Statement on OpenOffice.org's move to Apache
Oracle, IBM, and the Apache Software Foundation jointly announced last week that OpenOffice.org would become an official Apache project. OpenOffice.org is an important piece of free software, and many of its supporters suggest that this change will give them more control over the project's future direction. However, users and contributors should be aware that, as part of this transition, it will become easier for proprietary software developers to distribute OpenOffice.org as nonfree software.
All Apache projects are distributed under the terms of the Apache License. This is a non-copyleft free software license; anybody who receives the software can distribute it to others under nonfree terms. Such a licensing strategy represents a significant policy change for OpenOffice.org. Previously, the software was distributed under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL). The LGPL is a weak copyleft license, so programs that merely link to the software can be released under nonfree terms, but the software covered by the LGPL must always be released, along with its source code, under the LGPL's terms. Free software developers are clearly comfortable with a partial copyleft when it's appropriate; in numerous surveys of free software projects, the LGPL is commonly listed as the second-most popular license (after the GNU General Public License), or else follows close behind.
While we do recommend the Apache License in specific situations, we do not believe it is the best choice for software like OpenOffice.org. This situation calls for copyleft, because the gains free software stands to make from a non-copyleft license don't justify giving a handout to proprietary software developers.
Fortunately, there's a ready alternative for people who want to work with a productivity suite that does more to protect their freedom: LibreOffice. Anybody who's comfortable with OpenOffice.org will find a familiar interface and feature set in LibreOffice, because it was originally based on the same source code. Since September 2010, numerous contributors have been working to improve the software, and the project's legal steward, The Document Foundation, is committed to keeping it licensed under the LGPL.
LibreOffice's commitment to user freedom does not end at the license of its source code. Like OpenOffice.org, the software's built-in extension manager makes it easy to add new features, but unlike OpenOffice.org, its extension database only lists add-ons that are under a free license. OpenOffice.org points to a database that includes proprietary extensions, and doesn't always provide clear licensing information. This approach to extensions risks turning free software into a platform for the development and promotion of proprietary extras.
Anybody who plans to use or contribute to one of these productivity suites should understand how these policies affect them, and consider which better complement their own goals. While both pass the most important test of being free software, we recommend LibreOffice because its policies do significantly more to promote the cause of free software.