Apache OpenOffice just graduated from the Incubator


Apache OpenOffice has just made it out of the Incubator and is now an official Apache Software Foundation project. “What?”, might some people ask now, “wasn’t it official before a year or so?”. No, it wasn’t! When Oracle decided to donate OpenOffice.org to the Apache Software Foundation, it entered the so called Incubator first. That was back in June 2011. And as an incubating project it was not-yet official. Actually it was hard work to make it an official ASF project. Let me explain what happened.

What does happen when a project incubates?

When a project want to join the Apache Software Foundation, there are many open questions. Who wrote the code? Does the project really own all the intellectual property of it? Which license does the code use? Is there a working community?

Usually there are a couple of long term Apache activists who join the project as mentors. In the case of OpenOffice, there were a couple of well known and respected community members involved. Like for example Jim Jagielski (ASF President), Sam Ruby (who has so many roles at the ASF that it is being said Sam Ruby does not refer to a person but a whole team), Ross Gardler (actually on the ASF board too), Shane Curcuru (ASF Trademark Expert), Joe Schaefer (one of the ASF Infra Gurus), Danese Cooper (better read her Wikipedia entry) and Noirin Plunkett, who is also an Officer to the ASF. Oh, and me. Me - the only one without a Wikipedia entry. You can imagine how excited I was to see so many experienced people joining as Mentors. Of course you can learn much of them and this is what I did. As a Mentor you have not only the chance to look at the gory details of an incubation - you have the duty to do so.

Finally only when the project is “running” like an Apache project - often referred as the Apache way, which describes core values like “being open” - it will graduate out from incubator and become an official top level project. You can be assured that licensing problems are no longer there and the project has a clean IP.

OpenOffice and some of its issues

The Mentors will look at all the questions and advise the project to solve them. Mentors usually say things like:”you cannot use dependency $a, because it uses license $x. These are not compatible.” They say it, because the Apache Software Foundation only release code licensed with the Apache License. Oracles OpenOffice.org has had a lot of dependencies and some where GPL’ed. GPL is a different philosophy and unfortunately these two licenses are not fully compatible. One of the first hurdles was to make sure everything which will be published by the OpenOffice project is compatible to the Apache License. If you were coding on huge projects in your life, you know how painful it can be to look at every single dependency you might use.

Mentors also look at the community. In the case of OpenOffice, there was a totally different style of “project management”. It was - more or less - leadership based. But at the ASF there are no “real” leaders, or at there is not a role of a leader. There a people who do stuff, and when they do stuff, they somehow lead it. Finally the project agrees or disagrees with votes. We call that Do-cracy (or so). But there is never ever one person who can decide what will happen and when. The Apache style is not for everybody. But I am glad to say that many, many people at this project changed their way of working without much pain.

The community of OpenOffice is huge. It was overwhelming huge. There are parts of OpenOffice which required some special thoughts. Like the official OpenOffice forums. These forums were once running more or less independently. But now the forums were about to be part of the project. In other terms: the people who were moderating/administrating the forum needed become Apache committers. Even when they would not write a single line code. It is often misunderstood that you would need to write code to join a project as a committer. But this is not true. Apache projects usually are glad about every contribution and will respect you for that. If you write docs, you are able to join. If you are active as supporter on the mailing lists you are also able to join. We had to do much work to integrate the forum people into the OpenOffice community and this community into the Apache community. There were language barriers and concerns. I mean: some folks just wanted to post in the forums as always. Why did they need to sign a CLA? Well, because we are concerned on the IP. Because we want them to join our community - fully. Besides: we have not had forums on the ASF before. How to operate them? But there were some great volunteers who succeeded with this job.

This is the case with Apache: we are one community. Community over code, it is often said. With this incubation we had to bring a fully fledged community into ours. We needed to mentor without being arrogant. I hope it worked out that way (I doubt everybody will agree). But it was difficult. The folks of OpenOffice needed to bend more than we needed. We more or less changed some infrastructure things, like running the forums on our servers. But OpenOffice community needed to change the way they operate.

Therefore I can just give all involved people my deepest respect. When two communities grow together and one community cannot move so far as the other, there are often misunderstandings and of course hurt feelings. But in just this little time (since june 2011!) it worked out.

Here is a great quote from the official annoucement:

“The OpenOffice graduation is the official recognition that the project is now able to self-manage not only in technical matters, but also in community issues,” said Andrea Pescetti, Vice President of Apache OpenOffice. “The ‘Apache Way’ and its methods, such as taking every decision in public with total transparency, have allowed the project to attract and successfully engage new volunteers, and to elect an active and diverse Project Management Committee that will be able to guarantee a stable future to Apache OpenOffice.”

Yup, that’s it.

The first release

It was not only impressive to see the community grow. No, one of the most impressive things I ever seen was that OpenOffice people - surrounded by Nay-sayers and other destructive elements - simply made what they liked. They made a new release. With a complete new infrastructure. With brand new requirements. With mentors in their backs. And with a growing and successful LibreOffice community on the other side. But they kept on going and finally they made it. A project with size and this restrictions - I can just say:”wow guys, that was incredible.”.

Check their releases out here: openoffice.apache.org. 20 million other people did so since the first release was out in May 2012!

And what next?

Incubation is over. My role at this project is done. OpenOffice is now self governing and they totally deserved it. Now they can say they are an official project and users can use software which is guaranteed to run under the permissive Apache License 2.0. This will make it possible to use in your own products.

There will be some tasks to be done for post graduation. But actually these are just small steps. Graduation is important from a psychology point of view. From technical point of view: some redirections and then head on to the next release.

However, I was glad to get such a great insight, even when it needed huge amount of my energy. Somehow I am glad to unsubscribe, but somehow I will miss this exciting project. In any way, thanks guys that I was allowed to learn so much. And I wish you all the best for the future. I now think it is a bright one.

At our conference

Did you know there are a couple of great OpenOffice talks at the ApacheCon EU?

Tags: #Apache #OpenOffice.org