It's quite clear where the money is:
Sell the software for £0 and charge for support, retraining and consultancy in replacing current commercial office "productivity" products with open source ones.
The companies that do most to develop and evolve the LibreOffice productivity suite, both for desktop and cloud, say the project's business model is "beyond utterly broken" and that The Document Foundation (TDF), the charity that hosts the project, has to change its approach. The matter is a subject of intense debate within …
Given how ineffectual MS Support is; plus the extortionate licensing costs and hopeless unreliability; I'd be delighted to see our corp IT dump 365 for LibreOffice even if that meant chucking Libre a support contract on the side.
I should also point out the latter has been able to recover and repair files representing hundreds of hours of work, that MS Office actively damaged and were unable to recover itself. My limited corner of experience from one office. I'm sure it's replicated elsewhere.
What makes you think that Libre's "support" would be better than Microsoft's?
Office 365 gains from network effects: everyone uses it, if there's a serious problem then it's big news, you hear about it quickly and it generally gets resolved pretty quickly. LO offers no such confidence, let alone a formal guarantee.
Yeah, file corruptions happen, and the canny MS Office user has a danger list of functions that should just never be touched, like 'fast save' and don't even get me started on list templates. But again, with so many people using it, the war stories are all out there - you can learn from them and learn what not to do, without having to do it yourself.
Using the default MS templates and probably Comic Sans doesn't look professional either. We have corporate minions to come up with branding and file templates. No reason they can't do that on LibreOffice either.
Yes the defaults suck, but they are mostly there to show what is possible, not to actually use!
>a "free" product
Ready to install open source doesn't have to be free as in £0. It is just been the generally accepted pricing model.
TDF could charge the same price for LibreOffice as MS do for MS Office and still comply with the Free Software Definition ie. you are paying a licencing fee which grants you the defined freedoms and provides binaries for your chosen OS.
However, the unconditional freedom to redistribute undermines any charging model for the code itself...
So in answer to your question: "why would a commercial organization pay for support on a "free" product"
By using a free(dom) product, you are avoiding all the unnecessary licencing restrictions and overheads that companies like MS andOracle put on their products. Plus your support costs should be more reflective of your actual needs.
I see your argument as well as the similar one from the article:
"Free software has an unfortunate connotation of gratis, free of price," Meeks said. "The FSF (Free Software Foundation) has tried for many years to explain that it is all about freedom. LibreOffice has the word Libre in it. But there's quite a strong sense of gratis in its statutes, which is unfortunate."
However, I must disagree. If you go to anyone who doesn't know the term already, they hear "free software" as meaning £0. This if often a good thing because it can be the initial selling point. Even if they pay money for a support contract, knowing that they could entirely stop payment and still have their product is useful. I sometimes volunteer some computer support time to a charity, and I'll use them as an example. Here's a short but effective method of convincing them to switch:
Me: I notice you're using Office365 at the moment. There's another product that you might try which is free.
Charity director: Well, Office365 isn't that expensive. We get a discount on it and everything.
Me: But this product doesn't cost anything. Not everything is as easy, and we might have to replace a few things with other software, but there's a lot out there that we can use. Not only is it cheaper but it is better in various ways. It can never expire on you.
Director: And it doesn't cost anything?
Me: No. You can buy support if you need help with it, but the software is free.
Director: Can you roll it out to all the machines and we can run a test. If the users like it, we can go from there.
Consider what would happen if getting functional LibreOffice required payment, manually building, or getting from a dodgy-looking site.
Me: I notice you're using Office365 at the moment. There's another product that you might try which is free software, with free referring to your rights to do with the code as you wish.
Charity director: Interesting. So what rights do we have with that that we don't get with Microsoft.
Me: You can modify it in any way you like, share the code, contribute to the community, all that.
Director: You realize we don't have programmers, right?
Me: Yes, but it's still better because it doesn't restrict you like Microsoft's product does.
Director: What restrictions does Microsoft have that this doesn't?
