In defense of Apache

Apache is great for many things, not so for others. Its proponents misunderstand its weaknesses, and its detractors misunderstand its strengths

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OpenOffice is another project beset by all signs of failure, including the fact that Apache has seldom undertaken desktop applications. But any understanding of OpenOffice requires understanding Oracle and open source.

Oracle and open source don't really fit together. For starters, Oracle closed most of Sun's open source projects. Oracle then proceeded to tick off most of the contributors to the remaining projects, especially since many were former Sun employees who quit because they didn't want to work for Oracle (but still, ironically, wanted to work on the projects) or were laid off by Oracle. All of the ex-Sun types and the rare but stereotypical open source hippie types -- as well as the people being paid by someone else -- had one major desire: to work on the project and meet the project's overall objective.

Oracle famously decided that Hudson would migrate to its infrastructure no matter what the developers preferred. The developers decided to continue to develop the project as Jenkins on GitHub and Google Groups regardless of what Oracle thought. Oracle then donated Hudson to Eclipse. Although both projects are active, Jenkins is far more active, with far more contributors and broader industry support.

In an almost parallel story, the developers of OpenOffice were already dissatisfied with Sun making arbitrary decisions that affected them despite the creation of a governance board they were a part of. They split off into LibreOffice. Oracle fired most of its paid OpenOffice developers, closed, and donated the trademark to Apache. The project was forked as Apache OpenOffice, and now IBM is now doing most of the core development. Both projects are active.

According to Ohloh, the Libre fork has fewer lines of code (possibly in a good way), more commits, and a larger diversity of contributors. The Apache OpenOffice fork has more lines of code from fewer contributors and declining diversity. The larger codebase may be in part due to IBM's donation of its Lotus Symphony code. Nearly all of the very active Apache OpenOffice developers work for IBM directly or indirectly. Like Apache Harmony, this isn't a "community" project that would survive IBM changing gears. According to Apache's "community" rhetoric, Apache OpenOffice shouldn't even exist.

I should note that at my company, our operations people use OpenOffice because of a compatibility bug with Google Docs. Most of the operations people are on Windows (due to scanner feed support on Linux, believe it or not). Because of a horrible bug in Apache OpenOffice, backspacing take an eternity, which is truly painful to watch. Our developers are all on LibreOffice in the rare instances we need an installed desktop suite. Mostly, we use Google Docs. Who wants to email file attachments back and forth? As a developer, I'm an open source guy; as a businessman I'm all cloud through and through.

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