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Category Archives: LibreOffice

Like last year, again a sizeable portion of the LibreOffice community gathered in Brussels, for the habitual FOSDEM meetup with pretty much everyone who matters in Free and Open Source. This year, the typically badly overcrowded booths in the H building’s corridors got moved out to the newly requisitioned K building, among them the LibreOffice booth – the upside was more breathing space, the downside some required outside walk in slushy snow, and no local Coke supply. Still, I think it was a change for the better.

LibreOffice had a DevRoom on Saturday, which was well-attended, and stuffed to the end with talks. And Michael managed to give a record number of three gigs on a single day, plus an interview.

With Cor, Jacqueline and others outfitting the booth, and Kendy again air-shipping our tshirt-supply in from Prague, we once more had a befitting presence, lots of fun, and many interesting talks.

A very big Thank You! to all those wonderful volunteers who helped to make this happen, and for you that couldn’t attend an impression from the booth:

Crowd at the LibreOffice booth

Our booth at FOSDEM

After the disbanding of the Sun/Oracle OpenOffice team, a sizeable fraction of those developers stayed with the meta-project – some for LibreOffice, employed by SUSE, RedHat and Canonical, some for IBM. Which means, the Hamburg metropolitan area remains one of the gravity centers for Free office suite hacking activities.

Quite accordingly, we’ll be having a local LibreOffice Hamburg Hackfest this spring, generously hosted at the Attraktor e.V. hacker space – the date is not yet, but almost fixed (quickly cast your vote if you want to attend).

Plus, we’ve established a recurring LibreOffice home hacking event, with one of us taking turns having the Hamburg crowd over for a day:

LibreOffice Hackers Meet

Home hacking at my place

Looking forward to grow this circle over the time. 🙂

With Oracle donating trademark and code to the Apache Foundation, one point frequently made is the one about licensing differences. LibreOffice is under a weak copyleft license, that is, changes to existing core need to be made public (at the time a product ships). In contrast, to-be-Apache OpenOffice would be available under a non-copyleft license, meaning nobody is required to contribute anything back.

It is said that non-copyleft, or permissive, licenses are more popular with corporations, because they allow for much more flexibility in what, and when, to contribute back. Overall, it is conjectured, the projects will still see enough open contributions from corporate participants, because private forks are not cost-effective.

Let’s now have a look at how all that applies to There are a few things to know beforehand. First, the code represents almost 20 years of development, and is, in many places, a sedimentation of bugfixes over bugfixes. Which overall results in highly coupled and fragile code. Secondly, OOo has a mature component framework, API and extension mechanism, that makes it easy for third parties to innovate on top of the existing core.

Given that, it is rather disadvantageous to keep changes to existing core code private, because of high internal maintenance costs (and a very non-linear relation between the size of the private change, and the risk to have it broken quite badly by merging new code from the upstream community). Conversely, it is highly advantageous to add more extension points to the core code, and reduce the internal coupling, since that enables later, independent functionality (that corporations could use to differentiate themselves).

So then, it seems the differences for the ecosystem between weak copyleft vs. permissive, in the case at hand, are negligible – for the former, responsible behaviour is enforced by the license, for the latter, by technical reality. Beyond existing core code, everyone is free to not publish changes either way. Of course, an Apache-licensed would permit taking the project all-proprietary at any given point in time, but such a move is clearly not in the interest of the community, and specifically not in the interest of the Apache Foundation.

Of the remaining differences, the constraints on e.g. the timing of contributing back, are simply too minor to justify the overhead of running two communities in parallel. That’s the main reason I oppose the idea – as a software engineer, I try hard to avoid duplication for no good reason.

Thanks to private and corporate sponsors, and most of all because of so many enthusiastic volunteers, LibreOffice had a presence on this years FOSDEM and the CeBIT 2011 trade fair.

Green people manning the LibreOffice FOSDEM booth

Although both events are almost diametrally different, in both audience and recommended attire, there was a common trait – the interest and support we received for LibreOffice was immense. On FOSDEM, we had a table right between CACert and FSFE, in the entrance area of building H (one of the best places, I gather). Kendy and Bubli had brought boatloads of LibreOffice tshirts and jumpers from Prague, that we collectively lugged to the booth & almost fully sold over the weekend. Lots of people wearing green, suddenly.

hackers at the libreoffice booth

On Sunday, there was a LibreOffice devroom, among many others, with a talk from yours truly about Impress hacking.