Me: You have to pay a subscription per user every year and you don't have as much choice about how you store your data.
Director: So this is free?
Me: No, but it's cheaper.
Director: Office365 provides us with mail accounts. Does your suggestion?
Me: Well no, but we can use another free software product to do that too.
Director: And we get cloud storage which I've used as a basic backup system. We get that too, right?
Me: No, but
Director: So we have to pay for at least three different pieces of software. Will the prices for all these things still be lower than Office365?
Me: Probably. I know the mailserver software is free and depending on where we do the storage, that could be cheapish.
Director: And how about the hardware the mailserver and storage run on?
Me: You'd have to have that too. You have a server in the closet so we could use that.
Director: You're going to volunteer all the time it takes to switch our mail system over and guarantee us that no email will get lost, because we can't handle outages?
Me: I'd like to, but
Director: Is this really that worse than paying Microsoft, given that it sounds like we're getting a lower bill in return for having no features?
The theoretical director there doesn't understand all the specifics, but they have a point. Having two options, and for each having to pay, means the two enter a type of competition that isn't as present if one of them is free. For us, we know about the freedoms and care, we are confident in our ability to troubleshoot if things go wrong, and we often don't care about spending a bit longer getting some software exactly the way we like it. A lot of businesses don't go that way, and think only about finances and wasted time. If you can't argue a business into using the software, then you lose any money they might have paid for a support contract, and they're not going to suddenly bet on an unknown for a slightly reduced bill.
@doublelayer - Interestingly, the one point your Charity director didn't raise was funding. In my experience, many charities can not only get really cheap products from companies such as MS and Cisco (see https://www.charitydigitalexchange.org/ ) but also many donors are happy to fund capex as it is 'tangible', opex on the otherhand...
The other objection I've had is the perception (not totally invalid) that they have reduced support options available, whereas with MS for example, there are plenty of businesses with relevant experience, so if their IT consultant falls under a bus or succumbs to CoViD19...
As for your other points, I think whilst much has progressed since XP went EoL, the free software alternatives still have some way to go before they really are enterprise ready. However, the world isn't standing still and so business is in general signing up to the product sets that are familiar to them...
@AC - Don't disagree with your experience, particularly given how entrenched products from MS, Oracle et al are..
That's certainly part of it, and I mentioned the discount on Office365 in my mock discussion, but I mostly left that out because exactly the same logic would apply to many a small business. When something is free, they're a lot more forgiving of things like time requirements than if it costs a little less. Even if a completely rational economic analysis says that doesn't make sense, they will do it. Also, in various situations, it does make sense.
Generally, an enterprise wants enterprise level support or they will not even consider a product.
When I use no cost open source products, I assume I will have to provide my own technical support via Google searches. Enterprises expect personal 24/7/365 support. They realize this costs money and they are willing to pay for it in ways such as Red Hat Enterprise Licenses.
Keeping LibreOffice no cost only cedes the enterprise market to M$.
>Sell the software for £0 and charge for support, retraining and consultancy
I think this business model creates all the wrong incentives.
- in order to sell support, the product must *need* support - if the software is stable and rock solid, companies will see that and save on support they never need to use.
- to make money from retraining users, the software must change so much between versions that normal users can't just install the new version and become productive by themselves.
- if you want to sell consultancy services, the product must be difficult to use - or at least, difficult to use efficiently; that also discourages the developer from writing sufficient documentation and/or tools.
- if you want to sell tailored extensions to companies, you'll have to deal with other folks, who haven't invested any time or effort in writing the software but can take your code, study it, then declare themselves experts and undercut you in the extensions market. To maintain some competitive advantage over them, your code must be difficult and obfuscated enough that they can't discover all the details by simply examining it.
If you reverse the model, and take money upfront, but offer cheap or free support (maybe as a warranty), then all the incentives are reversed: support becomes a cost, so you want your product to be as solid as possible, easy to use, easy to upgrade and consistent over upgrades (because upgrades are the way you, the developer get more money). People to write extensions and plugins on top of your software are now driving more sales, so they become helpers, not competition.
