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CLA Redux - The Donation of OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation
Saturday, June 04 2011 @ 08:30 AM EDT

Just last week we were talking about the role of contributor licensing agreements (CLA's) and why some organizations/projects preferred to have the copyright in contributed code assigned rather than licensed, i.e., so the organization/project would be in a better position to enforce the copyright. A prime example of this centralized copyright ownership has been in a number of projects owned or managed by Sun Microsystems, includin OpenOffice. Of course, Sun is no longer Sun, and we have all been waiting to see what Oracle's intent would be with the various open source projects they acquired. Well, we are now getting our first insight with the proposed donation of OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation.

While the jury is still out on what exactly this assignment means for OpenOffice, I think it's safe to say that the Oracle announcement has elicited a range of reactions, a number of which have been less than enthusiastic. The biggest issue is the license change. The Apache Foundation requires all code donated to them to be under the Apache License. Since OpenOffice.org was not under that license, it means that the project changes from a true copyleft license to a more permissive license that allows companies to take the code proprietary. What kind of reaction will this draw from those who have been contributing freely to OpenOffice. Are they as likely to continue to contribute? Will Oracle be willing to continue to fund developers on the project? Will Attachmate, the new owner of Novell, allow their developers to continue to contribute to LibreOffice, the fork from OpenOffice? What realistic expectations should the Apache Foundation have?

Let's try to parse out the main strands of the discussion so far so you will be able to reach your own conclusions based on the facts, and then we'll look specifically at the legal issue. For historians, here's Oracle's Luke Kowalski on June 1 announcing to the Apache mailing list that "The following project is being sent in as an incubator candidate". The subject line is: "OpenOffice.org Apache Incubator Proposal" And here's the PDF attached. It couldn't be clearer what the purpose and goals are when you read the proposal. An excerpt:

Proposal

OpenOffice.org will be contributed to Apache Software Foundation by Oracle Corporation in compliance with ASF licensing and governance.

This contribution will form the basis of the new OpenOffice project at Apache.

Background

OpenOffice.org was launched as an open source project by Sun Microsystems in June 2000. OpenOffice.org was originally developed by Star Division which was acquired by Sun in 1999. OpenOffice.org is the leading alternative to MS-Office available as an open source licensed offering. The source is written in C++ and delivers language-neutral and scriptable functionality. This source technology introduces the next-stage architecture, allowing use of the suite elements as separate applications or as embedded components in other applications. Numerous other features are also present including XML-based file formats based on the vendor-neutral OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard from OASIS and other resources.

Rationale

OpenOffice.org core development would continue at Apache following the contribution by Oracle, in accordance with Apache bylaws and its usual open development processes. Both Oracle and ASF agree that the OpenOffice.org development community, previously fragmented, would re-unite under ASF to ensure a stable and long term future for OpenOffice.org. ASF would enable corporate, non-profit, and volunteer stakeholders to contribute code in a collaborative fashion.

Supporting tooling projects will accompany the OpenOffice.org contribution, providing APIs for extending and customizing OpenOffice.org.

Both OpenOffice.org and the related tooling projects support the OASIS Open Document Format, and will attract an ecosystem of developers, ISVs and Systems Integrators. ODF ensures the users of OpenOffice.org and related solutions will own their document data, and be free to choose the application or solution that best meets their requirements.

The OpenOffice.org implementation will serve as a reference implementation of the Open Document Format standard.

Current Status

This is a new project.

Meritocracy

The initial developers are very familiar with open source development, both at Apache and elsewhere. Apache was chosen specifically because Oracle as contributor, and IBM as Sponsor and the initial developers want to encourage this style of development for the project. A diverse developer community is regarded as necessary for a healthy, stable, long term OpenOffice.org project.

Community

OpenOffice.org. seeks to further encourage developer and user communities during incubation, beyond the existing developers currently working on the project.

Core Developers

The initial set of committers include people from the community of OpenOffice.org Technology projects. We have varying degrees of experience with Apache-style open source development, ranging from none to ASF Members.

Alignment

The developers of OpenOffice.org will want to work with the Apache Software Foundation specifically because Apache has proven to provide a strong foundation and set of practices for developing standards-based infrastructure and related components. Additionally, the project may evolve to support cloud and mobile platforms from its starting point of desktop operating systems….

The initial group of developers will be employed by IBM, Linux distribution companies, and likely public sector agencies. Localization resources are expected to gravitate to the new project, as well. Ensuring the long term stability of OpenOffice.org is a major reason for establishing the project at Apache.

The document speaks for itself. This obviously is not a community decision. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's automatically bad for the community in all respects. ODF is mentioned prominently. Wanting to protect ODF and make sure it survives is not anti-community. If you believe that Microsoft stranglehold on the desktop is not a good thing, you probably agree that competing effectively with Microsoft in the enterprise market matters. ODF matters. Some community members may decide to help out, on that basis alone.

Then there's the sale of Novell assets to Attachmate. Can anyone demonstrate that Attachmate will assign the same level of employee support to LibreOffice or OpenOffice.org that Novell did? If not, then what happens?

