From The Document Foundation Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Hi. Let this be a kind of personal memoire of my involvement in the LibreOffice project.

I've been involved in the LibreOffice project since the first few days right after it started, following its break-away (fork) from the Oracle-run project on September 28, 2010. Indeed, I assisted (editing and proofreading) Charles Schulz in the original draft of the Community Bylaws, which were eventually finished during November 2010.

When that was done, as from the beginning of December 2010, I pushed and pulled on the construction of the website until the thing actually saw the light of day.

That was quite a battle at the time, as you'll see if you look back into the history of the LibreOffice website and other mailing lists. In the early days of the LibreOffice project, there was a lot of debating and arguing about all kinds of things in the mailing lists, with lots of flaming and other unpleasant and unintelligent interaction. It was difficult (read nigh on impossible) to get people to agree about things, yet you'd get flamed for not being community- and team-spirited if you did something under your own initiative.

People were arguing about whether to use Drupal or Silverstripe for the site, and nobody seemed to quite agree with anyone else about the structure of the content on the site. And here we're only talking about the discussion around the issue of a website. There were multiple other "debates" taking place about other subjects around LibreOffice vs. The mailing lists were very stormy places in those days! That kind of behavior on the mailing lists largely died out after the project had been in existence for 6 to 8 months, and after many people who were initially interested had fallen away.

Anyway, in December 2010 and January 2011, We had to fight tooth and claw to get the site up, with a great deal of opposition, criticism, resistance and arguing, and practically zero help (although with moral support from the Steering Committee). But we were determined that the then-newly-born LibreOffice project needed its web portal, and quickly. Determination and stubborness eventually won the day, and we succeeded in rolling it out. went live in mid-January 2011. Christian Lohmaier handled setting the site up at OS level, I wrote and collated most of the content for the pages, and it was a collaboration between me and Nikash Singh (with Nikash taking more of the lead with his design experience) to develop and setup the website's theme template.

I liaised with various people along the way but, in the final analysis, largely followed my own instincts (albeit trying to implement what I perceived as being closest to some approximation of consensus among people). I can only say that it was the only way to get things done quickly.

Since then, I've had admin rights for the website and can troubleshoot problems and fix things when requested. I also have admin rights for this wiki, and can take on the same kinds of tasks.

After that, I provided an Alfresco platform for TDF as from the end of January 2011, notably for the use of the documentation team, although I tried to promote the uptake of Alfresco with various other teams in the LibreOffice project. Despite some opposition from a number of people, the SC agreed to let me set-up an instance running on LibreOffice subdomains. It was running on my own server, on its own VPS at, and

I'd hoped to bring about a rapprochement between the Alfresco project and the LibreOffice project, but it never really succeeded (although I learned some lessons about Open Source project sociology).

Eventually, the documentation team decided to use other collaboration tools, and the Alfresco platform was finally discontinued at the end of August 2012. Somehow, TDF just wasn't minded to use Alfresco at that time.

Even though the LibreOffice/Alfresco rapprochement venture ultimately met its demise (at least, at that time), it - and - taught me quite a lot about the sociology underlying a prominent Open Source project.

I'd previously witnessed much of the history of the PostNuke project, after its split from PHP-Nuke, and its eventual evolution into Zikula, between 2004 and 2008 (at one time, I compiled quite a detailed timeline of all that). Now, I have the impression that, in some ways, the LibreOffice fork from OpenOffice will have been among the last splits of its kind. In those earlier days of Open Source, projects often followed quite stormy courses. Nowadays, there seems to be a lot less controversy and altercation involved.

These days, there seems to be a lot more apathy in attitudes towards Open Source among the general population of the Internet. Interestingly, in contrast, Open Source has become a subject of much closer attention in business and government. I'd say that the Open Source realm generally has reached a stage of greater maturity.

The stakes in contributing to a FOSS project are higher, in that there's a lot more kudos and money to be earned from it. There's less amateurism than in the past, and I think that amateurism is less welcome. Many major Open Source projects have some kind of business model built into them, and this makes them more viable for the long-term and enables them to offer their software free to their community and the world at large.

It's becomes a circular motion: the software is available for free, some categories of user want to buy customization or support services, and this generates income so that further development can continue. This is becoming a common characteristic of FOSS projects, whether they consider themselves to be commercial Open Source (where the business model is central to the raison d'être) or Open Source gone commercial (where developers and some other types of project worker have come to resort to paid services as a means of financing the time they contribute and earning some payback).

Anyway, back to LibreOffice:

I've also been involved in the English/global documentation team in various ways, and was a kind-of unofficial interim team lead at some brief points, until we managed to convince Jean Weber to step back into the role (which was pretty much what she was doing back in her OpenOffice days). But, as a documentation professional, I'd rather have some other elements of interest in any work I put into an Open Source project, than just contributing work towards end-user documentation for the LibreOffice suite (important although that is in itself).

Now I have new ambitions for my LibreOffice contribution work:

I've long felt that it's not easy to get a foothold on the ladder if you want to get into LibreOffice coding, because there's no developer documentation of the kind that almost all commercial software companies maintain for their products. I'd like to to work on developer documentation to enable people to understand the software architecture of LibreOffice, and to break into the world of LibreOffice coding and bug-squashing.

In my professional work, I have to use Microsoft Office a lot, because my clients do and because LibreOffice's Microsoft formats support doesn't cover all features (some things don't convert well). The user interface of Microsoft Office is quite user-friendly when you get used to it. I'd love to see the LibreOffice user interface get an overhaul.

So I want to get into LibreOffice development and explore the feasibility of the above, and the issues involved.

More about that below.