The Anvil Podcast: Mentoring Apache OpenOffice

Rich: I’m speaking with Ross Gardler, who is one of the mentors on the Apache OpenOffice Incubator project.

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Ross: Hi, Rich, good to speak to you.

Rich: The last time that we spoke was at ApacheCon, and things were at a much earlier stage then. Tell me what’s happened since then with the community so far as getting them on board with the Apache Way.

Ross: Probably the biggest change since then – which would be back in November – I think the biggest change since then would be that the community has accepted the fact that there isn’t an owning influence who is just going to make things happen for them. So, in the early days, it was, well, who’s going to do our marketing for us, who’s going to do our conferences for us, who’s going to do this, who’s going to do that. And the Apache Software Foundation isn’t set up to do that kind of thing. It doesn’t do that kind of thing. The individual projects have to do it. So I think that’s probably the biggest thing. The project community has recognized that if we want something doing, we’ve got to find a way of doing it ourselves. Once they figured that out, well, they started moving pretty quick. And of course we culminated last week in the release.

Rich: So, when a project enters the Apache Software Foundation, “them” sort of becomes “us”, in a sense?

Ross: Yeah, very much so. The Foundation only exists to provide a legal entity in which the project can exist. It doesn’t exist to control the project, or babysit the project, or make sure the project succeeds. That’s entirely up to the community. So the community does have to become part of the Apache Software Foundation in order to get the most from it.

Rich: What’s the next step? Now that there’s a release out there, and the release is fully under the Apache software license, what’s the next step to getting out of the Incubator?

Ross: Probably each of the mentors has a different opinion on that, so I’ll give you my opinion. I think that there are still some IP issues that needs to be addressed with code that isn’t in the release. The release is IP-clean, and is under an Apache license. But there are still some questions over some of the items that are in the repository as to whether or not they can remain in the repository as it becomes a top-level project. But they’re quite minor, compared to what the team have been working on in order to get the release out there. There is no real issue in terms of diversity. Certainly there is no question about the fact that there is one specific employer who is providing a great deal of input to it. But there are a significant number of people who are independent, and working for other organizations, that are active and showing leadership within the project. So I don’t have any concerns about diversity. So that one’s pretty sorted. And that’s about it, really. It’s just the final cleanup of the items that are used in building the OpenOffice code base, which should take really a matter of weeks, and as far as I’m concerned, I’d be happy to talk about graduation at that point.

Rich: What’s the relationship between the Apache OpenOffice community and the Templates and Extensions communities? Is there a lot of overlap there, or are they just kind of far flung?

Ross: There is some overlap. The Extensions and Templates communities are able to release their software and their plugins and so on, under whatever license they want. And what that means is that they can’t be hosted – or some of them, at least, can’t be hosted within the Apache Software Foundation’s infrastructure, because we only release code under the Apache software license. In those cases, it’s difficult to say that they’re part of the same community. They obviously would be part of the testing community, making sure that their extensions work within OpenOffice. But they maintain their own software, their own extensions, and so on, externally. We’ve had SourceForge step forward to help resolve that problem of, where do these people host stuff. Previously that was owned and hosted by Sun/Oracle. As I said, we can’t host non-Apache licenses, and the project team felt it wasn’t appropriate to demand that all of the extensions became Apache licensed. So SourceForge stepped in. SourceForge are now providing the hosting site for all of those. I’m sure SourceForge would be quite happy to provide development tools for those extensions, since that’s what SourceForge do. And of course the OpenOffice community is welcoming to anybody who wants to come in and help us improve the extension mechanisms within OpenOffice. So there’s overlap, but there’s certainly no requirement for extensions developers to become part of the Apache community.

Rich: Jürgen told me a little bit about where he expects the project to go in the future. As a mentor of an incubating project, what’s your thing going forward? Do you remain part of the project once it graduates, or is that the end of the road for your involvement?

Ross: As a mentor, that’s the end of the road for my involvement. Once the project graduates, they’ve shown that they understand the Apache Way and that they’re operating according to the way that we expect projects to operate. I would step down as a mentor. I may or may not choose to remain a member of the community. I’m not an OpenOffice developer. I’ve never been an OpenOffice developer. And I don’t expect to become one. So it’s not likely that I myself would remain a committer. But I think some of the other mentors will stay around, will go with the project. They would then become just normal members of the Project Management Committee with equal rights to everybody else in the community. If I wanted to regain those rights, as it were, after stepping down, then I would have to start from scratch, just like anybody else who would be joining the project fresh.

Rich: So, to be a mentor of an incubating project, you don’t actually have to be a developer on that project, or even familiar with the code base?

Ross: Absolutely not. No, our job is not a technical one at all. We have no opinion … as mentors, we have no opinion on where the project should be going technically. We’re only there to help the project community find their way in the Apache Software Foundation, understand how to get things done on our infrastructure, understand the processes behind our I.P. due diligence, release, etc., understand where to ask questions when they don’t know how to do something, all that kind of thing. We give them a leg up, if you like, into doing things the Apache Way. But we absolutely don’t need to be part of the technical team. And in many ways, it’s best if we’re not part of the technical team, because it’s good for the project to feel … good for the project community to feel that they are in control of the technical aspects of their project. They don’t come to Apache in order to get technical guidance, so it’s a good idea, as far as I’m concerned, if the mentors are not technically engaged with the project.

Rich: How has it been working with the OpenOffice community?

Ross: Something needs to be said about the strength of the community around Apache Open Office. It’s come here in a very difficult situation. There are certain tensions within the community – the original OpenOffice.org community, that have absolutely nothing to do with the current community members within the Apache OpenOffice project. And whilst it’s been a rocky road along the way sometimes, there’s been some rather messy things said in public, I think we’re beginning to see real collaboration between the other ODF projects in the community and the environment, and the OpenOffice community. We’ve seen it in a number of security issues that have come up during incubation. We’ve seen it in some of the code enhancements that are going on in there. We’ve seen it in some of the documentation work that’s happening. And I think now with the release of the Apache OpenOffice project, that can only increase. So, anybody who’s been sitting on the fence, waiting to see what happens with respect to these communities, please come along. Don’t sit on the fence. Do participate. We do want to build a stronger Open Documentation Format Foundation. And we want to be able to collaborate where appropriate on the code that works with those documents. So, having people like SourceForge step up, IBM, SugarCRM, and the hundreds of independents who are out there who are getting involved in various ways – we need to see more of that happening. We need to see more and more people come in and working under the Apache OpenOffice banner, and contributing back to the ecosystem as a whole, as a result.

Rich: Thanks a lot for taking the time to speak with me.

Ross: No problem. It’s always a pleasure, Rich.

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It would have been nice to ask about Libre Office, surely now that Oracle is out of the picture, these two communities can start talking to each other again?

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