Here's IBM's press release, laying its cards out on the table:

Continuing its long-standing commitment to open source, IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced it will take an active, supportive role in the new OpenOffice.org code base submitted to The Apache Software Foundation Incubator. As part of today's news, IBM will contribute staff resources to collaborate with the Apache community during the project's incubation period to further the Open Document Format standard.

The move will help facilitate the long term viability and new innovation for OpenOffice.org development in collaboration with the Apache community. IBM plans to commit new project members and individual contributors from its global development team to strengthen the project and ensure its future success.

"Open source and standards are key to making our planet smarter and improving the way we live and work," said Kevin Cavanaugh, vice president, IBM Collaboration Solutions. "As IBM celebrates its Centennial, we're actively investing in projects that will help our clients to collaborate in an open manner over the next 100 years."…

The Open Document Format is the standard for document interoperability across software from many vendors. Advances around ODF, combined with alternative forms of communication (email, IM, tweets, blogs), cloud delivery models for business applications, growth in smart, mobile devices, and economic pressures are all converging to apply pressure to the status quo of documents. As these industry factors converge, IBM is helping organizations move towards a model that offers low-cost acquisition of document tools, coupled with high value and high collaboration solutions around a document. This news strengthens IBM's ability to continue to offer our own distributions based on the OpenOffice code base and make our own contributions to reinforce the overall community.

IBM's contribution to the incubating OpenOffice.org code base at Apache will further advance the adoption of office productivity suite alternatives.

It is worth noting that IBM forked their own version of OpenOffice several years ago when they incorporated some of the OpenOffice codebase into the Lotus Symphony suite and provided their own enhancements. So it shouldn't be surprising that IBM would embrace this move.

But IBM's support is also something that the community benefits from, from the standpoint of ODF. The community has its own goals and purposes, and sometimes they align with corporate interests and sometimes they don't. But if you are a corporate entity, a public company, then you have to think about the next quarter and shareholders and market share. The community for the most part could care less about all that, except to the extent that having large corporate interests involved in Open Source has provided community benefits or the individual developer's community participation is being directly underwritten by corporate support. If, for example, Attachmate isn't particularly interested in developing code in competition to Microsoft, then how would the community feel if IBM kept it going, so to speak, even if not under an ideal, from the community's standpoint, license?

Bob Sutor, IBM sets forth his reasoning on why it matters to do it this way:

An Apache implementation of a standard means that software, be it open source or proprietary, can start using the standard quickly and reliably. An Apache implementation of a standard immediately increases the value of the standard.

OpenOffice happens to implement a standard called the Open Document Format (ODF), something I’ve written about several hundred times in the last few years. While the incubator won’t be starting from scratch, ODF will continue to evolve and need updated implementations.

Over time, the code will be refactored and more uses will be found for it. Within a couple of years I think you’ll find greater use of ODF in other desktop applications, mobile apps, and even in the cloud. This won’t all come from the existing code base but rather also from new contributions from others working in the ASF.

ODF is not the only thing that OpenOffice supports: it’s got word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and other capabilities. Within Apache I think you’ll see advances in the user interface, functionality, performance, and reliability.

This has to be done, in my opinion, in a way that makes subsets of the code easier to use in other software. That is, and again this is my opinion, OpenOffice will get better by being more modular with well designed interfaces. I’m not dissing what is there, I’m describing how I think it will get even better and enabled for much broader adoption of the code.

I hope that OpenOffice in Apache will be viewed as a way to bring together some of the threads that have separated from the main project trunk over the last few years. Apache has a well deserved reputation for its process and high quality software. This is a place where people can get together under one virtual roof and turn OpenOffice into what people always thought it could be.

With this move, we’ll get a chance to see what empowered individuals with the right technical chops can do in a community to innovate on the current code base. I’m very excited to see what they come up with.

Like the old joke about the Lone Ranger, though, the community may be asking, Who's we, Kimosabe?

Sutor, in a comment in response to criticism, added that he hopes over time the community will see it IBM's way:

Bob Sutor says: It is not my intention in any way to disparage LibreOffice or the Document Foundation. Oracle had an asset and it was completely up to Oracle to decide what to do with it. Historically, we have had great success working with Apache and it is a fine organization. I think that over the next weeks and months people in the existing LO community plus people in other communities will figure out how to make this work since, to be honest, it is a done deal. There are multiple communities of people who are interested in this codebase, LO is not the only one. I think that once the excitement (for some) and shock (for others) wears off, we’ll see a lot of creativity and collaboration on this. In the meanwhile, I’m going to remain positive and constructive, and I can only hope others try to do the same.
Apache President Jim Jagielski was interviewed by Joe Brockmeier for NetworkWorld, and he seems to think also that LibreOffice developers should now just come "home" to Apache and unite there, now that Oracle has done what they thought Oracle would never do, donate OpenOffice.org to a foundation:
He says that makes Apache the perfect place to "help 'repair' the community" around OpenOffice.org. "I've already contacted the Document Foundation, which sponsors LibreOffice, with hopes that we can work together to benefit the existing community, as well as really grow the community at large: both developers and users."
But here's the rub. Donating code to the Apache Foundation means changing the license on OpenOffice.org from copyleft to noncopyleft. If OpenOffice.org had always been under the Apache license, there would be a simpler question facing developers. Then donating it to this foundation wouldn't raise the same issue, which is that OpenOffice.org code they donate can be taken by IBM or any entity, even Microsoft, and used in a proprietary application. Why would IBM and Oracle or Apache, for that matter, imagine that this would appeal to developers, that they should donate their free labor so companies can benefit with proprietary offerings while under no obligation to give any code back? It's asking a lot from the community, nothing less than to forget about its principles.

