MS Office competitor OpenOffice may shutter due to lack of developer interest

open officeOne of Microsoft’s most prominent challengers in the Office Suite productivity segment, Oracle’s OpenOffice, may be set to shut down soon due to lack of developer interest.

OpenOffice, who has more than 160 million downloads, has seen a flight of volunteer developers to the freer LibreOffice after its purchase by Oracle, such that the company has had to delay the release of important security fixes, something which Dennis E. Hamilton, its volunteer vice president, found unacceptable.

On the most recent occasion OpenOffice recommended users either switch to Microsoft Office or LibreOffice to mitigate the issue.

“In the case of Apache OpenOffice,” he wrote, “needing to disclose security vulnerabilities for which there is no mitigation in an update has become a serious issue.”

For such an important productivity suite it appears only around 6 developers are actively  involved,

The issue appears to hinge on funding being withdrawn by other companies like IBM which were actively supporting the open source project previously, with developer Phillip Rhodes writing that  “losing the people IBM was paying was a big hit.”

“My considered opinion is that the greatest barrier is lack of a meaningful business/operation/funding model,” writes Hamilton. “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.”

Around 5 years ago there was an active movement to rid offices of Microsoft’s proprietary software, leading to the adoption of OpenOffice by many facilities, particularly government offices in Germany, with Munich being a prominent example. That company has since moved to LibreOffice, but councillors there have continued to complain of compatibility issues, particularly with the rest of the world who are still firmly in the Office camp.

Of course Microsoft is not immune to losing interest in a project, but businesses who consider switching to a free open source platform should consider the cost of relying on a platform without a business model which may therefore up and disappear at any point.

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