Can IBM save from itself?

New member of open-source group must contend with development monoculture

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"I understand where some of [the criticism] is coming from," he said.

Enter IBM, accompanied by Symphony

So does IBM Corp., which is joining and creating its own free version called Lotus Symphony, aimed at its enterprise and government customers.

"We think that there's a broad-based consensus that some governance and structural changes are in order that would make the OpenOffice project more attractive to others," Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM's Lotus Software, said in an interview last week. "It's no secret that this has been an issue for us for some time, and we haven't viewed as being as healthy as it might be in this respect."

Besides committing 35 China developers to, IBM plans to make its voice heard -- immediately and loudly. IBM will "work within the leadership structure that exists," said Sean Poulley, vice president of business and strategy in IBM's Lotus Software division. "But we will take our rightful leadership position in the community along with Sun and others."

In e-mailed comments, Heintzman said his criticisms about the situation have been made openly.

"We think that Open Office has quite a bit of potential and would love to see it move to the independent foundation that was promised in the press release back when Sun originally announced OpenOffice," he said. "We think that there are plenty of existing models of communities, [such as] Apache and Eclipse, that we can look to as models of open governance, copyright aggregation and licensing regimes that would make the code much more relevant to a much larger set of potential contributors and implementers of the technology....

"Obviously, by joining we do believe that the organization is important and has potential," he wrote. "I think that new voices at the table, including IBM's, will help the organization become more efficient and relevant to a greater audience.... Our primary reason for joining was to contribute to the community and leverage the work that the community produces.... I think it is true there are many areas worthy of improvement and I sincerely hope we can work on those.... I hope the story coming out of Barcelona isn't a dysfunctional community story, but rather a [story about a] potentially significant and meaningful community with considerable potential that has lots of room for improvement...."

Suarez-Potts did not return repeated requests for comment. But Erwin Tenhumberg, community development and marketing manager for and a Sun employee in its Hamburg, Germany office where OpenOffice / StarOffice development is centered, acknowledged the criticism.

"There's a long tradition at Sun of not paying attention to outside contributors because there weren't many for a long time," said Tenhumberg, who estimated that 90 percent of the programming in OpenOffice 2.0, the last major release from two years ago, was done by Sun employees.

Alexandro Colorado, who helps run a project to create a Spanish-language version of OpenOffice, said while many of the criticisms leveled's management are valid, "there are other sides of the story than [just] pure bashing."

He blamed "exponential" growth in OpenOffice's code base, a situation that has been partly corrected after the group began to limit development in the core OpenOffice code and ask developers to build new features in the form of "extensions," a model successfully used by the Firefox web browser.

"So far we have exciting extensions like Google Docs integration with," Colorado wrote in an e-mail. "This would have taken ages to integrate into the code base and now it's available in a matter of weeks."

Another community developer, Charles H. Schulz, says that much of the criticism is simply misplaced.

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