support; now with IBM stepping in, OpenOffice can also draw on IBM's manpower. OpenOffice is in ASF's incubator, where it must prove itself. By backing the ASF project, IBM can help ensure that the version of OpenOffice that is most recognisable by name continues to grow.

A new version of OpenOffice, 3.4, is planned for 2012 while code considered incompatible with the Apache license is being removed.

At the time of Oracle's ASF contribution in 2011, IBM vice president of IBM collaboration solutions Kevin Cavanaugh had welcomed the move, saying: "We look forward to engaging with other community members to advance the technology beginning with our strong support of the incubation process for OpenOffice at Apache."

This is the second time in recent history that IBM has lined up behind an important Oracle software decision that has involved Apache. In 2010, IBM quit Apache's Harmony Java Standard Edition (Java SE) project after five years for Oracle's OpenJDK. IBM had initially committed to Harmony following frustration with Sun's foot-dragging on open-sourcing of Java. ®

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