Problem at least with Excel is that the LO core architects didn't understand Excel and basically just cloned some arithmetic plus the presentation layer.
Kinda like building a F1 lookalike body out of fibreglass, painting perfect-replication racing stripes all over it, then dropping it on a shopping trolley.
They've kinda recreated Lotus 123.
The same goes for Word. If you really understand how to use Word the way it's theoretically meant to be used, with correctly prepared styles and templates and outlines, LO Writer is a horribly substandard substitute. But if you use Word like 95% of users do, making up your styles as you go along, it's fine.
Sadly, even Word has made Styles a ballache to use since ~vn2003. Have to define shortcut keystrokes to get around the interface stupidities.
If you ever get the chance, try an old MacOS wordprocessor called WriteNow (mid 1980s but ran on Mac OS X). Styles are so cleanly and accessibly implemented they become automatic even for donkeys. Best WP I've ever used, by a country mile. For non-major stuff.
(Word nicked a lot of its concepts, graphics, etc.)
I can still happily use the version of LibreOffice from the first day it was forked. I am beginning to suspect that the features that they have been adding are superfluous and useless for a vast majority of users. Perhaps they should put the project into maintenance mode.
And by maintenance mode, I don't mean how Nvidia does is and drop support. I simply mean no new features; just fix bugs, build issues and generally make the whole software really polished. Only open-source can do this because they don't need to continuously rake in cash and new customers.
If you look at the amount of changes that have been made since the fork just to improve compatibility with non-LibreOffice file formats (which are a given until LO achieves world domination) I would not want to exchange LO 6.4 for a version from years ago.
I am also quite pleased with the UI changes in LibreOffice 7rc1.
Yes, the mention of a UI change scares me too.
A while back LO began shipping with a 'modern' theme with colourless, abstract, conceptual icons on the menu bar (as has also happened with others like Gimp) - fortunately the developers had the foresight go to allow the use of a 'classic' theme which I immediately enabled.
I'm not only hitting this same problem with other software such as the truly excellent Remmina remote desktop client, which has done largely the same thing but without options to change the theme :-(
My biggest UI battle right now is a massive one: GNOME 3 (GTK3+) has lost the plot and gone for bastardised title bars with embedded buttons, hamburger menus and 'popovers' in place of contextual menus which behave much like the menus on a smart phone i.e. you select sub-menus and have to use a back button if you make the wrong choice; as opposed to mouse-friendly context menus with sub-menus opening to the side when you hover....
It's a 'touch-friendly' but anti-mouse mess and unfortunately this horror is creeping into any applications written using GTK (e.g. Firefox and Thunderbird) but even worse - it's creeping into desktop environments like XFCE and MATE - the very desktops people like me switched to to get away from all the UI craziness that happened in Windows TIFKAM, Unity and Gnome :-(
There's an open feature request for LibreOffice to support the GNOME CSD which could result in LO being its own UI too. So far they seem to be resisting but later versions of GTK might force their had. It's a disaster.
I'm going to have to install LO 7rc1 to check they haven't done anything horrendous to it
The GNOME team even ran a little crusade (and I use that word precisely because they're almost religious in their belief that CSD is the one true way) to pressure developers into changing their applications to ditch the title bar. It seems to have been moderately successful...
But so blinkered were they in their own little world view that the idea of end-user choice went out of the window and I don't they they gave a moment's thought that this poison was going to spread to any environments that use GTK3 (even the latest Firefox on Windows suffers from this abomination, nor to the backlash that it starting to happen by furious XFCE, MATE users plus other many other desktops too.
There's actually a security argument against the CSD as well - there's a very deliberate reason that the title bar is controlled by the window manager and not by the application and that is to guarantee clear containment and separation between applications. In 'labelled' security environments such as Solaris with TX (Trusted eXtensions) the title bar is used to denote the classification of the application such as Secret or Restricted. Letting the applications decide on the decoration isn't going to roll in those environments.
