Friday, 17 July 2020 09:07

LibreOffice chief outlines issues facing free software project

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Michael Meeks: "At the core of the situation currently we have the problem of the perception that LibreOffice either creates itself (via the magic of volunteers), or that TDF creates it (by unknown means or by donations)." Michael Meeks: "At the core of the situation currently we have the problem of the perception that LibreOffice either creates itself (via the magic of volunteers), or that TDF creates it (by unknown means or by donations)." Supplied

Veteran free software and open source developer Michael Meeks has expanded on the issues faced by the LibreOffice project which were briefly touched on by iTWire recently, drawing from a post on the popular Linux Weekly News website.

The essential issue is that money which is supposed to be paid to companies that provide support for LibreOffice is not being paid. And since that makes up most of the funds that enable development, The Document Foundation, the agency that manages LibreOffice development, has had to put together a plan for raising funds.

Meeks, who works as general manager at Collabora Productivity, a company that sells LibreOffice support, told iTWire: "I think the community reaction in summary is 'go slower', there are a lot of moving pieces that intersect here - the board has been talking about them for a long time, but the community have come fresh to them, and need time to digest them, to interact and ask questions before coming up with proposals.

"That's very positive, I think. At the core of the situation currently we have the problem of the perception that LibreOffice either creates itself (via the magic of volunteers), or that TDF creates it (by unknown means or by donations)."

He said the reality was that the ecosystem companies - firms that offer support for LibreOffice - did most of the work in the project.

"Turning TDF donations into feature/function improvements is not only a process that at best is approximately 10% of that total development, but also one that has been completely blocked for 18 months despite approved budgets, ranked tasks etc," Meeks pointed out..

"Combined with that, TDF does approximately nothing effective to tell anyone about the ecosystem that does so much. It passively discourages enterprises from paying by heavily emphasising gratis over libre - in a really unhelpful way."

He said there were always many problems with any non-profit, not just TDF - but these particular longstanding issues had a large, negative impact on the LibreOffice mission.

"It's been great to see the range of positive ideas for improved positioning in Italo's [Vignoli, TDF chief] proposal - that go beyond splash-screens and about dialogs. The existing set-up, which lacks any plausible linkage from economic investment into the desktop code to any return for the investor is a really fundamental problem.

"It also means that while we continue to serve our desktop customers, and improve LibreOffice on the desktop, Collabora is investing in Online: the in-browser, collaborative editing, privacy respecting, on-premise hosted awesomeness.

"Collabora/LibreOffice Online [Collabora does 95%+ of the commits] is going really well and is delivering a FLOSS alternative to Google Docs and Office 365 for tons of users. That is a growing business that funds our re-investment into LibreOffice: so all good.

"The controversy here was really sparked by the desire of some to bring the known damaging LibreOffice Desktop / TDF economic model to Online - and to do so extremely quickly. That led to brain-storming around creating a parallel marketing solution to try to de-risk that, and finally improve the problems with the desktop too."


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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