Some developers may decide it makes little difference. Others, perhaps many, will not. But what if there was no LibreOffice? Jagielski again:

Licensing also enters into it — Jagielski says that he thinks "having the OO.org codebase under the Apache License was also quite attractive." At least to Oracle and IBM. The LibreOffice fork is licensed under the Lesser GNU General Public License version 3 (LGPLv3) and Mozilla Public License (MPL), both of which are reciprocal — thus requiring distributors to provide the code for derivative versions. As Greg Stein points out on the Apache list, this may not be something IBM was interested in doing with its Lotus Symphony suite. (Whether IBM is right for wanting to work on a non-copyleft project is left as an exercise to the reader.)
You might see why IBM would want to go this way, of course, but what about the community? Ed Brill, also of IBM:
This morning, Oracle announced that they are submitting the OpenOffice.org codebase to the Apache Software Foundation Incubator. At IBM, we see this as a strong validation of open source, open document formats, and market choice and flexibility in the office productivity arena. Since we launched Lotus Symphony in 2007, IBM has been an active participant in the OpenOffice.org community, and with the move to Apache, we plan to increase our efforts through human and code contribution.

IBM is no stranger to work with Apache Foundation projects, or other open source initiatives such as Eclipse.org and, of course, Linux. The new project at Apache strengthens IBM's ability to continue to offer our own distributions of productivity tools based on the OpenOffice code base and make our own contributions to reinforce the overall community.

Of course, the natural response is what "overall community?" Much of that community is already over at LibreOffice working. And if Attachmate finds a way to scuttle support for LibreOffice and The Document Foundation can't keep going, the community is still not faced with a single option. They might choose to just go forward without corporate backing at all, or with backing from those who truly grasp the value of a copyleft licensed project. Those options do exist even if they may be challenging. And thanks to the LGPLv3, the code can go on. What companies need or want in the short term may be one thing, but the goal of a totally free desktop is a marathon, not a sprint. So there is no particular pressure on developers to compromise. Both projects (OpenOffice and LibreOffice) can go forward, particularly since a project under LGPLv3 can simply take Apache-licensed code and incorporate it. The problem for an Apache licensed OpenOffice is that the reverse is not true.

Let's take a look at some of the other reactions so far:

Stefano Maffulli:

Oracle has done what Sun should have done a long time ago: put OO.org code into the hand of an independent foundation. The good news is that now a wider participation from corporations and individuals is possible. Hell, even Microsoft can now participate into OO.org development. I hope that soon the fork can be reconciled, too….

I personally welcome the change as I never believed that The Document Foundation had enough steam in its engine to radically improve the product. But I believe it can still maintain and improve LibreOffice until Apache’s community will start rolling the next generation of desktop productivity tools.

That seems like an odd conclusion, in that LibreOffice has been steaming along with OpenOffice stagnated for months, since the fork. But what if Attachmate altered that progression? What if LibreOffice didn't have a way to keep going?

Corporate backing can indeed be helpful in terms of resources, so that may be the basis for his comments. But where is the community behind OpenOffice? Are any of the listed core developers known for previous work on OpenOffice? One of the real issues that LibreOffice faced in the beginning was that the OpenOffice code is a mound of spaghetti, so complicated that anyone but a developer with experience working on the codebase would find daunting. When pretty much all the OpenOffice coders, except for IBM, joined LibreOffice, that was an immediate boost for LibreOffice, but the lack of individuals familiar with the OpenOffice codebase will also likely be a challenge in the Apache version unless the LibreOffice contributors were to agree to reunite under the Apache umbrella.

IBM's Rob Weir is a fan of the Apache Foundation, and he's also responsible for ODF, so he hopes those (LibreOffice) developers will help:

I’d point out in particular that the Apache 2.0 open source license was recently blessed by the Free Software Foundation:
The Apache License 2.0 is the best non-copyleft license that does what a copyright license can to mitigate threats from software patents. It’s a well-established, mature license that users, developers, and distributors alike are all comfortable with. You can tell it’s important by the way that other free software licenses work to cooperate with it: the drafting processes for GPLv3 and the Mozilla Public License 2.0 named compatibility with the Apache License 2.0 as a goal from day one. The Apache Software Foundation deserves a lot of credit for pushing to do more to tackle software patents in a license, and implementing an effective strategy in the Apache License.
As you can tell, when it comes to Apache I’m a fan. I’ve experienced much of this first-hand. I was a committer in the Apache Xalan project many years ago (1999-2000). It was a great experience then, and when the opportunity came to add my name to the OpenOffice incubation proposal I did not hesitate. It was an honor. I look forward to coming back to Apache and participating in this continuation of OpenOffice. I am planning on getting directly involved with the engineering effort of this project….

