The bright future of LibreOffice

A year ago, the storied quest for a viable open source office suite was in peril. The LibreOffice project turned all that around -- and exciting new innovations promise another leap ahead

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The key was another February event, the incorporation of The Document Foundation (TDF) as an independent legal entity. Promised by the original founders of LibreOffice, TDF is intended to provide an inviolable safe haven for development of LibreOffice and its innovative new relatives. The community around LibreOffice was clearly highly motivated by this independence, having donated $66,000 in small payments in just seven days back in 2011 to serve as the core capital of an exceptionally stable German nonprofit. No one calls the shots at LibreOffice apart from the developers, and TDF was created to make sure things stayed that way even as the project is adopted by corporate sponsors.

The most recent news underlines the wisdom of that approach. Last week saw Intel join TDF's advisory board and commit to distribution of LibreOffice for Windows through its AppUp store. Corporate supporters like Intel will undoubtedly be very welcome, but ensuring that every contributor genuinely has a voice in the project remains a priority.

That has to be the key lesson to draw from LibreOffice. Successful open source communities are places where every participant is able to aspire to their own vision within the context of collaboration. People participate in open source projects to meet personal goals, not just to be philanthropic. They must have room to be allowed to meet their needs, including making money without the permission of other community participants. When a single company is in control -- by design or simply by being the only one who shows up -- that ability is stifled and participation is limited. This was a takeaway from the failure of Symbian and is hopefully one that HP understands as it tries to migrate WebOS over to open source.

Where next for LibreOffice? To continue this success, the project will need to encourage the nascent innovation seen in the Web and Android editions. It's time for a refresh of the user interface (although not to slavishly follow Microsoft Office), for the addition of collaboration features, and for the inclusion of cloud integration, all of which will need developer focus.

Today's bring-your-own-device revolution provides the ideal opportunity for an open source productivity suite to finally gain corporate traction; to be the package of choice, LibreOffice needs to build on this solid base and deliver the capabilities that enable it. Time will tell if it can pull off the feat. Given the amazing rescue of by the LibreOffice community, I have high hopes it will.

This article, "The bright future of LibreOffice," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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