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Discordant Notes Surround IBM’s Symphony Move

Following last month’s excitement over the ongoing OpenOffice.org saga, it seemed like things on that front were quieting down at last.

It was just early June, of course, when Oracle decided to donate OpenOffice to the Apache Foundation rather than to LibreOffice — a move at least one blogger equated with a “spiteful child, smashing their toys instead of sharing.”

Well, so much for any kind of lasting quiet since then. Last week, none other than IBM announced that it was donating its Lotus Symphony office suite to the Apache OpenOffice.org project, thus throwing its own weight behind the Oracle-affiliated project as well.

A Bomb Is Dropped

“We’re going to contribute the standalone version of Lotus Symphony to the Apache OpenOffice.org project, under the Apache 2.0 license,” wrote IBM’s Rob Weir in an email on Wednesday.

“We’ll also work with project members to prioritize which pieces make sense to integrate into OpenOffice,” Weir added.

The news spread through the Linux blogosphere like the proverbial wildfire, causing conflagrations of conversation on forums far and wide. Opinions were nothing if not diverse.

‘This Makes Sense’

Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, took a positive view of the move.

“This makes sense for IBM,” Travers said. “It ultimately means less maintenance on their shoulders for a product they don’t charge license fees for. The neutral license also ensures that this is a win for the FOSS community generally, regardless of politics between OpenOffice and LibreOffice.”

In the end, it is “a good thing,” Travers asserted.

“Once again IBM has shown themselves to be a company which is willing to contribute to FOSS when it serves their interests, which is all we can expect from any commercial company,” he concluded. “I think it shows that more is on its way.”

‘They’re Dumping It Off’

Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza, however, had a different view.

“I had to google to even know what Lotus Symphony is; the name ‘Lotus’ is now inseparable from ‘Notes’ in my mind, and I cannot hear it without a shudder of disgust,” Espinoza told Linux Girl.

“It appears to be a fork of OO.o, so I suppose it’s a good sign to see it being offered back for merging — if there’s actually anything there worth using,” Espinoza added. “I don’t really have any problem with OO.o’s interface until you get to preferences, so I guess I don’t really care.”

The move is more an example of “abandonware” than a useful donation, he opined. “It’s not worth maintaining, so they’re dumping it off. Since it’s based on OO.o they can’t really kill it, so why not set it free in exchange for some free goodwill, while improving their bottom line at the same time?”

‘OO Just Hit Another Oh-Oh’

Indeed, “it’s one way to extricate your company from a project without looking like you’ve given up on it, but that’s basically what’s happening,” agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site. “If this keeps up, the Apache Foundation will get a reputation as a dumping ground for dying forks.”

While LibreOffice continues to move forward, “OO just hit another oh-oh — they have to see what, if any, code they can use from Symphony,” Hudson noted. “More delays, when they’re already behind. Yes, people are saying that the code donation by IBM was a sop to Oracle, and that may well be, but the net effect is to drop a boat anchor right through the hull of a becalmed ship.”

As “anyone who’s worked with code” knows, “the absolute last thing you want when you’re trying to get up to speed is millions of lines of foreign code dumped on you,” Hudson added. “It’s the code equivalent of Fred Brooks (The Mythical Man-Month) saying, ‘adding more people to a late project just makes it later.'”

The result could even be classified as “a new trojan variant,” Hudson suggested. “Code that will cause your project to crash and burn without even being run.”

‘A Lot of Work for No Benefit’

Blogger Robert Pogson saw it similarly.

“I’m disappointed that IBM is going along with Oracle to convert OpenOffice.org to the ASF license,” Pogson said. “This is a lot of work for no benefit. It also complicates the possibility of LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org ever getting back together.”

LibreOffice, in fact, is “thriving, while OpenOffice.org looks like it will take months to get on track,” Pogson pointed out. “It all seems pointless.”

IBM has, of course, “done a lot to promote FLOSS” over the years, he added. “But this is a questionable move. Competition is good, but on a large project like an office suite, there will be a lot of duplication of effort. The Symphony extensions are unlikely to ever fit with LibreOffice and the good work in LibreOffice is unlikely to ever find its way to OpenOffice.org.”

So, “what’s the point?” Pogson concluded. “Oracle and IBM could have joined The Document Foundation and been up to speed instantly.”

‘The Mindshare Left Ages Ago’

What will happen next? Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack didn’t hesitate to make a prediction.

“What will happen next is that the LibreOffice people will just pick off what features they think will be good from the IBM donation, since the license lets them do that,” Mack told Linux Girl. “It is far too late for the OpenOffice project to regain the prominence it had before the fork, since the mindshare left ages ago.”

3 Comments

  • Of course this complicates the possibility of LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org really getting together: one of Oracle’s objects — seperation. Another dart thrown by Oracle legal dept from, in my opinion, a very old, selfish, selfcenter, brutish corp. I never ever liked.
    Tabo

  • I’ve been following this story and the related dialog, some of which you quote in this article, with great interest.

    Here are some comments I posted to a similar thread at OSnews:

    "There is a huge piece of this story that every one is missing. Yes it is good news that more code and more developers are being focused on the document editing space. Yes the community has work to do to figure out what the best parts of these donations are and bring them together, and yes IBM hopes that anyone and every one will be able to leverage and benefit from the donated technology and resources, this includes TDF/Libre Office and the Linux distributions and anyone else for that matter. No this is not a dump and run. IBM is increasing its investments in this space and is hiring new programmers to work on the project.

    The real question is why? If we don’t intend to make money off of the resulting editors why go to all this effort. Certainly IBM believes that the overall market is a healthier place with a strong vibrant and open document editor suite and that a modern, open, technically elegant and pragmatically implementable document format is a very good thing indeed. And certainly IBM has the breath of interests to execute a community benefactor play simply on this rational. But that isn’t really what this is all about, at lease not all of it.

    IBM believes that there is tremendous pent up innovative potential in the document space. The confluence of the rise of mobile, the rise of cloud and co-editing models, new collaborative and social business models and new analytic technology, and the emerging building blocks of the semantic web, suggests that there is enormous potential for innovation.

    Traditional documents have focused on 2 layers, the content layer and the presentation layer. The great potential for innovation and new value creation is in the 3rd layer. The semantic layer.

    Documents need to become much smarter. They need to incorporate rich descriptive semantics to aid navigation, discovery, trustworthiness analysis, compliance, and deep Q&A technology. Smarter documents will be used by business and governments in fields such as health care and marketing, for risk or sentiment analysis. People and organizations who leverage document content need to know its accuracy: who authored it? who has had access to it? where it was developed and what the provenance of the content is. Can you imagine what Deep QA technology like "Watson" could do if it had smarter documents to chew on?

    The document editor suite is very important for this vision of new value creation. If documents can become smarter at creation or edit time then much more semantic/ social information can be embedded in documents and those documents can be leveraged by discovery engines, GRC engines, content management stores, analytic and deep QA engines etc… There is a lot of new value creation here. A lot of new business opportunity, but a lot of the fundamental work needs to be done by a community of technology partners to succeed. What is IBM really trying to accomplish here? IBM is trying to create a critical mass to attract the key investors in this new innovative space. You should watch for IBM to be working very hard to recruit other significant players with resources and IP to join the initiative."

    Disclosure: I AM the Director of Strategy for IBM’s Collaboration Solutions division.

    • You know, I keep hearing about this semantic web idea but the whole thing reminds me of pre-Google search engines. The one thing we learned the hard way is that if you let the author describe the document contents the result is a whole lot of spam.

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