The Apache process is based on a strong meritocracy. Developers who regularly provide high quality patches get elected as “Committers” and they then help review submitted patches as well as write their own code. And those Committers who remain active and have earned the respect of their peers typically then get elected to the Project Management Committee (PMC) and steer the direction of the project. And those who are most valued on the PMC may become the PMC Chair for their project, which also ranks them as an Apache Foundation Vice President. And some then have the opportunity to serve on the Apache Board of Directors. With this cursus honorum, it is recommended that those with leadership ambitions get involved early. When the Apache OpenOffice project begins, there will be project decisions to make and leadership roles to fill, and this will happen fast once we get started. Obviously, you can’t advance in the meritocracy if you are absent. Although, you can join anytime you want, there are clear advantages to “getting in on the ground floor”.

In particular, we need to attract a wide variety of project specialists. This includes C++ programmers (on Linux, Mac and Windows), QA (also on all platforms), help/documentation, UI/UCD, translation/globalization, accessibility, install, etc. Please keep your eyes open for an announcement from Apache in the next week or two, saying that the OpenOffice incubator project has been set up and is ready to accept members.

A vigorous discussion ensued. From the comments section, where he was criticized in the usual open-throated FOSS way:
The Contrarian June 1, 2011 at 12:59 pm
I notice that you and your friends at Oracle do not mention the existing community at all – instead you talk about outsiders of all shades who have never been involved in OpenOffice.org forming a new activity with our source code. There are lots of people in the community and in its two projects – OpenOffice and LibreOffice – who don’t fit Apache at all, either because they are not involved in the “core code” or because they believe in copyleft and software freedom. Why have you and Oracle etc made no mention of them whatsoever? Is it your intention to isolate them and create division? Seems that way….

Rob June 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm
@Contrarian, Of course, anyone is welcome to join the project. Unlike LibreOffice, Apache does not have a membership committee to review and approve or reject developers. Anyone is welcome to join. But you need to agree with the project license. This is true of any open source project.

If you (or anyone) has a concrete proposal on how LibreOffice can or should related to Apache, I’d love to hear it. I think the time is now favorable for having that kind of discussion, more so now than it was when OpenOffice was run by Sun/Oracle with their CLA.

So he got an earful. Jeremy Allison:
Jeremy Allison June 1, 2011 at 3:31 pm
Hi Rob,

This is indeed good news, but I think long term rather than trying to run the project at the Apache Software Foundation the code would be much better merged into LibreOffice and let them take the lead on this.

Given that there is already an existing community around this code, merging with it rather than trying to create another from scratch makes more sense IMHO.

Jeremy.

It's hard to argue with such a sensible and obvious solution. But the problem is, it's Oracle's code, not the community's. They handed over their copyrights. Rob's response:
@Jeremy, I’d be absolutely giddy with joy if LibreOffice developers would come over to Apache and run their project under the Apache 2.0 license under the Apache process. I’d even be open to calling it “LibreOffice”. But this is much more an issue of organizational capabilities than it is the rather narrow gulf between the current OpenOffice and LibreOffice source codes. I want an organization that will last, not something that will fall over in the next storm.
Jeremy responded:
Jeremy Allison June 1, 2011 at 8:30 pm
Rob wrote :

“@Jeremy, I’d be absolutely giddy with joy if LibreOffice developers would come over to Apache and run their project under the Apache 2.0 license under the Apache process”

That’s funny, I’d be giddy with joy if it happened the other way around :-). This is about copyleft vs. non-copyleft licensing IMHO. I personally believe the the LGPLv3 copyleft license is a better choice for this codebase, rather than the Apache one. The reasons for this are too complex to go into in this short post, but based around my own experiences on Samba, where copyleft is one of the only ways to break into a monopoly-dominated market.

The good news is that the Apache license is compatible with the LGPLv3 LibreOffice license, so they can take the OpenOffice code and merge any useful changes into their codebase. I don’t think this can happen the other way around. The reason I would like Apache OO developers (including those from IBM) to throw in their lot with LibreOffice is that otherwise you end up re-running the same experiment of Linux vs. FreeBSD. Unless you consider Apple a FreeBSD success (not sure I do, at least from the FreeBSD point of view :-) then that experiment didn’t go well for FreeBSD. But maybe you want to be Apple, in which case good luck (but remember in the best tradition of ‘Highlander’ – “There can be only one” :-).

Jeremy.

Rob commented on the license in a response to another critical comment:
@Alex, See above on the membership question. I think what I said was accurate.

To your second question, I agree that we need to figure out how OpenOffice and LibreOffice relate. But it is more than that. We also need to look at Symphony, RedOffice, BrOffice, EuroOffice, NeoOffice, etc., including other new customized distributions that will certainly now proliferate now that we are freed from the restrictions of the copyleft license. This conversation is already underway at Apache. I invite interested parties to join and help define the answer to that.