A neutral party could look at my argument and accuse me if being similarly religious in my belief that GNOME has got this seriously wrong. But my stand point isn't that CSD is wrong necessarily, but that it's far better suited to touch screens and I want to see users given a choice in the matter. There's no way it's that difficult to create a menu system which can be written once and then rendered as either title bar plus classic menu bar or as a CSD based on a user's preference. This solution would please everybody, and I think it would stand a better chance of achieving wider adoption as developers and users would be less likely to push back against it.
I like the idea of the STLWRT project but I think it's ambitious and might prove almost impossible to reliably take a CSD menu structure and reformat it into a classic menu without per-application templates to help. It'll be very interesting to see how it turns out as it's so alpha right now that the author says it doesn't even compile right now.
I've not yet had a chance to look at XFCE Classic but I guess that's going to be dependent upon forking and thus maintaining a small subset of applications which still may not cover those needed/wanted by other desktops. This also creates yet more fragmentation in the Linux space which isn't really desirable.
Both of the above solutions are really just the proverbial sticking plaster (bandaid).
The only real way out of this is for GNOME to have a change of heart and agree to support a configurable choice of Classic or CSD mode and to ensure that all GTK applications are encouraged to include the necessary support for both modes - something that will really piss some developers off who have already spent a load of time rewriting their app and throwing away the legacy menus to become CSD-only.
This is why it's genuinely such a major problem and why it's such a shitty problem. The only way out is four GNOME to change their policy and that seems an extremely unlikely outcome.
Or the whole application ecosystem could rebel and use a GTK fork or other alternative but that's even less likely!
So sadly, CSD isn't likely to be going away any time soon although I'm not going to give up fighting just yet. There's time yet for me to become a KDE convert however there seems to be a distinct absence of decent Qt based web browsers so I'd still be stuck using Firefox or Chrome on GTK :'(
I'm probably one of the tiny handful of people on a site like El Reg that actually likes the new Ribbon interface. I'm glad they finally implemented it, and I feel it's improved my productivity, despite two decades of using OOo/LO.
Also, if you have ever needed charts in Calc, those are MASSIVELY better now than at fork. Like, a whole world of betterness. Charts went from being broken and useless to being better than Excel's.
This is a long-standing issue with many Open Source developments that largely rely on volunteer developers.
It's relatively easy to get users to work on glamorous or often used features. It's a lot harder to get people to work on necessary but largely invisible plumbing. Mozilla solves this by having a serious amount of developers on the payroll to oversee work, work on 'plumbing' and push through the project while taking in lots of code in from volunteers or outside coders. They can afford that because Mozilla Inc. is a multimillion dollar corporation. The Document Foundation is not.
You can see the challenges quite clearly in LibreOffice. Writer is clearly the most used application in the office suite and receives the most code submissions, changes and new features. The further down the popularity chain you go, the less work you see.
Look at an issue such as using the Firebird database as the embedded database in an Base .odb file. Hardly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of LibreOffice. The Document Foundation moved from the ancient HSQLDB 1.8 to Firebird 3.0 as a means to rid themselves of a Java dependency and to use a more modern and better supported database. At the moment it's not working great as the talent you need to make this work properly is someone who ideally understands Java (for the legacy stuff), C/C++, databases in general and Firebird in particular. Quite an ask. There is currently one person (Julien Nabet) who can work on this and he is swamped. (If you are someone who can work on this, please get stuck in)
To get things like this working again you'll have to have a combination of commercial companies submitting code to scratch their own itch (works well for Linux), an army of volunteers and a number of paid developers in the centre at The Document Foundation to oversee all this. And that costs money.
