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Simon Phipps

With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

LibreOffice Foundation Symbolises Maturity

Finally established as an independent entity, The Document Foundation and LibreOffice are a refreshing story of community triumphing over adversity.

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It's been a notable month for the LibreOffice open source office suite project (to which I also contribute), with a steady stream of news releases on their blog.

  • They released version 3.5, described as "the best free office suite ever", which demonstrated a mature approach to community development with valuable rework to streamline the code combined with interesting new features such as initial support for Visio files and Smart-Art and a new architecture for grammar-checkers.
  • They published statistics on the project that showed how genuinely diverse the ever-growing participant community was, with 50 core developers from a range of origins.
  • They opened the community voting on the location for the next LibreOffice Conference.
  • They opened the doors to a new, StackOverflow-style community support site, Ask LibreOffice.

While much of what has happened has been the steady momentum you'd expect from a community-run project, the announcement this morning that parent organisation The Document Foundation has finally been officially incorporated in Germany seems a symbolic maturity point for the once-renegade project. Incorporation was made possible by the amazing week in 2011 when hundreds of individual donations provided the ‚¬50,000 starting capital for the Foundation, and while it's taken a year to happen, the entity that's been created - a German Stiftung - is as solid as rock.

The slowness was because of the novelty of the approach being taken, combining a truly member-run governance tailor-made for LibreOffice with the long-term stability of a Stiftung. I've spoken with many of the people involved and all are delighted that it's finally been possible to make an ideal home for what was once, twelve years after it was promised by Sun.

What's next? The code clean-up will undoubtedly go on for quite a while given the huge "technical debt" that Red Hat's Caolán McNamara mentioned. But there are also new developments. The community has been proposing user interface changes and are looking for designers to help. There's a web-based variant being developed and an Android port was demonstrated at FOSDEM. And of course, the developers have already demonstrated that they can deliver new releases month after month after month with incremental improvements, bug fixes and the occasional juicy new feature.

Overall, LibreOffice seems to be working. The community has taken over, created a way of working that gives everyone a voice, focussed on code over politics and delivered what was promised. A remarkable bright light for a dark time.

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