OpenOffice Forks?

by Miguel de Icaza

Groklaw is running a sensationalistic headline today:

Novell "Forking"

Well, if there are any Novell supporters left, here's something else to put in your pipe and smoke it. Novell is forking

There will be a Novell edition of and it will support Microsoft OpenXML. (The default will be ODF, they claim, but note that the subheading mentions OpenXML instead.) I am guessing this will be the only covered by the "patent agreement" with Microsoft. You think?

Facts barely matter when they get in the way of a good smear. The comments over at Groklaw are interesting, in that they explore new levels of ignorance.

Let me explain.

We have been working on OpenOffice.Org for longer than anyone else has. We were some of the earliest contributors to OpenOffice, and we are the largest external contributor to actual code to OpenOffice than anyone else.

We have for years maintained (as well as its previous incarnations) a site where we encouraged new developers to join the OpenOffice effort, and worked to lower the barrier for contributors by creating tutorials, pre-compiled images and provide tools for contributors to work on it (some of this content is now being migrated to OpenOffice's new Wiki system).

For years we have been shipping a patched version of OpenOffice because the release schedule of OpenOffice did not match our release schedule. In the very same way that Linux distributions have to ship patches against vanilla packages because the release schedule of those packages does not necessarily match the release schedule of a distribution.

The work at started in the Ximian days, when we were an independent startup, and we did quite a lot of work to make OpenOffice better integrate with the Linux desktop, upgrading its aging pieces and did quite some work on improving its performance.

Our patches have been published in here (see for example) for the longest time. And plenty of them have already been merged upstream.

But technically, Ximian never shipped a vanilla OpenOffice, we always shipped an improved version of it (with bug fixes, with backports or new features). This is nothing new.

Today we ship modified versions of OpenOffice to integrate GStreamer, 64-bit fixes, integrate with the GNOME and KDE file choosers, add SVG importing support, add OpenDMA support, add VBA support, integrate Mono, integrate fontconfig, fix bugs, improve performance and a myriad of others. The above url contains some of the patches that are pending, but like every other open source project, we have published all of those patches as part of the src.rpm files that we shipped, and those patches have eventually ended up in every distribution under the sun.

But the problem of course is not improving OpenOffice, the problem is improving OpenOffice in ways that PJ disapproves of. Improving OpenOffice to support an XML format created by Microsoft is tantamount to treason.

And of course, the code that we write to interop with Office XML is covered by the Microsoft Open Specification Promise (Update: this is a public patent agreement, this has nothing to do with the Microsoft/Novell agreement, and is available to anyone; If you still want to email me, read the previous link, and read it twice before hitting the send button).

I would reply to each individual point from PJ, but she either has not grasped how open source is actually delivered to people or she is using this as a rallying cry to advance her own ideological position on ODF vs OfficeXML.

Debating the technical merits of one of those might be interesting, but they are both standards that are here to stay, so from an adoption and support standpoint they are a no-brainer to me. The ideological argument on the other hand is a discussion as interesting as watching water boil. Am myself surprised at the spasms and epileptic seizures that folks are having over this.

Btw, I believe the translator that people are discussing is built with C# and XSLT and is available here. I wonder some of the posters on the Groklaw thread are going to have a stroke over the fact that the software is hosted at source forge.

Posted on 04 Dec 2006