I would think the first thing the TDF should do now is set up a bounty programme. People who run into a certain issue that they like to see fixed (but can't as they are not coders) can donate to have that fixed. Volunteer coders that want to earn some money can go through the list and see which ones they can fix. All that needs is a few people from TDF to oversee the list of bounty issues (as not all issues qualify for an easy bounty), to vet whether the submitted code indeed fixes the issue, and release the funds to the volunteer developer.
"I would think the first thing the TDF should do now is set up a bounty programme."
It's clear from the interview is that one problem is that TDF has some money but can't spend it, at least not directly, on development because of its charitable status.
Perhaps a bounty programme would be one way round this. Like many I tend to pay a contribution when downloading a new version. This isn't much use if it goes into a fund that can't be used productively. To be given the option of paying into a bounty fund administered but not owned by TDF would be better. Better still would be if TDF were able to match bounty payments if it has more money than it actually needs.
> It's clear from the interview is that one problem is that TDF has some money but can't spend it, at least not directly, on development because of its charitable status.
This bit I don't understand. German charity law doesn't stop a charity from employing staff, and those staff can be developers.
Is the fact that LibreOffice is primarily desktop software, in the cloud era, part of the problem, like trying to market music CDs in the age of streaming?
made me laugh.
Not everyone wants to be sucked into 'all things cloudy'. I really don't wany to have to be connected to the Internet to do [insert operation here].
The System I do most of my writing on (164,000 words this year so far is not connected and hasn't been for several years. I move the data I need via USB sticks.
I have another system that I use for research that normally runs alongside the former. I don't do SAAS and will refuse to do so for as long as possible.
To me it is the same as a protection racket. Keep on paying or... you lose access to your (that is YOURS not THEIRS) data.
Cloudy stuff is only as good as your internet connection. If that is crap then what can you do eh?
you are stuck up shit creek without a paddle and funds keep on draining from your wallet.
To be honest, I think that’s a bit of a straw man argument. Just because some companies use cloud software (the means) as a way to achieve vendor lockin (the end) does not mean that The Document Foundation would have the same goal.
There is clearly a lot of demand for cloud solutions, even if it’s just for the seamless transition between working on a document on your desktop, adding some things to it from your laptop while at a client and making that little ‘brainwave’ change on your phone from the supermarket aisle.
If packages such as LibreOffice don’t go down that way you are leaving a popular use case solely to the paid for/closed source companies. To prevent that is precisely what LibreOffice should be for.
It's probably not either/or.
There are clearly use cases for collaborative authoring and shared address books, document templates, etc. that could be paid-for services that supplement a standalone application. It's a question of whether there's enough of a demand for commercial services that aren't Microsoft or Google - it's a difficult space in which to set up as a competitor to industry behemoths.
Downside of that is that, possibly to make way for it, NextCloud removed their Documents app in a point upgrade.
As far as I can make out the actual Collabora doesn't run under NC, NC just connects to it. Likewise, I suppose, the online LibreOffice. If that's the case these solutions aren't going to be available if you're running a personal NC instance on a Pi, as I'm doing, or considering running it on a hosted web service as I was thinking of doing.
The local Pi server isn't a problem - I just keep a desktop folder synced to the Pi. The idea of being able to economically run a hosted NC server to collaborate on a project with my local history group just hit the buffers if users have to download a file just to be able to view it - it doesn't offer enough advantage over an email list.
You raise a good point. It seems like TDF are pining to go this route.
Even here they are clear that the default ability for web deployment will be permanently crippled (and a nag dialog if more than 20 users try to log in). For that, "enterprise" distributions will be where they will focus their attention.
Someone in this project can see money in making a cloud version and they are not quite prepared to let this one go, even if it reduces the quality of the project.
Basically it has outgrown itself again. It probably needs another "free" fork.
I entirely agree. The primary benefit of SaaS is the subscription required to keep using it, and that's not a user benefit. And "cloud" is increasingly frequently breaking down, preventing work being done on time.
