OpenOffice.org vs. Go-OO: Cutting through the Gordian Knot

Last Updated: April 20, 2021

OpenOffice.org is a popular free office application, but is it everything that developer Michael Meeks thinks it is? Or is it Go-OO that’s the better option?

The answer to this question is pretty important, because it more or less determines the future of OpenOffice.org. OpenOffice.org’s main goal in life is to offer its users an open source and free desktop. However, there are also those that are on Go-OO’s side, to the point that they want to do everything they can to get rid of OpenOffice.org completely.

Well, who is right?

A History of the Debate

Go-OO has been a thing in and of itself since 2002. However, the controversy surrounding it only happened a little while ago when a critique was made of how OpenOffice.org is managed, and since then there have been people on both sides pushing the debate.

Go-OO developers like Meeks, and Kohei Yoshida don’t like the idea that the copyright of all code related to OpenOffice.org needs to be assigned to Sun Microsystem. Other criticisms surround how tightly the Sun want to hold onto the project, which of course prevents an open source community to an extent. Go-OO is supposed to be the kind of project where users don’t have to feel like they need to give up the copyright to their code, and they can safely develop features that Sun doesn’t need to integrate into OpenOffice.org.

So, some of those who oppose the idea of Go-OO, don’t like the idea of criticizing the Sun too much. However, most of the objections come from those who have eradicated Novell from the open source software community, ever since it landed a deal with Microsoft back in 2006.

The objectors are honing in on features with Go-OO like file import and export, and support for VBA for scripts. Critics say that Go-OO is just another attempt by Novell to undermine the open source community with technologies related to Microsoft that could be under the gun for patent issues.

So, the debate was buried for a while, but now it has reared its ugly head again. The reason for this is that there has been recent media coverage to do with Ubuntu and Debian.

Another reason could be the fact that Meek has reinstated his stance on the issue on his blog. Meeks says that not only have the Sun’s contributions to OpenOffice.org reduced over the last few years, but the number of active developers has declined as well from 70 to just 30.

He believes that what is needed right now is democratic change in how OpenOffice.org is governed, as well as separating the project from the Sun completely. He suggests that in the interim, developers should use Go-OO.

So, on the other side you’ve got the anti-Novell group that sees Go-OO as an extension of OpenOffice.org, as opposed to a supplement. The members of the other side criticize Go-OO for not sharing its improvements with the main project.

There are some people that even suggest that Go-OO only exists to push Novell’s pro-Microsoft initiative. In line with this side of the argument, features like support for Mono extensions are part of a campaign to ultimately undermine free software by making distributions that use Go-OO vulnerable to patent and copyright violations. This strategy is intended to keep OpenOffice.org from becoming a major issue for Microsoft Office.

Exaggerations and Truths

The issue with both sides is that both contain elements of the truth, but both also include omissions that are rather important.

Meek being critical of OpenOffice.org might sound exaggerated to those on the outside, but anyone who is actually part of the community could agree that the project itself has some serious issues. OpenOffice.org developers have little in common with the community, and more than one developer has ended up drifting away, after becoming disillusioned.

Perhaps the success lies with the OpenOffice.org authors, and it had to be independent before it could be seen as a helpful part of the bigger picture. And, when it comes to the development side of things, lots of software has found it easier to accomplish goals outside of the main project, including Go-OO.

OpenOffice.org and the Sun haven’t shown a lot of interest in reducing the roadblocks to participation, especially in the way that Fedora has. If you spend any time with OpenOffice.org, you will realise that the majority of the decision-making goes through a small number of Sun developers, and they would like things to stay this way at the end of the day.

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