Is OpenOffice heading towards extinction?

ApacheIf you work in computing and are even loosely familiar with the open source software movement, chances are you’ve heard of OpenOffice at some point. For a decade, the OpenOffice Foundation provided the world with a free alternative to Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office suite, and if its programs weren’t always as polished or quick to launch as Microsoft’s, the price tag made up for it. The document suite’s long term future, however, may be in doubt as evidenced by its small developer base and weak release schedule.


Apache OpenOffice’s (that is the current name of the software suite) distresses go back to 2010, when the company Sun was acquired by the database company Oracle. In the wake of that acquisition, a majority of OpenOffice’s developers jumped ship and went on to create a new fork of the old OpenOffice codebase, dubbed LibreOffice.

In June 2011, Oracle handed over the trademarks to OpenOffice over to Apache, which re-launched the product as Apache OpenOffice, or AOO. Since then, LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice have both competed for market share and users, but it seems as though the bulk of the work is happening on the LibreOffice side of the equation. A recent code analysis demonstrated that there are more than 250 active developers working on LibreOffice from a small group of companies, while OpenOffice has just 16 developers listed and 60% of them work at a single company — IBM.

A recent report prepared on the state of Apache OpenOffice shows that the organization is having a very difficult time. While mailing list activity remains robust, there are few mentors for would-be developers and there is currently no release manager.

Between the lack of code commits and the challenges facing the AOO developers, it is possible that we are seeing one organization withering on the vine while another has largely superseded it. Brand recognition for AOO remains strong and the number of downloads, while off sharply from its onetime peak, and is still significant.

The bigger question is whether the software community needs two open-source divisions of the same source code. From all appearances, it doesn’t. Writing for Datamation, author Bryce Byfield criticizes AOO as being out-of-touch and sounding arrogant when it talks about the need to collaborate with other groups, as though it hasn’t been largely supplanted in the market. I can’t speak his statement, but a lack of developers or product versions when you’re chief competitor is cranking them out is not a great PR tactic.

I’ve used both before, but I prefer the Office Suite to either. That doesn’t mean I’m rooting for either project to fail — in fact, I am very glad that end-users can choose to use an office suite they didn’t have to pay for, particularly with Microsoft moving towards subscription services. I personally don’t believe anyone should ever have to pay Microsoft for a monthly fee to use an Office suite. This might mean I that I need to move to an OSS product at some point in the future.OpenOffice4

On May 8, 2015, posted in: Blog, Software by

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