Linked by Rahul on Sat 11th Oct 2008 01:39 UTC
Features, Office Michael Meeks who leads the OpenOffice.org development team within Novell has taken a detailed look at contributions associated by metrics to OpenOffice.org and makes the case that Sun's tight control over the codebase and the lack of enough volunteer contributors leaves the development slowly stagnating over a period of time. Michael Meeks has recently started strongly advocating the position that Sun needs to setup a more independent OpenOffice.org foundation or otherwise allow more relaxed policies for commit access and be less rigid about assignment of copyright to itself for the development community of Openoffice.org to thrive beyond Sun developers.
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RE: heh...
by karl on Sat 11th Oct 2008 23:44 UTC in reply to "heh..."
karl
Member since:
2005-07-06

Get a clue before you start bad mouthing Meeks.

You obviously have not been following what he has been blogging about for the past years. If you had you would know that branding is not even *one* of the significant issues that Meeks has raised time and time again. (and copyright attribution is *not* simply a branding issue)

Meeks is one of very few people on earth who actually knows and groks the OpenOffice codebase-and he has been tirelessly working on that code, improving it and making OpenOffice better for everyone involved. The text which he wrote attempts to numerically illustrate the severe problems, which do exist, which he has been calling attention to over and over again, but which has been met with apparently deaf ears by Sun and those managing OO.org.

You may wish to characterize this as some kind of Novell vs. Sun thing. But the fact remains- there are far too few devs working on the project, far too many hurdles to go threw to become a contributing dev, far too many procedural hurdles which actively thwart the good will of those who would like to contribute- and this in the context of a project which is extremely important, not only to the Linux and FOSS communities, but also to a much broader community commited to wresting control of document creation out of the hands of propietary format creators and guaranteeing accessibility to the documents we create.

The viability of the FOSS software in the desktop commercial and government/institutional markets is uniquely dependent upon OpenOffice. If something were to happen to Sun where they could no longer afford to pursue this project and the project would fail due to the lack of knowledgeable contributors-the entire FOSS community would be delivered a profoundly painful blow-OpenOffice is perhaps *the* most relevant alternative to MS Office which exists and makes FOSS desktops even thinkable-without OpenOffice FOSS desktops would not be able to compete at all.

But the stakes are much larger than the relative success of FOSS desktops: what is at stake here is the accessibility of the documents we create, now and in the future, whether the documents we create can be opened and modified using software which is freely available to all and which runs on all of the major platforms, or whether are documents are stored in propietary formats which can only be accessed by propietary software, which is exceedly expensive and which only runs the platforms Microsoft chooses to support.

You bad mouth Meeks and fail to see that his *real* interest in OpenOffice has nothing to do with the relative market success of Novell vs. Sun-his concerns, which he has blogged about quite frequently is the health and longevity of a community of contributors capable of maintaining and improving perhaps one of the most pivotal pieces of software in the FOSS world.

The OpenOffice codebase is horrifically large and complex. Extremely few programmers, given sufficient expertise and capability, have what it takes to become a meaningful contributor. Not only does one need to be extremely skilled to grok the code at hand, not only does it take an inordinate amount of time and energy to get up to speed in the OO codebase, but then one has 10,001 programmatic constraints which makes it very difficult to change something without breaking anything else. Working on OpenOffice is about as unsexy as it gets. And then to top it all off Sun has this extremely heavy-handed procedural system in place, which may have been fine back when the code was not opensource and exclusively Sun employees worked on it, which makes it nigh-impossible for the project to attract enough devs to become a really viable competition.

I just hope that Sun one day begins to understand what community software development is all about and how to encourage, motivate and entice developers to contribute to the project-instead of creating one hurdle after the next and actively discouraging potential contributors. And I hope this day comes before OpenOffice as a project fails due to manpower issues.

OpenOffice, as a project, will never be able to compete with something like the Linux kernel in terms of the number of developers. If for no other reason than the fact that as a new dev that you have remarkably little freedom to innovate in such a godawful complex codebase-pre-existing code which you must accept and deal with, little room to experiment and change, a remarkably thankless task. But given such an initial situation- one must do *everything* possible to lower the barriers for new devs to participate-and this is the simple message that Michael Meeks has been pounding on again and again to deaf ears at Sun and a FOSS community which by and large, although precariously dependent upon the success of OpenOffice, practically ignores it.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[2]: heh...
by Phobos on Sun 12th Oct 2008 00:16 in reply to "RE: heh..."
Phobos Member since:
2008-04-30

Au contraire, I do have been following Meeks for some time now... I even remember last year's Sun badmouthing (much like this one) and his official/unofficial fork/non-fork go-oo... that had existed for quite some time before that but he re-released as a new/old project for contributors to get their code "upstream" quicker...

yes, I do know what he does... and I do know what OO means for FOSS... but guest what, that IS Sun's code... and it's open source, so, whatever could happen to Sun won't matter, OO is not at any risk... even yet, he chooses to attack Sun, one of the biggest contributor to FOSS ( http://blogs.sun.com/bnitz/entry/is_sun_behind_more_than )..

from my POV, not the best way to promote open source... Novell (via Meeks and others) attacks fellow contributors (like Sun and Red Hat) while joining forces with Microsoft... great job... NOT

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[3]: heh...
by karl on Sun 12th Oct 2008 01:56 in reply to "RE[2]: heh..."
karl Member since:
2005-07-06

You seem to be conflating a few things:

1) Criticizing a procedural system which actively thwarts new contributors and contributions and which makes the already thankless task of hacking on OpenOffice even that much more of a turn off-discouraging developers who might otherwise be inclined to lend a helping hand from even attempting-is not the same as attacking Sun(ie. corporate politics). If IBM was steward of this code and managed it in the same fashion Meeks would probably be lambasting them for their mismanagement.

