Michael Meeks (below, right), who works as general manager with Collabora Productivity — a company that sells LibreOffice support — told the Linux Weekly News website that nearly 70% of the changes to LibreOffice came from developers paid by "ecosystem companies".
"Those companies pay about 40 people to work on LibreOffice. That is not a small expense; the companies involved will only be able to sustain that level of development if LibreOffice is bringing in a corresponding amount of revenue," he explained.
Meeks, the co-founder of the LibreOffice project, said in a post titled Some problems, that this revenue was not being paid. Since there was no support from Microsoft for its office suite, few, if any, users thought of buying support for an office suite.
"Try the Cabinet Office in the UK (at the centre of UK Government), or a large European Government Department I recently visited — which has 15,000 seats — with some great FLOSS enthusiasm, but simply no conceptual frame that deploying un-supported FLOSS in the enterprise hurts the software that they then rely on."
He said companies that used LibreOffice tended to think of it in the way people think of Web browsers. But the latter category was supported by advertising and this model would not work for office suites.
Given this, project personnel have drawn up a plan which starts by creating the "LibreOffice Engine", a term to describe the core LibreOffice code.
It is meant to enable the sale of products under their own brand, which could associate themselves with LibreOffice while maintaining their own identity.
The LibreOffice Engine is described as a sort of equivalent to the highly successful Intel Inside branding effort.
LWN said this term could be trademarked by the Document Foundation but the plan did not look at constraints that would be put on who could use the trademark and how.
Also listed was a Personal Edition, which would be "forever free" and only available from the Document Foundation.
This release would be tagged, according to the plan, "volunteer supported, not suggested for production environments or strategic documents". The alternative would be "LibreOffice Enterprise", which would only be available from "ecosystem members". This version would come with commercial support and a corresponding price tag.
LWN's Jonathan Corbet wrote: "It is, in many ways, reminiscent of the path Red Hat took years ago to differentiate its Enterprise Linux offering, complete with insinuations that the free version might not be fully trustworthy.
"That approach has clearly worked well for Red Hat; it would be hard to argue that it has not worked well for the wider Linux community too."