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A little more than a year after The Document Foundation was set up to look after LibreOffice, the fork of the former OpenOffice.org project, it seems that Oracle did the users of the latter office suite a great favour by neglecting it.


Oracle bought Sun Microsystems in January 2010 and OpenOffice.org, the best office suite in the free software world, was part of the purchase. Oracle did not reveal any concrete plans for OpenOffice.org for a long time and an indication of the company's attitude to open source projects came when it killed off the OpenSolaris project. The OpenOffice.org code was then forked and LibreOffice was born.

Since, then there has been steady activity to stabilise and better the suite, with hackers aplenty joining up to contribute code and ideas.

The progress of LibreOffice indicates that the decision to set up a foundation to look after the project was indeed a wise one. Statistics released by the project indicate a very healthy level of hacking - and by that I do not mean breaking into and entering other people's systems - and a commendable amount of activity.

In a curious twist of fate the Foundation will be headquartered in Germany - that's where the original code that became StarOffice, and then OpenOffice.org, came from.

The code for the project these days comes from three distinct classes of hackers. Around 250 volunteers  contribute easy hacks and small patches; a regular batch of 100 volunteers  send in easy hacks, large patches and small features; and a core of 50 paid coders and volunteers handle the key patches, key features and draft the development strategy.

There was an initial burst in the number of code contributors in the early months of the Foundation's life; now things have b off and there is a steady level of contributors, both old and new.

Nearly 1500 bugs have been fixed out of the more than 5000 reported by volunteers. And one very important development has been the removal of code for features that are mostly unused. This is what makes LibreOffice run faster - a lot of the bloat has gone.

A number of companies are still involved in contributing code - Red Hat, SUSE, and former Sun/Oracle people as well - but volunteers rule, with more than two-thirds of the hackers making contributions belonging to this category.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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