What follows is a translation/adaptation of this Spanish article I wrote some time ago
Since the release of To Tame a Writer
is approaching is here!, it may be appropriate to tell my story in relation to Writer & Co. Or not, but I’ll tell you anyway.
I started using free software in the university, during the last decade of the last millennium. There was some Red Hat out there in some version that I do not remember now.
At the end of 1998 (almost 20 years!), the German company StarDivision began distributing its office suite StarOffice for free. It was there that I started, timidly, to use Writer and company. I think it was version 5.0 or something like that, but I did not used it that much at the moment.
The following year StarDivision was acquired by Sun Microsystems, which continued to distribute the software freely. The first version of Sun was 5.2, in the middle of the 2000. I remember obtaining it by buying a magazine: remember, dear reader, that there was a time in which Internet was a little used novelty. The CD came with StarOffice versions for all platforms, including Linux.
And it was precisely in my S.u.S.E. 7.0 that I started using it more seriously. My thesis, indeed, included designs made with Draw, although I used LATEX to write it.
It was a thesis in physics: you do not even think about using anything other than LATEX for a thesis in physics.
[Since we’re on the subject, it was during those years that I discovered LYX and started using it]
For those who have not experienced it, in addition to the components that we already know, StarOffice had its own virtual desktop and task manager, mail client… it was a huge package!
Back to the topic: at that point Sun decided to release the source code of StarOffice, creating the OpenOffice.org (OOo) project.
In 2002, OOo 1.0 was released. At that time I started participating in some mailing lists and related forums.
Back then, the reference forum was the now long defunct oooforum. But that site had several problems almost since the beginning, so a group of users came into contact with people from Sun, and the company offered server space. And so in 2007 (11 years!) the “OpenOffice.org community forums” opened. When a year later the Spanish forums were added, I was already there, and in fact a few months later I was acting as administrator.
It was around that time that I started writing articles about the topics that I keep visiting: Writer and LYX. These pioneering articles were published in a free Spanish digital magazine called “Begins,” which was active between 2006 and 2008.
In 2010 I compiled all those articles about Writer, added new material, a whole bunch of hours and that is how the first edition of “Domando el escritor” (Taming the Writer), a.k.a DAE, was born.
And then the “fun” began…
Also in 2010, Sun was acquired by Oracle: given the history of the latter with free software, people began to fear the worst.
At the end of September 2010, the people behind the go-oo project (an “undeclared fork” of OOo), plus some extra characters, moved a magic wand and made “The Document Foundation” (TDF) appear: a foundation that, among other things, supports the LibreOffice (LibO) project, a fully declared fork of OOo.
What happened next is somewhat chaotic. Let’s see if I can put it in order.
The TDF people invited Oracle to donate the OOo project to them, but, to no one’s surprise, the proposal was rejected.
What was a surprise, and a big one, was what followed: Oracle donated everything related to OOo to the Apache foundation, giving birth to the Apache OpenOffice project (AOO).
At that point, in the forums we were in a complicated situation: Oracle would not maintain the service for long, so we started looking for possibilities. I remember trying to talk to the people of LibO… and getting a very bad response. Apparently, the mere mention of OOo, even through the innocent name of a forum, caused (and still causes) an allergic reaction in certain people.
In short, the TDF people were not interested in our forums. Or in any forum. In fact, seeing how bad the “ask.libreoffice” service is, the number of times changes have been requested for that platform, changes that never arrive, and so on, it could be said that they are still not interested in forums. But I’m digressing.
So then? Well, the options were either to continue alone, looking for some kind of self hosting (my great friend Mauricio had offered space on his servers) or seek help from the AOO people.
In the end, by popular vote was the second option the one chosen, and although it was not easy, with the contribution of many people was achieved, in extremis, the migration of the forums to where they are now.
Small confession: I voted for the first option, to continue on our own.
Anyway, before, during and a bit after such chaos, I participated with pleasure in several LibO mailing lists, contributed several articles to their wiki… at least until July of 2011.
And it is that, to my surprise, at that time I was invited to be part of the AOO’s Project Management Committee (AOO-PMC).
Let it be clear that, despite the twisted rhetoric and manipulation of data that circulated at that time (from both sides, everything has to be said), there was nothing at the time to suggest that LibO would be better than AOO. Or vice versa. In fact, there was nothing to suggest that neither of them would work at all: such large projects require enormous economic resources and, at that first moment, it was not at all clear that those resources would be available to neither of the projects.
At least for the common mortals it was not clear, that maybe those with the magic wand had more information than us. Who knows!
The famous triangle of the administrator: you can only pick two vertex
In short, it is a dangerously stupid myth to think that such complex projects can go ahead quickly only thanks to the contribution of volunteers. In fact, LibO has advanced so much thanks to the support of several companies (Red Hat, Collabora…) while AOO has come to nothing because it lost, with its inaction, the support of the only company that showed any interest (IBM). Perhaps it was from that uncertainty about the future that the twisted rhetoric (and data manipulation) of those times was born: each side was trying to “defend their own corner.” But I’m digressing again.
Uffff! How to tell what followed? Anyway, I started to put more and more time and effort into the AOO project, trying to start the documentation project of the program, to work on its Spanish translation, I became “substitute administrator” of all the community forums… and I tried to carry on several discussions. Many discussions. Too many discussions.
In short, more and more often an awkward situation began to happen in which I did not agree with what the rest of the AOO-PMC was doing… or, more precisely, with the fact that they were not doing certain things.
I want to make it clear that I’m not saying that “they were wrong and I was right,” what I’m saying is simply that we did not agree. No more no less.
In short, after several problems (in general), repeated episodes of raised blood pressure (mine), and some health issues (later fixed), in December 2013 I left the project.
The decision was difficult, I spend several months wondering “is it worth continuing with all this?,” answering “no” each time.
Since, in a certain way, I had reached the AOO-PMC through the forums, it seems reasonable to think that taking a single step back was enough: to leave the AOO-PMC, but staying in the forums. But it did not seemed right to me. Given the development of the “situation,” it was more than evident (at least, it was for me) that by leaving the board I had to leave everything else, and I did. After all, the forums were, and still are, in good hands.
Three years passed in which I neither did nor wrote practically anything about either of the two projects. But when LibO 5 was released I noticed some interesting changes. In fact, LibO was finally starting to really be different from AOO. The rhetoric had been diluted to give way to a more firm reality, so I decided to accept the request, and the challenge, that I received more times all over the years: a version of DAE dedicated to LibO.
And that’s how the 2016 edition of DAE was born.
Now, with the 2018 Spanish edition already published and the English version (To Tame a Writer) almost ready, I am in a comfortable situation in which I closely know both projects, but I am not affiliated to any of them. And that is very good, since it gives me total freedom to distribute, as necessary, both praises and rants.
The rest is history.
Some non exhaustive links related to the text, but without a particular order, that I got tired of writing all that.