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Released: Apache OpenOffice 4.1.15

Community Articles: Opinions, Interviews, Analyses

-Louis Suárez-Potts

2001 October 13

Birthday Story

In what was hailed as the largest Open Source project ever, Sun Microsystems released the code for its recently acquired StarOffice one year ago today, October 13. At the time, the release of the code, which was eagerly reported by all the major technical magazines, was described using grand rhetoric: was to be the new thing, bigger and more spectacular than Mozilla (never mind Darwin), and to be animated by the same enthusiasm and eager work that has transformed Linux and Apache into serious threats to Microsoft (the persistent Goliath). If Open Source was an "arena," entered the field ready for a scrap.

As it happens, the rhetoric actually underplayed the facts. Yes, the code is big (that's what everyone focused on); but the sheer magnitude, linguistic diversity, and global stretch of the community that has come to define the Project was surely unanticipated. For Sun really released the code to the world. And it is the world community that has grasped Sun's bold offering and worked to make it its own.

Today, we count among our regular users and developers people from Latin America (Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, to name a few), Europe (especially England, France, Italy, Germany), Asia (especially India, China, Japan, Korea), Australia, Africa (South Africa and French Africa), and Canada. Keep in mind that is an office suite, not a language-independent programming language. The interest the world shows in reflects a revolution that Sun has brilliantly captured: Communities are turning from Microsoft.

Among them, the city of Turku, in Finland. A news article on the subject details that not only is the city switching from Microsoft, but it is also seriously considering using We can also number in this growing crowd of those interested in shifting over to Open Source, cities and governments in both developed and developing nations. Argentina, Brazil, Germany--these are but a few names; there are more today, and there will be yet more to come. has never been so popular, and not just among developers. Yes, the developer represents our primary audience, but we also have an active end-user community. Our downloads last week, for example, exceeded 112,000--for only that week. Since last year, we have had around one million downloads. Sure there were some duplications, errors, you name it, in the compilation of these statistics. But as I mentioned last week, when I was similarly amazed by the figures for the week preceding, it nevertheless indicates that there is an enormous population of end-users wanting to use and perhaps even participate in the project, either by submitting bugs to IssueZilla or simply engaging in discussions in our forums. These are people willing to work together to make more than an also-ran alternative to Microsoft.

Why do they want to participate? Because they can feel that they are part of an exciting project and because they can help to make it happen. This model of production, in which the consumer helps to make the product, in which there is hardly a distinction between producer and consumer, in which both can claim that it is theirs, is, if not exactly novel, enormously powerful.

Where We Are

Where does stand, on this, our first anniversary? By any measure, the code and the project (and as our mission statement says, it's hard to separate them), is a success. Build 638c, which is substantially StarOffice 6.0 Beta, can almost replace Microsoft's Office. Almost because we are note quite "there" yet. But the community has created something that can run on more platforms than Microsoft's Office and, in many regards, do more. Like, for example, save in XML, or run on LinuxPPC, or on Linux, for that matter. (To see a list of all our accomplishments, and a brief synopsis of what the program can do, please see our features page.)

A moment to consider this ability of to run on LinuxPPC: can run on it because community member Kevin Hendricks pretty much built it to so that it could run on it. Sure, he had help from the impressively talented Hamburg engineers who make up the core of the development group. But it was his drive and his effort that made the build for Linux PPC a reality. So, here's a rhetorical question: can Microsoft, or for that matter any other major corporation boast of such an accomplishment? No, or at least not officially. And they wouldn't bother: Not enough money in it; too much of a niche thing. But the beautiful logic of Open Source and in particular is that it doesn't orphan some users; it rather allows for independence and initiative. In fact, it encourages them.

We now have at least five end-user-sponsored projects in the "Whiteboard / Incubator" section of, which houses community-proposed, "experimental" projects. These include the Groupware Project, the Documentation Project, the Mirrors Project, the Screenshots Project, and the Marketing Project. In the "Lang" area, which deals with native-language support and information, we have the French Project and now, still forming, the German language project. All these end-user projects are staffed by community members who benefit only by being part of and by shaping the project into something that is part their vision, part the developers'.

And's developers are very, very good. As I have said before, it needs the constant attention of many to make this code, and this project, work so well. Accordingly, I would like to give credit to the developers from Sun and elsewhere who have helped to build this project: Thanks.

For other articles related to the one-year anniversary, please see the Birthday Page.


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