"Freed" from the restrictions of the copyleft license? The only restriction, imposed on distribution, seeks to ensure that you pass along the same benefits you received, i.e., the freedom to adapt the work to your needs. Is that a bad thing? If you are a business, you may view it that way, because there's no lock-in and no way to differentiate your offering without others being able to follow right along. And at least one open source company has demonstrated it can thrive without such lock-in. But if you are a community member, the obligation to keep the code open and available is the opposite -- it's fair payment for the free code they happily contributed. But if there is no code *and no salary*, why are they supposed to donate? For the good of whom? Again, it depends on which side of the line you stand, what your goals are, and why you write FOSS code. It also may make a difference what you believe in terms of the current dominance of the desktop by a single company.

Rob mentioned FSF recently "blessing" the Apache license, which drew a response from Bradley M. Kuhn:

Bradley M. Kuhn June 2, 2011 at 10:04 am
@Jeremy, very well said. Thank you for saying it. I do agree that this is fundamentally about a dispute of copyleft vs. non-copyleft, and we shouldn’t permit it be couched in any other terms. I updated my my blog post on this subject with a link to your comment here.
And this PS from Kuhn:
Bradley M. Kuhn June 2, 2011 at 10:59 am
There’s one additional point that I’d like to make, which @Alexandre hints at but doesn’t point out explicitly. Rob is quoting the FSF completely out of context in the main post here. Specifically, he leaves out this part of FSF’s post on the Apache 2.0 license:
When you contribute to an existing project, you should usually release your modified versions under the same license as the original work. It’s good to cooperate with the project’s maintainers, and using a different license for your modifications often makes that cooperation very difficult. You should only do that when there is a strong reason to justify it.
The existing license of OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice is LGPLv3. Oracle, in coordination with IBM, unilaterally changed the license out from under the community, rather than cooperating with the existing licensing. Oracle of course had the legal right to do so as copyright holder, but this was an act in conflict with the existing community in a moral sense, even if, again, it was a permissible act under the OO.o “community” guidelines.
We'll take a look at Kuhn's analysis of the licensing issue in a moment. But here are some resources, from Shane, a member of ASF, in an article titled Apache Office, anyone?, for those who wish to dig a bit deeper into what the process is like when code is donated to the Apache Foundation:
  • Key reminder: Incubation is a process, with many checkpoints. Just because something is submitted to the Apache Incubator does not mean that the Incubator PMC will accept it as a podling. And once we do have a podling, the most important work comes, proving that there can be a healthy community around the project – all before it can even be considered to graduate to a Top Level Project at Apache.

  • Newcomers to Apache may want to review the Apache Community Development project – think of it as an outreach group within the ASF, starting work on explaining to newcomers what the Apache Way is about and where to find the right information on technology and community rules at Apache.

  • Reading Planet Apache is a great way to see what many of the committers at the many Apache projects are saying on their personal blogs.

  • I almost forgot! The best way to learn about how Apache works is to read our mailing lists. You can follow along the Apache Incubator’s discussion yourself, right on general@incubator.apache.org!

Personally, I think one of the most important differences between a potential “Apache Office” podling and the existing (and amazing) LibreOffice product is the license. Obviously, both codebases are fairly similar, and aim to provide a fully open source office suite. It will be interesting to see, after the first wild set of commentary flies, which project – and which license – that various developers and corporations alike choose to actively support with their contributions. I just hope that this license difference – and the way that the OO.o code came to Apache, which was not something we controlled – doesn’t cause any unnecessary friction between the two communities.

Some might view it as necessary friction. You might say it goes all the way back to the Open Source wing pulling away from Free Software's insistence on a free operating system. The Open Source wing believed, with some supporting evidence since, that business types couldn't handle the GPL, and that what mattered most was quick adoption. But then, look at Linux. When Google decided to put Android out under the Apache License but built on top of the GPL'd Linux kernel, it did lead to uptake, rapid adoption by many vendors. But Linux has been shoved into a back room. You can now find ads for Android phones that don't even mention Linux. And some of the restrictions on phones and tablets would be impossible if the GPL had been chosen instead. So it again comes down to the question: what is the goal? If it's rapid market share, you think one way. But if it's a free operating system with all the trimmings, then you feel very differently. Oracle's donation is on terms that it had to know would be objectionable to the community, so one can't help but wonder what the purpose is of choosing a license for a project where to date all of the code has been contributed under a different license. Not everything that is legal is also ethical. This is what can happen where a single entity controls the codebase, particularly where that entity is a commercial entity.

On the other side of the coin, as Carlo Piana tweeted, it could have been much worse. Oracle could have retained everything and just let the project die. So it is certainly a good thing that it turned it over to a foundation. Michael Meeks, of LibreOffice, wrote the following on his blog:

Interested to see that the widely trailed move of donating OO.o to the Apache Software Foundation actually happened today. TDF have a simple, friendly response, and I have a number of thoughts:
  • Engaging with community members (IBM), and having a commitment to the developer and open-source communities (Oracle) are laudable goals. I can only applaud the sentiment. Unfortunately, starting that process only after finalizing a license incompatible with the communities existing work, and at a different home to the one the developers chose themselves seems an odd way to engage, and commit.

