Oracle surrenders in open source office suite war

Oracle has admitted defeat in the open-source productivity wars, announcing that it is to cease commercial activity surrounding the OpenOffice project and hand the reigns over to 'the community'.

Previously, OpenOffice was split into two distinct segments: the commercial version, run by Oracle and known as OpenOffice, and the open-source version, run by the community under Oracle's guidance and known as OpenOffice.org. It's a common enough technique in the open source world, echoed by companies including Novell and Automattic with openSUSE and WordPress.org respectively.

Oracle's tight control over the OpenOffice.org project led to some bad feelings, however - in particular the draconian requirement for copyright assignation on all code submission, which required developers to fill in interminable forms and fax them to Oracle representatives before contributing code to the project.

This bad feeling reached its head when a large portion of OpenOffice.org contributors and community members abandoned the project, forming The Document Foundation and forking the codebase into the new LibreOffice project. At the time, Oracle was invited to sign over the rights to the OpenOffice name and join the new Foundation as a member - but refused.

That's a decision that the company appears to now be regretting. In a statement, Oracle's Edward Screven, chief corporate architect, has confirmed that all commercial activity on OpenOffice will cease - with a view to transitioning the software to a purely open-source development model.

"Given the breadth of interest in free personal productivity applications and the rapid evolution of personal computing technologies, we believe the OpenOffice.org project would be best managed by an organisation focused on serving that broad constituency on a non-commercial basis," Screven stated in the surprising announcement. "We intend to begin working immediately with community members to further the continued success of Open Office. Oracle will continue to strongly support the adoption of open standards-based document formats, such as the Open Document Format."

Screven's reference to "an organisation focused on serving that broad constituency on a non-commercial basis" would appear to fit The Document Foundation like a glove - but Oracle has yet to confirm that it is talking to the group about merging the two projects back under the OpenOffice.org name.

Should Oracle truly abandon its ownership of the OpenOffice project, releasing the trademark and removing the requirement for copyright assignation from contributors, much of the grumbling that led to the forming of The Document Foundation would be resolved - and could leave the path open for a reconciliation for both communities.