This year, I was able to spend two days at CeBIT, joining the booth team of Jacqueline, Karl-Heinz, Roland, Thomas and Ulrich. The booth location was nicely located at a corner, with Linux New Media and Firefox presences vis-a-vis – and was packed with people most of the time (amazingly, Roland was able to recruit new German association members on the spot, and even talked them into helping out at the booth).

Crowded libreoffice booth, from (cc-by-nc-sa)

Met with a few press people, and tons of friends and colleagues from the new and the old project. Much encouraged to hear interest from larger and smaller sites to go & try LibreOffice (a handful of successful migrations have already happened), and from a few extra opensource companies planning to start hacking LibreOffice core code.

Managed to miss ICE train back to Hamburg in the evening, due to a friendly “train is 15 minutes late” vanishing literally seconds before the train arrived in the station (much earlier than 15 mins late).

Close-up picture of the LibreOffice CeBIT booth

The second day was maybe even more crowded, and from the talks I had, slightly more end-user-focused. People were generally very receptive to my “everyone can contribute something to LibreOffice” line. One case in point was a computer science prof, asking for a feature and not aware of the fact that he probably has more readily available talent with spare time at his disposal (i.e. students), than most of the LibreOffice project members. Besides that, got offers for more tinderboxes, and a few really high-quality bug reports.

At the end of the second day, the donation jar turns out to be quite full, and so the question comes up “how much is in there?”. Ensuing is a little bet – the closest estimate wins a cheese sandwich, specially-crafted by Jacqueline. Results not yet in.

Many thanks to all involved into making that a success – both events were wonderful debuts!

Prompted by Kohei’s nice howto for extracting part of a git repository’s history into a new repo, I attempted the same for our tinbuild script – but it seemed not really optimal for my case.

Instead, I mis-used git rebase --interactive, to transplant the relevant commits into a new and unrelated branch.

Created an entirely new repo, added some boilerplate, like a readme:

mkdir buildbot; cd buildbot
git init; cat ">useful info<" > README; git add README; git commit -m "added readme"

Add the (unrelated) libreoffice/bootstrap repo, so we can grab commits from there:

git remote add libo git://
git fetch libo; git checkout -b libo libo/master

Find all the commits to our bin/tinbuild script, that we want to transplant:

git log --pretty="format:pick %h" --reverse  bin/tinbuild

Which already yields a suitable format for the interactive rebase, so here we go:

git checkout master
git rebase -i --onto HEAD master libo

The latter one takes all commits from the libo branch, that are not in master, and transplants them on top of HEAD – so you have to delete all suggested picks of course, and replace it with the list generated by the git log from above.

Resulting repo is here, only pushed the resulting master branch of course.

This now almost-past year was a true roller coaster ride for me (and many of my fellows). Not a particularly good excuse, but at least an excuse, for not blogging for such a long time.

The year started out with Oracle announcing the Sun acquisition has closed in January, and a virtual sigh of relief went through the community – as the months before had seen the usual information embargoes, indecisiveness and anxiety that tends to go with corporate mergers.

People had high hopes, that the new owner may be more amenable to change things fundamental to the governance of the project, and thus fix several issues brewing since a long time. Initial talks were encouraging, but it seems there was a cultural mismatch with the new owner, and the opensource communities – information was getting out even more sparsely than before, there was no sharing of feature plans, or release dates – something unthinkable for a project that can only thrive when you share code, and information, in the open. And the bad old habit of exclusionism and carefully maintained control lived on. See an earlier post for one of several cases where almost unequivocal community requests were opposed or ignored by Sun/Oracle.

Quite naturally, that was immensely frustrating for many long-standing community members, so over the course of this year, opposition grew – in several different sub-groups, that later joined forces during the annual conference in Budapest, and ultimately resulted in the launch of The Document Foundation, and LibreOffice project.

I’m delighted to be part of that new endeavour – though it means tons of work, and I see friends, colleagues and comrades spending days and nights on coding, infrastructure, QA, translation, advocacy and what not – it’s still a fun ride, because it feels right.

The only constant in life is change – that’s a given, none the least in software land. And change is what every project undergoes, like the StarOffice code becoming opensourced in 2000 after ten years of closed-source development, and now, after another ten years, that same code base finally getting a truly open governance, under the auspices of The Document Foundation. Because opening up the source code means going only half the way – as people wiser than me have repeatedly pointed out.

Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt – with that, I wish all my readers a very happy and successful new year, looking forward to meet many of you in person again in 2011! And thanks a million for the incredible work you folks did – I feel honoured indeed to be a part of this.