OpenOffice, Once The Best Office Alternative, Could Soon Become Part Of History

Many of us used OpenOffice once, either because we didn’t want to buy Microsoft Office, our computer wasn’t beefy enough to run Office (oh, the good old days) or just because we liked open-source alternative better. Long time passed since OpenOffice was on a peak of popularity, in recent years a couple of office suites that started on Android successfully migrated to PC world, there was the launch of Office 365, just further expanding Microsoft Office’s user base, and let’s not forget another open-source project, LibreOffice, which took many developers from the OpenOffice staff, making OpenOffice to slowly disappear from many PCs.

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The current problem isn’t connected to suite’s lingering user base; instead, OpenOffice saw a decline in its staff, ultimately leading to having so few developers that future security updates might stop. This is a serious problem since if not releasing security updates, problems could stay jeopardizing OpenOffice security, leading to higher vulnerability.

Dennis Hamilton, vice president of Apache OpenOffice started an e-mail thread dubbed “What would OpenOffice retirement involve?” in which he stated that “It is my considered opinion that there is no ready supply of developers who have the capacity, capability, and will to supplement the roughly half-dozen volunteers holding the project together.”

Hamilton also said that “retirement of the project is a serious possibility.” So yes, the open-source office suite project could really be on its way to retirement.

As we already stated LibreOffice picked up many developers since its launch in 2011. Just by comparing update frequency, we can say that LibreOffice is a much more active project, with 14 updates coming out just in 2015. OpenOffice, on the other hand, had its last update in October 2015; that was the only update in 2015, showing how the project got into serious problems.

Apache Software Foundation isn’t decided to shut down the project yet, and even if they decide to retire it, source code will still be available for everyone, but the updates might cease. Hamilton said that he sketched a retirement plan, not because retirement is planned but because he wants that “any retirement happen[s] gracefully. That means we need to consider it as a contingency.  For contingency plans, no time is a good time, but earlier is always better than later.”

On the other side of the line are developers, who want OpenOffice to stay alive, by changing the ways of how open-source project is managed. One developer, Phillip Rhodes, stated that “I know a lot of people prefer to contribute to LO [LibreOffice] and not AOO, and that losing the people IBM was paying was a big hit. But I can’t help but think there’s a way to get more people involved and contributing here. So I’d rather see discussion around ‘how do we attract additional contributors (or fix whatever other problems we have)?’ than talk about a ‘retirement plan. ‘”

While it is possible for OpenOffice to continue being worked on, fixing security holes and adding new features, that probably won’t happen. As Hamilton stated “My considered opinion is that the greatest barrier is a lack of a meaningful business/operation/funding model. In addition, there is an insufficient supply of developers having the capacity, capability, and will to provide material improvements to Apache OpenOffice. Whatever the pool might be, it is aging and shrinking for many reasons. The affliction that Apache OpenOffice suffers under in that respect also besets any organization set up to support the code, even with paid developers.”

It looks like OpenOffice will soon disappear since all statements are hinting that way. There are other alternatives, like LibreOffice which has support from Canonical, Google, Red Hat, GNOME and Free Software Foundation. LibreOffice has more than 100 million active users at the moment and is being updated regularly. If you’re using OpenOffice, maybe the time has come to switch to the alternative Office suite.

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