Facing Low Developer Investment, Apache OpenOffice Project Considers Retirement

Citing security concerns and a lack of vested volunteer developers to advance its mission, an exec with the open source Apache OpenOffice project has floated discussion about retiring the popular software that has longed served as an alternative to Microsoft Office.

"I have regularly observed that the Apache OpenOffice project has limited capacity for sustaining the project in an energetic manner," exec Dennis E. Hamilton wrote in a an openoffice-dev mailing list post titled What Would OpenOffice Retirement Involve. "It is also 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."

That only a half-dozen or so developers are still actively involved speaks measures for the project, which has benefitted from more than 750 contributors in the past, along with "an international community approaching 400,000 individuals," according to its Web site, which indicates the software has been downloaded more than 160 million times since May 2012.

The lack of vested developers may be contributing to lingering security issues that Hamilton referenced in his note.

"Needing to disclose security vulnerabilities for which there is no mitigation in an update has become a serious issue," he said. "In responses to concerns raised in June, the PMC is currently tasked by the ASF Board to account for this inability and to provide a remedy. An indicator of the seriousness of the Board's concern is the PMC been requested to report to the Board every month, starting in August, rather than quarterly, the normal case. One option for remedy that must be considered is retirement of the project."

Hamilton's post generated much discussion about alternative options from developers who want to keep the project going -- and concerns that even contemplating the subject of retirement could lead to a "self-fulfilling prophecy," especially when the situation is publicized in the media.

"Wow, just wow," replied Phillip Rhodes. "I have to say, I think even broaching this topic is a mistake. 'Self-fulfilling prophecy'? Not even that, it'll be a '3rd party fulfilling prophecy' as soon as this hits the press. There are a lot of people out there who seem to have it in for AOO and have for a while ... now you *know* there will be a headline appearing in the next week, reading 'Apache OpenOffice Mulls Retirement' or "AOO Begins To Wind Down', etc. Yeah, it's crappy journalism, but it's almost 100% certain to happen. And that's just going to dampen enthusiasm even more.

"I wish I could say I had a magic bullet of an answer for how to get things moving again, but I don't. But I don't think opening a discussion about retirement and giving AOO's enemies more ammunition is a strong tactical move."

Rhodes and other developers are exploring options to keep the project alive, starting a discussion thread with the title "What Would OpenOffice NON-Retirement Involve?"

"Let's talk specifically about what needs to happen next, given that some (plenty|most|all|???) of us want this project to continue moving forward," Rhodes said in that post. "What has to happen next? What is the most important thing/things we could be working on? What could I do *right now* to help move things in a positive direction?

"How can we attract more developers? How do we counter the FUD that is already being promulgated in response to the 'retirement' discussion?"

Different options begin discussed on the mailing list include exploring an independent entity to further the Apache OpenOffice project or merge it with LibreOffice.

It appears those discussions will be happening without longtime contributor Kay Schenk, who, on the same day as Hamilton's post, announced her retirement from the project.

I'm resigning from Apache OpenOffice," she said. "I've been an unpaid volunteer with and Apache OpenOffice since April, 2001. At this point, I'm thinking it's time to move on." Although Schenk didn't provide further details on her decision, another developer commiserated with her and mentioned also "feeling bullied."

Ironically, another post a day earlier from a developer looking to get involved with the project might indicate there is new blood out there who could help salvage it.

"I am interested in gaining experience in technical writing and wanted to volunteer to create and maintain documentation for the OpenOffice project," Ayaz Hussain wrote. "I would like to involved in tasks such as, updating the OpenOffice Administration Guide, and/or writing other documentation. Can you tell me how I can get involved, and what is needed on my part?"

Then again, Hussain's request for volunteer guidance seems to have gone unanswered in the five days since it was posted.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.