Open source advent calendar: the Libreoffice office suite

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This is an advent calendar for techies. In the fully commercialized digital world, almost everything belongs to a large Internet corporation. Their software is neither open nor free. As an alternative, there is this small island of the open source world: software whose code is publicly visible and can be independently checked for possible security gaps and backdoors. Software that can be freely used, distributed and improved. Often the drive for work is simply the joy of providing something useful to society.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing. Some projects are backed by an individual, others by a loosely organized community, a tightly managed foundation with full-time employees or a consortium. The work is entirely voluntary, or it is financed through donations, cooperation with Internet companies, government funding or an open source business model. Regardless of whether it is a single application or a complex ecosystem, whether a PC program, app or operating system – the diversity of open source is overwhelming.

Short portraits of open source projects will be published on heise online from December 1st to December 24th. These are about the functions of the respective software, the pitfalls, the history, the background and the financing.

  • December 1st: Firefox

  • December 2nd: F-Droid

As with the Firefox browser, the predecessor of LibreOffice started commercially. The most important German open source project then emerged over several development steps.

That contains six applications Office software package Libre Office: a writing program (LibreOffice Writer), a spreadsheet program (Calc), a presentation program (Impress), a graphics program (Draw), a database application (Base) and a formula editor (Math). Approximately 2,000 extensions are available.

LibreOffice is primarily developed for the PC. The software came up on average over the past year 2.7 million monthly downloads. The Document Foundation estimates the number of users at around 200 million.

There are also own apps LibreOffice Viewer just a rudimentary Android application for viewing texts as well Impress Remote for remote control of presentations. As a full-fledged smartphone application, LibreOffice recommends the one developed in the ecosystem Collaborate Office-App.

The history of LibreOffice goes back to the mid-1980s. The 16-year-old IT prodigy Marco Börries founded the Star Division company in 1985, which sold the StarOffice office software package.

In 1999 he sold his Hamburg-based start-up to Sun Microsystems, and in 2000 it was renamed OpenOffice. In the same year, Sun released the source code of the software project and renamed it OpenOffice.

That was shortly after the Netscape browser code was released, which became Firefox. Sun has followed a trend of the times, says Mike Saunders, Marketing Director of the Document Foundation: “At that time there was the idea in some companies: We just release the source code, then the open source community delivers many new ones free of charge Functions “. Even then, Sun was thinking about outsourcing the development to a foundation, but did not implement the idea.

In 2010 Oracle acquired Sun. The community was unsure to what extent the IT giant would hold on to its support, and a fork occurred. Since Oracle did not want to release the naming rights to OpenOffice, the new software project was called LibreOffice. In the spring of 2011, the community gathered in a crowdfunding 50,000 euros as start-up capital.

2012 was founded The Document Foundation offiziell in Berlin. Shortly afterwards, Oracle handed the Open Office project over to the Apache Software Foundation.

The Document Foundation is based in Berlin. She has eleven employees and freelancers. There is one seven-member board, The chairman is the Karlsruhe software entrepreneur Lothar Becker, managing director of the Florian Effenberger Foundation, one of the founders of the foundation, who lives in Kaufbeuren, Bavaria. A member board of trustees consisting of about 200 people, elects the board.

That Engineering Steering Committee advises the board on technical issues. Also has an advisory role the advisory board (Advisory Board), in which sponsors are represented, including representatives from Red Hat, Collabora, Gnome, Google, the City of Munich and the Free Software Foundation Europe. Mike Saunders estimates the size of the community at 300 to 400 people.

Unlike the Mozilla Foundation, for example, the foundation behind LibreOffice is primarily “not a software company”. According to Saunders of the Document Foundation, the model is more comparable to that of the Linux Foundation. The foundation takes care of the software core, quality assurance, documentation and administration. Most of the development work, however, is done by the corporate community: employees of companies that use LibreOffice in their own products or offer LibreOffice support.

According to a compilation For the current version, 29 percent of the approximately 7,000 code contributions came from the British company Collabora, which offers a cloud solution for LibreOffice, and 27 percent from the Linux company Red Hat. The IBM subsidiary delivers LibreOffice together with its own operating system. Another 27 percent came from 120 individual developers from the community. The Document Foundation accounted for only about eight percent of the contributions.

According to the English annual report the income of the Document Foundation 2020 was around 1.4 million euros, 500,000 euros were spent on staff. The Foundation finances itself almost exclusively – 97 percent – through individual donations. The average donation is eleven euros.

A small portion of the revenue comes from members of the Advisory Board. The foundation recommends minimum annual donations dependent on the size of the company, between $ 500 and $ 20,000.

Google is also on the advisory board. The IT giant plays another role as a sponsor. Worked on his “Summer of Code” scholarship in 2020 six students, paid by Google, to LibreOffice for three months at a time.

The development path that led to LibreOffice began more than 35 years ago; the fork was ten years ago. The story is still present, however. LibreOffice and OpenOffice still exist as parallel projects, to the annoyance of LibreOffice: For historical reasons, OpenOffice is still better known than LibreOffice. In autumn 2020, the board of directors asked the Appache Foundation in an open letter to finally give up the parallel development and join LibreOffice.

The work on the series of articles is based in part on a “Neustart Kultur” grant from the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, awarded by VG Wort.


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