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Charles-H. Schulz of The Document Foundation Answers my Questions About LibreOffice
Tuesday, September 28 2010 @ 11:02 PM EDT

I had a chance to ask Charles-H. Schulz, on the steering committee of The Document Foundation some questions I had swirling in my mind after their announcement today of LibreOffice, and he was kind enough to take time on a really busy day to answer.

I wanted to know about Mono and OOXML and all the things you are wondering about too. I had become quite worried about OpenOffice.org and Go-OO, and naturally that was on my mind, given who is involved in LibreOffice. The answers are reassuring. The Document Foundation is serious about avoiding non-free elements, and they are on the same page about that. I guess that's how they got Richard Stallman to bless the project, now that I think of it, along with so many others. And I wanted to ask him how we all can help out.

Here are the questions and his answers:

Question 1: Has Oracle responded to your invitation? What advantage do you see for Oracle saying yes?

Schulz: At the moment Oracle has not responded formally to our invitation but I'm sure they will do that soon. Oracle is still the biggest contributor of code to OpenOffice.org and as such it is obvious they should play a role. We believe not in seclusion, but in community. And if anyone wants to play a role as a member of our community then it should, and we will be very happy if Oracle joins us.

Question 2: What about Mono? What about OOXML?

Schulz: Well, that's quite easy. Mono was never really inside OOo or Go-OO to start with. What was inside Go-OO was the possibility of Mono integration, and even that sort of exists inside the "vanilla OOo". So we made sure that didn't add to this.

As for OOXML, well, we didn't take the Go-OO approach and did not include the patches developed with the "aid" of Microsoft. All in all, LibreOffice is clean, very clean, and we look forward stay that way. But enough talking on OOXML, a standard that does not exist. Let's rather focus on ODF, an existing open standard we support and promote.

Question 3: If someone wanted to help but has no prior experience with OO.o coding, what should they do to get up to speed?

Schulz: Pretty much the internals of the software, the UNO components, the presentation layout... But it's 10 million lines of code, so even to this day, you need to get yourself in it before contributing.

Question 4: Does the Foundation need donations? If so, are they tax deductible?

Schulz: Yes, we need donations, but as for their fiscal status the donations presently go to Germany so I guess it changes from where you are.

Question 5: When can we download the first version?

Schulz: Today. But we only ship a beta version in English only.

Question 6: What help do you need besides programmers?

Schulz: Localizers, documentation writers, QA testers, cheerleaders...

Question 7: Do you think this is going to hurt the advancement on Free Software on the desktop? I see some saying it's Microsoft who will be benefiting from this.

Schulz: In a world without walls, who needs Windows, really? Software is untangible; you cannot divide it like a pie. And if Microsoft thinks it can benefit from this, then they will soon be disappointed. The Document Foundation's ambition is to show that we can do better by being a real community that respects community processes: more inclusive, more agile, more innovative.

Update: H Online is reporting that "The major distributions, including Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora and SUSE, will ship with LibreOffice in preference to OpenOffice." And on page 2 of Richard Hillesley's article, in the section on why a fork, there's this:
Successful forks generally don't happen for trivial reasons. Some forks, such as Firefox, have had the blessing of the parent organisation, and have gone on to replace the parent product. In user terms LibreOffice may be the biggest fork ever of a free software project - its success or failure will be a test of the resolve of contributors, sponsors and developers.

An unusual aspect of the LibreOffice fork is that by most measurements OpenOffice.org has been a success. ...Downloads have run into the hundreds of millions.

Despite this, the decision to fork the project has been taken for positive reasons. A freeing of the code from the chains of a company with a proprietary interest in the marketing and development of the product is an opportunity for growth and development. As the Linux kernel project has demonstrated, a free software project, where the code belongs to no-one, attracts more developers. Decisions are made collaboratively, and terms for contribution are well-defined and clear. The greater the number of individual and corporate developers the greater the pool of ideas there are to work from and the faster the project grows....

LibreOffice will be uncompromisingly free software, and as one developer observes, "it is hard to think of anyone of any note in the community that isn't involved," including developers from Red Hat and Debian. The hope is that OpenOffice / Libreoffice "will go where people want it to go, because it hasn't been going where people want it to. Initially the focus will be on cleaning up the code, adding polish and increasing usability." In the longer term, the project will be much more ambitious.

If LibreOffice takes off, which it has every chance of doing, the test for the developers will be to prove that a distributed free software development model not only gives the developers greater freedom and initiative, but also produces results.

As I told you, this is a very big deal. Of course, it's not magic. It's up to you guys to make it happen. And I'm sure you will.

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