Forking

An entertaining talk at FOSDEM was Michael Meeks, on the fork from OpenOffice to LibreOffice[1].   At the same time as delivering the now-popular message of community and open development, he was taking some quite partisan potshots at other FOSS models that unambiguously share those very values.  Hmmm … good entertainment, but perhaps unduly provocative.  Interestingly OpenOffice and LibreOffice both had stalls at FOSDEM, separated by only one independent exhibitor!😮

From an outsider’s viewpoint[2], there was one thing I found reassuring.  Namely, the tensions that led to the split had existed during Sun’s time, before the Oracle takeover.  Thus whatever mistakes may have happened are not new.  I like to think Oracle is building on what Sun did right and drawing a line under what was wrong.  It would’ve been sad to hear that Oracle had damaged something Sun was doing right, and Meeks’s talk reassures me that hasn’t happened in this case.

The open-source-but-owned-and-controlled development model such as (most famously) that of MySQL can work, but seems to have fallen comprehensively out of favour with FOSS communities.  It’s at its best where third-parties are minor contributors, but is likely to lead to a fork if outside developers are taking a major interest.  And it’s never good to send mixed messages to the community: they’ll remember the big claims when you back-pedal.

[1] How is anyone supposed to promote a program the pronunciation of whose very name is a stumbling-block?  Shot in the foot there, methinks.  Is that the laughter of Redmond I hear?

[2] I’m a user of OpenOffice but have never contributed to its development, nor am I familiar with its community.

Posted on February 13, 2011, in FOSDEM, free software, open source, oracle, sun. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. The OpenOffice/LibreOffice thing is an excellent example of why it’s a pretty safe bet that closed-source, centrally-directed software will continue to dominate most mass-user markets for the foreseeable future.

    As a politically active person, I’m mildly interested (only mildly, mind you). But as a software user, I’m just exasperated. I just don’t want to spend that long *thinking* about software.

    Mozilla has made a few blunders, but at least it’s managed, so far, to present a single end-user product.

  2. Vet, I’m an Iceweasel user….

    Forks are a necessary evil in the free software world.

    In the centrally directed, closed source world the best you hope for is they flog the product to Computer Associates instead of just dropping the product.

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