  • Unfortunately, there is a problem with Free Software developers, firstly - they often don't wear suits, and (get this) some have beards: which just shows you the kind of schmucks they are. But worse - they have odd, meritocratic, collaborative decision making processes, that don't come up with suitably corporate answers. One example is jurisdiction: the community (after all is said and done) wanted to found itself in Germany. Professional, serious, serial, corporate body founders prefer to go elsewhere (US, UK) - yet, is it really that bad to compromise on the issue ? Community decision making - but only if you like the outcome is a tad unfortunate.

  • Worse - Free Software hackers tend to be free-spirited, and they often believe in reciprocity: if I give you my work, surely you should give me yours ? ie. the spirit of the copy-left. Unfortunately, that is not the Apache way, which has some merits no doubt, but is alien to the existing developer community that commitment is made to. OpenOffice has traditionally included plenty of copy-left code, some of which I highlighted before. Coercing developers to do the bidding of big companies is not something they react well to (usually).

  • This event highlights some of the great work that has been done as part of the GPLv3 process, and also the MPLv2 work (done by my friend: Luis Villa). These happy lawyers out there have laboured long and hard to make their new licenses compatible with Apache 2.0 - such that code under that license can be re-licensed under their terms. An example of doing this is here. Without their labours, it would not be possible to integrate the Oracle code, and the eight months of existing work by the community into a single beautiful whole. Clearly there is no rush to actually do that work, perhaps it can be done on schedule for LibreOffice 3.5. By a happy coincidence, we have a slightly longer cycle this time as we sync. up our six-monthly time-based release schedule with that of Linux distributions and desktop.

  • Apparently this is a somewhat divisive attempt by an exiting Oracle, along with IBM to sideline the existing developer community, their governance, their aspirations, membership, licensing choice (explicitly adapted to meet IBM's needs incidentally), bylaws, and so on. All of this despite a profound, frequently stated open-ness to including new (particularly large) corporate contributors inside TDF, and taking their advice seriously.

  • Thankfully, license compatibility lets us turn this from a closed, and finished chapter of long, sad story - into the beginning of a happy one - where everyone, regardless of size and Dilbert-ness can join together around TDF's code-base and contribute on their own merits. So, next time you meet a Free Software lawyer, please - shake their hand.

  • We also have Rob Weir enthusing about the joys of his preferred outcome. It all sounds wonderful, but sadly is not what the substantial, existing developer (and marketing, and QA and ...) community chose. Luckily of course, it is not a final choice as/when the code is released they are free to choose to join TDF and engage. Still, I look forward to reading Rob's code - it'd be great to hack with him.

  • Got around to reading Luke's mail and associated odf proposal That document itself has some great quoteable material:
    Both Oracle and ASF agree that the OpenOffice.org development community, previously fragmented, would re-unite under ASF to ensure a stable and long term future for OpenOffice.org.
    
or how about
    The initial set of committers include people from the community of OpenOffice.org Technology projects .... The initial group of developers will be employed by IBM, Linux distribution companies, and likely public sector agencies. Localization resources are expected to gravitate to the new project, as well. Ensuring the long term stability of OpenOffice.org is a major reason for establishing the project at Apache.
    
Amazing to see Andrew Rist and Rob Weir as the initial committers - I'm unaware that they have ever committed a single line of code to the codebase before: but ... there is always a first line; a whole new sense of initial committer perhaps. I was encouraged to read somewhere that: "The first step along the road leading to committership is to become a developer".
Does he sound bitter? Well, you can hardly blame him. Here's a FAQ: What's the Future of OpenOffice.org? with some analysts interviewed by Chris Kanaracus, IDG News, for PCWorld:
Q: Why did Oracle give OpenOffice.org to the Apache Foundation and not some other group, such as the Document Foundation, the group that oversees LibreOffice?

"Only Oracle can answer this, but it is clear from past history that Oracle prefers to work with foundations that have both history and long-term experience working with enterprises," O'Grady said.

He cited Oracle's recent decision to donate code for the Hudson continuous integration system to the Eclipse Foundation. Similar to OpenOffice.org, a group of Hudson developers split off from Oracle with an offshoot or "fork" of the codebase called Jenkins.

"And just as in the case of Hudson, [Oracle] chose not to ultimately donate the code to the group that forked it," O'Grady added. "As for why Apache specifically, they have the requisite history of working with vendors, and IBM for one certainly has a preference for their more permissive licensing style."...

The ASF's licensing model may also "free up the potential for even more [OpenOffice.org]-based offerings, particularly commercial and paid offerings, so that may bring some interesting participants and/or subcommunities to the table," 451 Group's Lyman said.

The Register adds the news that the Document Foundation was considered:
The Document Foundation tells us that Oracle approached the group for suggestions on OpenOffice, which it duly offered. Namely, the Foundation said that Oracle should put OpenOffice code under a Mozilla Public License/Lesser General Public License version 3 dual license and transfer the OpenOffice domain and trademark to the Foundation….