The biggest problem with Libre Office (and previously Open Office) is still incompatibility with MS. I still can't create a slide presentation on LO and be assured it won't break when presented on PowerPoint at my speaking venue. If such problems were assuredly fixed, there'd be little question that LO would largely take over from MS office.
But as to funding development, there should be a way for TDF to channel donations to developers. Many charities here in the UK have commercial side-services that don't jeopardise their charitable status.
Yes, a commercial side service should not be too difficult. They could set up “The Document Company” next to the Foundation and have in the articles of association of the Company that the directors of the Company are always and only the same people that are in charge of the Foundation. You’d have legal separation without risking the Company from going rogue.
The Document Foundation takes care of the inner workings and the desktop clients
The Document Company runs a SaaS service, which neatly integrates the desktop clients.
My employer has a subscription for Office 365 for each employee, yet no one in their right mind at our shop opts for the web-client only option. It's always the desktop clients plus all the cloudy stuff. I won't have my work day ruined by a sketchy internet connection.
The current desktop client is Office 2019. The Office365 license info says it contains, and I quote from the license on this machine:
"The latest desktop version of Office"
One of the features of Office365 is precisely that if you got a standard, non-cloudy-crap-only, license you get the full install on your desktop/laptop/tablet _as well as the cloudy crap_. You can get cloudy-crap only licenses; those work on OSes like Chrome and are missing numerous features. You can get limited licenses, for iOS/Android tablets, and, for the masochists, cell phones. (Anyone who wants to try to play with PowerPoint or Excel on a cellphone is invited to try it. I'll be over there with my tub of popcorn, watching.) Mac licenses are missing a few things, notably Access and Publisher. (Frankly, this is a Good Thing(tm), as those forced to use Access or Publisher will probably agree.) You can get full licenses on Windows, the exact fullness depending on the app set. For Really Full Features, add Project and Visio. All non-cloudy-crap licenses also come with cloudy-crap; I have the cloudy-crap on my machine here. It insists on launching Edge, even if another web browser is set as the default.. I insist on nuking Edge with extreme prejudice.. I use FireFox. The cloudy crap launcher really, really, REALLY wants to use Edge. There are several reasons why I don't use the cloudy crap.
You can run the online version on your own server. While that might not be a good use case for you - it isn't for me either - I can see circumstances where there might be. A lightweight front end like a Chromebook and an in-house server might fit very well into an educational context for example.
Behrens said: "The notion that software is finished and only needs maintenance is a fallacy."
To the contrary, I believe the notion that software cannot be finished is a fallacy. It is far better to fix bugs than to always shoot for the next pie-in-the-sky improvement. People do not want change for the sake of change. That thinking is what gave us the horrible Windows 10. I remember that some "experts" are critical of Roku for not updating their UI. But why should something that is efficient, elegant, and well-understood be updated? It is finished, it works well, just leave it alone! TiVo updated their UI, and the new "improved" update is miles worse than the original. This thinking is giving us software and interfaces that are always broken because the programmers are too busy chasing the next big thing instead of fixing the current thing.
The thing is, though, that with a broad product suite such as LibreOffice that runs on multiple underlying OS-es that change all the time your product stops working if you don’t keep up with changes to the OS. You can keep the same features but if Windows, macOS or Linux deprecates an API you will still need to put in dev work. In this case even standing still requires running.
Seems you were never been bitten by the management GUI of a SAN that insists on a precise and old version of JRE that your browser refuses to run. It happen to me twice and Linux on a laptop (I had to smuggle it into the server room) with the non-Oracle/Java version saved my bacon. Needless to say that from that moment, to put it mildly, all my consideration for such developers was lost forever. Imagine facing a SAN in bad shape, every member of the command chain up to VP of IT looking at you with "are we there yet?" face and you, with your laptop on your knees fiddling with crap that tells you "I can not do this, Dave".
Yesterday I struggled for an hour to get the Java virtual console on an older PowerEdge server to work. Eventually I gave up and used the ActiveX version with IE11.
