Apache OpenOffice, the popular free alternative to Microsoft Office is in real danger of closing its doors. An e-mail titled “What would OpenOffice retirement involve?” from volunteer vice president Dennis E. Hamilton outlines how the company is running out of volunteer developers and thus can’t continue to bring out updates and bug fixes and security patches.
“It is my considered opinion that there is no ready supply of developers who have the capacity, capability, and will to supplement the roughly half-dozen volunteers holding the project together”
-Dennis E. Hamilton (Volunteer Vice President OpenOffice)
Hamilton reports to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) who have asked what the project’s considerations are with respect to retirement.
Most volunteers of OpenOffice have left to work on LibreOffice which launchedin 2011. And the updates and bug fixes have left with them. While OpenOffice’s only update/release in 2015 was 4.1.2 in October, there were 14 updates for LibreOffice in the same year.
In July of 2016, a security risk was exposed in OpenOffice that left it open to denial of service attacks and execution of arbitrary code. OpenOffice claimed that a workaround would be to shift to LibreOffice or Microsoft Office. Ouch.
A security patch was released in late August but concerns remained for future security issues. And this is what Hamilton is talking about. He says that the OpenOffice team could spot a vulnerability but do nothing about for months because there simply isn’t enough manpower available. It would likely be a year before a full 4.1.3 would come out with the fix incorporated.
How Would Retirement Go?
Well first things, first. The source code and the software would still be available to everyone. Yet there would be no commitment to changes made to it. Installable binaries would remain in an archive but there would again be no changes or additions to them. As far as the updates are concerned, there would just be a mechanism for providing “advice to users about investigating still-supported alternatives.”
For social media, everything would be shutdown. Mailing lists for developers and public discussion threads would become inactive and the blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts would be shutdown. Apache would maintain an e-mail address for asking if anyone wants to use the OpenOffice brand.
While retirement is still hypothetical, Hamilton prefers if it goes “gracefully”, hence contingency plans should be made earlier rather than later.
While there are many who still support OpenOffice which has been alive for almost 16 years, it would be foolish not to see that the software is going the way most every free software company goes when it loses developer interest. Nevertheless, supporters are saying that talk of retirement isn’t productive when focus should be on generating developer interest.
OpenOffice has been downloaded 160 million times since May 2012 and LibreOffice isn’t behind with over 100 million active users. Its just that the latter is a good software with excellent public relations while the former is an excellent software with ok public relations. And in this day and age, that could be the difference between life and death.