GNOME Office and OpenOffice


Computer writer Evan Leibovitch recently contacted the steering
committee to ask about the relationship of AbiWord to
OpenOffice. According to him, some members of the AbiWord team are
worried that Sun's code has been declared the canonical office suite
and that AbiWord will be entirely dropped, without consulting
them. Evan is writing some sort of article about this; but the views
he cited in mail to me are in my opinion an inaccurate description of

The actual situation to my knowledge is that all technical decisions
were put off until we had an elected foundation board and access to
the OpenOffice code. Our announcement at LinuxWorld was the
common-sense fact that we're going to use all the best code that's
available to us, and create a GNOME Office suite out of
that. OpenOffice is one such piece of code. This is not intended to
imply that any particular pieces of code will or won't be used in the
final product.

In a mail to abiword-dev shortly after the LinuxWorld announcement, I
tried to make clear that no decision in this area has been made, and
indeed hardly could be made until the Oct. 13 code release which
allows us to evaluate the Sun code. This is still true. No decision
has been made. Unfortunately I think my mail to abiword-dev was held
for moderation and judging by the archives, the moderator never
approved it; but the mail was partially quoted in followups IIRC.

I'd like to take the opportunity to 1) apologize to the AbiWord team
for the confusion and 2) ask the AbiWord team to please participate in
discussions about this, and feel free to initiate such discussions. At
the same time, Sun should be actively working to meet and work with
existing GNOME Office hackers.  The burden is on _both_ the AbiWord
and OpenOffice projects to communicate.

My personal view is that having two office suites, or two office suite
components, with exactly the same design goals (full-featured end user
word processor) is entirely stupid. Therefore, we should have only one
project, and I think that _eventually_ _after all the technical issues
have been discussed_ and _the best course is evident_ the GNOME
Project should pick a single application of each type to go in the
suite called GNOME Office.

In my ideal world, the single resulting project would include both the
historical StarOffice team and the historical AbiWord team, and the
best code from all of StarOffice and AbiWord and Gnumeric and Guppi
and so on. The only reason that won't happen is ego or lack of
trying. So, I'm asking both teams to please try; and to think about
the end goal of delivering a full-featured office suite to end users
as soon as possible, putting ego aside.

If people don't make a serious and sustained effort to do this, it's
going to damage the prospects of free software office solutions. So I
hope people will take the task seriously. If the merger doesn't
happen, that's not so bad; but if people didn't honestly try there
will be lasting bitterness because the split will be gratuitous and
political in nature. If people really try and there's really a good
technical reason to have two projects, then we can get friendly
competition instead.

I recognize that the barriers are huge. Some of the underlying
technologies, such as Bonobo and libgnomeui, are themselves immature;
the amount of code involved in OpenOffice and in GNOME Office is
enormous; there are multiple programming languages involved; there are
half a dozen target platforms; there are probably 150 hackers involved
in half a dozen different communities on different mailing lists. This
is not easy.

If people wanted to just jump in and really attack this problem, one
possible set of stuff to do might be this:

 - let's use gnome-office-list gnome org for now to discuss these issues
   and plan future direction.

 - a short-term goal should be to get all the office code on a single
   CVS server and with a single mailing list, etc. framework. The two
   candidates here are and If it's done on, should basically shut down its independent
   hosting. Though purely from a load-balancing standpoint, using 
   their setup is sensible. To start, the GNOME code and Sun code
   can be in separate modules.

 - If possible, I would like to see a short-term release of the Sun
   codebase which basically patches up breakage caused by removing
   proprietary stuff, makes dialogs appear in real toplevel windows,
   and nothing else. The reason is that the full-featured fully-GNOME-aware
   office suite is going to take a couple years, and it would be nice 
   to have a relatively complete suite users could use in the meantime.

   Going ahead and finishing AbiWord 1.0 before introducing major
   breakage wouldn't be a bad idea either.  

   Hackers tend to have the "if it's not perfect it's useless"
   attitude which I think is broken; learning from Mozilla, an interim
   release that saved us from 2 extra years of closed-source unfixable
   Netscape 4.x would have been invaluable.

   So IMHO the discussion should perhaps focus on plans for _after_
   the next stable release of each project.

 - Modulo that short-term release, I would suggest creating a new source
   tree in the agreed-upon shared CVS repository. There I would create  
   a new package; and then in a planned way, with all the hacker teams
   cooperating, start moving chunks of code into the new GNOME Office.
 - Another thing we can learn from Mozilla; often the only way to get
   people to decide between two chunks of code is to write a new chunk
   of code that replaces both chunks with something better. Though
   obviously it would be better to avoid rewriting something like 7
   million lines of code, judicious use of this tactic for portions of
   the office suite can't hurt. It gives all the hackers an investment and
   interest in the new code.

 - Recognize that a real office suite with native look-and-feel that
   can genuinely compete with Microsoft's is a couple years away. You
   may as well go slow and get it right.

 - MOST IMPORTANTLY: keep it technical. As soon as anyone escalates to
   fear tactics and conspiracy theories then nothing productive will
   get done.  Ignore the flames; don't do conspiracy theories; get
   together and solve the problem at hand, which is to deliver a
   full-featured open source competitor to MS Office sometime in the
   next couple years. (If people don't agree that's the problem, 
   then maybe start by saying what problem you think the project
   should be addressing.)

All this IMHO, not an official statement of any kind. Use it as a
starting point for discussion.

So, I hope to see posts from hackers at Sun, AbiWord, and any other
interested groups in the near future, outlining their design goals for
an office project and how they'd move toward them; maybe distinguish
your "must have" goals from your "could compromise on this" goals.
Explain how you would go about creating a single project from the
current chunks of code - would you entirely abandon one codebase, or
how would you merge them? What rationale would you give for that? What
kind of stuff can be done to integrate all the office suite
communities into one development team? See what the current issues
are, and then we can see if they're resolvable.

If some parts of the new Sun team and the older GNOME contributors
have already been discussing this stuff, all the better.

Please reply to gnome-office-list gnome org only, or people will be
complaining about spam in a hurry. ;-)


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