2) Novell has over 20 years involvement with Microsoft-whether as a company producing software to run under windows, or standing before a judge in legal issues with Microsoft. When I first started working in IT back in 1989 Novell was *the* name in networking for PC's. They built their business and reputation on a software platform written by Microsoft. Expecting Novell to completely purge any relations to Microsoft after having purchase SuSE and Ximian is like expecting IBM to divest from the mainframe business once they started focusing more on software as a service product.

Moreover I highly doubt that Meeks was consulted by the higher-ups at Novell when they made deals with Microsoft in the past couple of years. You seem to conflate the corporate political issues between Novell and Microsoft with the *agendas* of those employed by Novell who are working on Free Software.

Although I do not have access to any meaningful statistics about who has historically contributed the most to OpenOffice, what I do know is that Sun purchased and already written cross-platform office suite known then as StarOffice. Sun has never been known for their desktop applications-prior to OpenOffice Sun had never produced any meaningful desktop applications. You stated that the code *is* Sun's code- and this is part of the fundamental problem, regarding the viability of the OpenOffice project.

OpenOffice is FOSS software, at least according to the license, but looking at the community around it(or the relative lack thereof), one might come away with the impression that this is Sun's baby-which of course is the point you are trying to make. My point, and I believe Meek's point is that as Free Software OpenOffice is something which belongs to a much larger community, a community which is only limited by those who contribute in one way or another. Sun maintains a propietary hold on this Free Software through a) all the hurdles it creates for contributors b) copyright assignment.

This propietary hold on Free Software is like caging a beautiful bird-what otherwise would be free to fly is held artificially trapped in a cage. Now I understand the commercial needs that Sun has as regards their propietary StarOffice product. I understand that they wish to protect the brandname and quality of that product. But I contend they can still do so without burdening OpenOffice with such a procedural nightmare that devs are avoiding OpenOffice likes the plague.

Looking at the Wikipedia page for Staroffice one finds this rather interesting quote:

" The number one reason why Sun bought StarDivision in 1999 was because, at the time, Sun had something approaching forty-two thousand employees. Pretty much every one of them had to have both a Unix workstation and a Windows laptop. And it was cheaper to go buy a company that could make a Solaris and Linux desktop productivity suite than it was to buy forty-two thousand licenses from Microsoft. (Simon Phipps, Sun, LUGradio podcast.)"

Now why did Sun release the code for OpenOffice under a FOSS license? I don't really know the answer to this, but pure benevolence it was surely not-more likely they felt they needed to do this to get respect and support from the larger FOSS community-after all Sun was a noname from a consumer PC desktop user perspective, ie. if the project is FOSS it can get uptake by others in the FOSS community and corporations which build on FOSS(like IBM), helping to establish the "street cred" of Sun in the desktop application market. But apparently Sun was not all that interested in getting non sun employees to actually contribute and push through changes to the code, improving it for all.

The structures in place by which means OpenOffice code contributions are managed expresses clearly this lack of desire or interest in 3rd party contribution. And this flies flat in the face of the spirit of FOSS. Xorg, Linux, Mozilla and OpenOffice are all FOSS software. Xorg has blossomed since the old XFree86 days were left behind-Xorg was born out of frustration by devs who were hindered by the XFree86 management to propell X into the 21st century-the license change was only the icing on the cake, the real frustration had already been brewing for a while. Linux has a spectacularly large and diverse community of contributors- who own's Linux ? those who contribute. Mozilla is struggling with many of the same issues which OpenOffice has-a horrifically complex codebase which scares off many potential contributors, but a) this situation has gotten noticably better in the last years b) they also have spawned a vibrant community of plugin writers-which ultimately is a pool from which programming talent can be drawn.

OpenOffice has a large number of volunteers helping out in all sorts of ways, promoting Openoffice, creating artwork, etc. The non-developer community around OpenOffice is probably one of the largest around- but, and this is the point, the project is visibily suffering from a lack of developer manpower, progress in OpenOffice is like the moving of glaciers. Just think how much better it would be if they could draw from such a large and diverse community
like Linux.

Sun has undoubtedly made tremendous contributions to FOSS. I and many, many other trully appreciate this. But Sun has done virtually nothing to grow FOSS communities. One could even argue that this is not their job-and one would be right-it is not Sun's job to create FOSS communities around it's products. The issue here is whether Sun is actively precluding the development of such a FOSS community around OpenOffice by virtue of it's propietary hold. Sun ought to Open the cage and set this bird free.

(lol, I can see some abiword/koffice devs laughing at setting OpenOffice free as in uncaging a bird-a bird ? that damned thing is so heavy that it couldn't fly even if it had anti-gravity.... ;)

Reply Parent Score: 2