Oracle owns the rights to about 6 million lines of code licensed under the LGPL. Oracle has the right to move this code to Apache, but it doesn't own the rights to the LibreOffice work, which is under LGPL and MPL. The rights to this code are owned by the individuals working on LibreOffice. What code are we talking precisely? The spell checker, all crypto support, and many file filters, among other features.

Meanwhile, all those OpenOffice defectors who jumped to The Document Foundation must now decide whether they can stomach working with a license they philosophically disagree with.

So, now what? Brian Proffitt at ITWorld:
My second question doesn't have a definitive answer--yet. But it needs to be answered.

It is simply this: how will OpenOffice.org remain relevant to end users?

We know IBM's Lotus Symphony and its users will benefit directly, but beyond that, who beyond individual OpenOffice.org fans will be using the suite? Red Hat, SUSE (née Novell), Google, and Canonical all tossed in with LibreOffice and The Document Foundation. That doesn't preclude OpenOffice.org from showing up in one of their repositories in the future, of course, but it does put a damper on potential user numbers.

It's not just a question of where OpenOffice.org will be distributed, but also how. Even IBM staffers are wondering how OpenOffice.org's extensive marketing machine will work within an Apache framework. "I know that OpenOffice.org prided itself on a strong marketing committee as well," writes IBM ODF Architect Rob Weir, "I think this is important, but it is not clear to me yet how that fits into an Apache project. Certainly this aspect is more critical to an end-user facing project like OpenOffice than it would be to a developer tool. Maybe someone out there in Apache-land will be able to offer some suggestions on how best to integrate this function into an Apache project?"

With IBM marketing Symphony, it's doubtful they will be putting much marketing juice into the parent OpenOffice.org project. And don't look at Oracle--they just got the project off their hands.

I think it is unlikely that this is correct, that Oracle is just tossing it over the cliff and walking off. It could have just kept it in the vault and killed it that way. Oracle took steps it was not required to take to keep the project at least on life support, allowing others to build on it. It's clear as well that IBM has a sustained interest in ODF, and that would include marketing it. But what about the licensing change? One participant said this is his understanding:
Oracle is signing a SGA (Software Grant Agreement) giving the OpenOffice.org code to Apache Server Foundation (ASF) under the Apache 2.0 license. As you know, Oracle (via Sun) had ownership of the code via the CLA that they required from contributors. Oracle is also giving ASF the OpenOffice.org trademark, the logo with the birds, and the openoffice.org domain name.

Some of this has happened already, some of it is in progress.

Oracle appears to be retaining the copyright, not assigning it to Apache.

The bottom line, then, if this is so, is that Oracle owns the code it is donating, thanks to a contribution agreement whereby contributors handed over copyright to Sun, now Oracle. And by retaining the copyright, it continues to own the code. Let this be an object lesson, that any time a project asks for all the copyrights, it can do what it pleases with your contributions. If you don't care, contribute as much as you wish. But do it knowing that it's like putting your baby up for adoption. You are not the parent any more afterward, so you don't get a say in anything.

But here's the ironic part. Larry Ellison is famous for saying that he loved FOSS, that when a project gets big enough and mature enough, he can "just take it". But here, it's the reverse. Because he chose to donate it to a foundation that only accepts code under the Apache license, it's now the community that can "just take it" from OpenOffice.org, not the proprietary bits, of course, but that was always true. But whatever code is available under the Apache License is free for the taking. On the other hand, the reverse is not the case. Because Apache folks won't accept any code under a license that is not its own, whatever work the LibreOffice programmers come up with is not available to OpenOffice.org. There are many unknowns about the future of both projects, but one thing is for sure: the irony here is thick and heavy. On the other hand, Oracle and IBM are both smart companies. If they are doing this, they surely knew about the impact of the license change, and they went forward anyway.

Bradley M. Kuhn's explanation of the license issue is worth repeating, and thanks to his use of a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License , we can republish it here, as part of this summary. You might want to follow the discussion about this article on identi.ca. And the mailing list archives for Apache are here for June.

Here's the article in full:

**********************

Ditching Copyleft to Compete with a Fork?

Wednesday 1 June 2011 by Bradley M. Kuhn

I was disturbed today to read that Oracle will seek to relicense all OpenOffice code under the Apache-2.0 license and move OpenOffice into the Apache Software Foundation.

I've written recently about how among the permissive licenses, my favorite is clearly the Apache License 2.0. However, I think that one should switch from a copyleft license to a permissive one only in rare circumstances and with the greatest of care.

Obviously, in this case, I oppose Oracle's relicense of OpenOffice.org under Apache-License-2.0. It is probably obvious why I feel that way, but I shall explain nonetheless, just in case. I'm going to mostly ignore the motives for doing so, which I think are obvious: Oracle (and IBM, who are quoted in support of this move) for their own reasons don't like The Document Foundation fork (LibreOffice) of OpenOffice.org. This is a last-ditch effort by IBM and Oracle to thwart the progress of that fork, which has been reported as quite successful and many distributions have begun to adopt LibreOffice. (Even non-software sites sites like Metafilter have users discussing changing to LibreOffice .)

Anyway, as you might suspect, I'm generally against the idea of relicensing from a copyleft to a non-copyleft license in most situations. In fact, I generally take the stance that you should go with the strictest copyleft possible unless there's a strong reason not to. This is well-argued in RMS' essay on the LGPL itself, and I won't repeat those arguments here. Frankly, if I were picking a license for OpenOffice.org and/or LibreOffice from start, I'd pick AGPLv3-or-later, because of the concern that it could be turned into a Google Docs-like web service. But, what I'd do is obviously irrelevant.

OpenOffice.org was put out under LGPLv3, and that was its license for some time. LGPL was presumably chosen to allow proprietary plugins to OpenOffice.org. That might be useful and perhaps a reasonable trade-off decision, since one of the goals of the project is to woo users away from Microsoft's tools which presumably permit proprietary plugins too. Thus, an argument can be made that the situation is vaguely analogous to the C Library situation that inspired LGPL's creation.

But, what does a change from a weak copyleft like LGPLv3 to a fully permissive license do? Specifically, it allows not only proprietary plugins using the OpenOffice.org's defined plugin interfaces, but also for any sort of plugin that reaches into OpenOffice.org code in any way. Even worse, a permissive license allows for direct integration of OpenOffice.org into larger proprietary systems that might offer other desktop suite applications hitherto unimplemented in Free Software.

It's my belief that this license change, if successful in its goals, may help foster a bit of a tragedy of the commons for the core codebase. The codebase is already well known for being somewhat unwieldy and time-consuming to learn. Those who take the time to learn it, but who aren't Free Software enthusiasts, may quickly decide that it's better for them to use that rare knowledge to proprietarize the codebase rather than contribute to the public Free Software versions. The LGPLv3 currently keeps such developers “honest”; the Apache-License-2.0 will not.

Perhaps most importantly, the major consequence to consider is the the ultimate impact on the LibreOffice fork. To consider that impact, we have to look at the instigators of the relicense. IBM and Oracle both now will have a vested interest in maintaining a “barely adequate” public Apache-2.0-licensed codebase while keeping the best stuff in their proprietary versions. OpenOffice.org has actually always suffered from this very tragedy, but historically the regime was held up by mandatory copyright assignment to Oracle (and a semi-exclusive proprietary license from Oracle to IBM) rather than a permissive license. On the surface, then, this seems subtly like the kind of improvement I've written about before — namely — at least a public permissive license puts everyone on equal footing, whereas copyleft with a single for-profit proprietary relicensor gives special powers to the for-profit.

And, frankly, but for the existence of LibreOffice, I think I probably would have concluded that an Apache-2.0 relicense of OpenOffice.org was the lesser of two evils. However, LibreOffice's very existence and momentum turns those two evils into a false dichotomy. Specifically, there's now a third alternative: LibreOffice is a vibrant, open, easy-to-contribute-to, non-copyright-assigned LGPLv3'd codebase now. In that community, the LGPLv3 is the shared and equal agreement; no one has special rights to the code outside of LibreOffice's license. Free Software communities, in fact, always rely on an equitable shared agreement to assure good governance and project health.

Actually, relicensing part of the codebase out from under LibreOffice may actually be the most insidious attack Oracle and IBM could make on the project. Unilateral relicense is the single most destabilizing action you can take against a Free Software community, particularly if the relicense comes from wholly outside the community. Indeed, in my time at various copyright-holding Free Software organizations, I've seen situations where I was helping support a relicensing effort by the copyright holder. In every case, I've seen leaders who could have done a unilateral relicense chose to first consult the community before taking the action to ensure that there weren't any key community members who dissented. Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean it's the correct action to take, and Free Software leaders know this well; that's why they very rarely act unilaterally on anything.

Meanwhile, in this situation today, we have a copyright holder (Oracle) whose primary goal in relicensing is, in fact, to cause the outcome that Free Software leaders seek to avoid; Oracle is relicensing to undermine a successful Free Software project that relies on its copyrighted code.

Nevertheless, I'm not too worried. I believe the LibreOffice community is strong and grows stronger every day. Since their license is LGPLv3, and they continue to add new code, the fact that most of the underlying code is suddenly available under Apache-2.0 license may matter a lot today, but it will matter less and less with each passing day of new commits under LGPLv3. In fact, I hope the LibreOffice folks will use this relicense to their advantage. Specifically, I suggest they take an Apache-2.0 license of Oracle's code, which is an LGPLv3-compatible license, and relicense the whole project to LGPLv3-or-later, so they have an easy way (years from now) to switch to LGPLv4, GPLv3, or AGPLv4 if they want to. (BTW, they already have an easy way to switch to GPLv3, since LGPLv3 permits this, and even to AGPLv3 thereafter (via GPLv3§13).)

Note finally that there is one other benefit of this action: according to TDF, some OpenOffice.org code that had previously been proprietary is coming with the Apache-2.0-licensed code dump. This alone may make it all worthwhile, and given the points I make above, I think the ultimate outcome, long term, will be all positive for the LGPL'd LibreOffice codebase.

(I'd like note finally that I'm not the only one to point out that Oracle's action would be different if LibreOffice didn't exist. Sean Michael Kerner said something similar.)


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