Java has added so many security features over the years that most Java Web Start programs fail entirely.
I would consider that to be maintenance - you're not adding features, just keeping the ones you do have working.
I agree that some software can be finished - it's usually pretty obvious when you've finished writing a library or a utility application because you can't think of anything else it could do that would be both useful and relevant. On the other hand big software applications like word processors have an ever growing list of features they need to support if they want to stay competitive. There eventually comes a point where you haven't finished adding the last feature before the next one gets added to the list, and at that point you'll never finish the software.
Yup, that's maintenance in my eyes too. Same way if you finish baking a cake sized to fit a particular plate, it's finished. Even if somebody then puts it on a bigger plate, it's still a completed cake that can be consumed by organisms.
Except it's probably a lot easier to elegantly amend software to fit its new environment(s) than to augment and resize a baked cake, unless you want the cake to be markedly shorter in height and not quite as circular as it was before. Not sure this analogy has legs but I sure am hungry now.
"it's usually pretty obvious when you've finished writing a library or a utility application because you can't think of anything else it could do that would be both useful and relevant."
There's another school of thought which says a design's finished when there's nothing left to take away that isn't useful useful and relevant.
I have been donating annually in the mistaken belief the funds went to devs. Disappointed.
Maybe TDF can 'pay' individual/smaller devs through a hardship fund type payments?
I have been using since 2004 and has enough features for what I want. Unfortunately, many of my customers are locked into financial apps that can only export via MS Office/Excel. I have contacted a few of the financial app companies in the past and asked if would consider developing export via LibreOffice. Told no demand. Usual chicken/egg scenario I'm afraid.
Similarly disappointed OSS based Google never supported ODF in Docs and only natively support OOXML. Had Google gone with ODF, that might have promoted LibreOffice uptake.
Yes, this seems particularly stupid. If charity rules don't allow them to hire developers... maybe they don't qualify as, and shouldn't be, a charity?
I'm sure that there are a lot of companies who would pay for LibreOffice support and additional features. Maybe it's time for them to do deals with Google/Apple/Samsung and the rest of the industry to build up a proper foundation...
If charity rules don't allow them to hire developers... maybe they don't qualify as, and shouldn't be, a charity?
They could remain a charity and add a commercial arm which can take money in and spend it.
That's how Raspberry Pi stepped around the problem in the UK; keeping the charitable Foundation while adding the Trading Ltd company as a subsidiary, which oversees commercial activities.
If charity rules don't allow them to hire developers...
I think Thorsten Behrens (and TDF) needs to get some expert advice. From the information given there is no reason why TDF can't be a UK registered charity and hire developers etc. However, under UK charity rules, they would be well advised to have a commercial (Ltd) arm that handles all the commercial (ie. for profit activities) and drop feeds profits back to the charity (thus get around the various financial constraints that hinder charities from accumulating profits). I wonder whether German charitable status is different.
I think the relevant word is "foundation", not "charity". Apparently German legal support for foundations is considered preferable. In any case, I doubt the idea of moving to the UK would even be entertained. It wouldn't be considered stable enough now. We have a government that wanted to take back control so it could tinker with things according to its own whims.
I too had no idea money sent to TDF wasn't actually used for development.
I do occasionally like to pay a bit towards the open source software I use, so went looking on Collabora's website for a "donate" button. Couldn't find one, which maybe isn't surprising if it'd be hard for them to square the accounting.
It feels like the LibreOffice community are missing a funding trick here.
>I too had no idea money sent to TDF wasn't actually used for development.
Further enquiries are required here (ElReg?) as the TDF website is very unambiguous:
Its objective, as defined in the statutes, is the promotion and development of office software available for use by anyone free of charge.
LibreOffice is made possible by the efforts of thousands of volunteers around the globe, and by the generosity of donors. Please support our efforts: your donation helps us to deliver a better product!
If TDF cannot legally pay developers to help it achieve its charitable objectives then it needs, as a matter of urgency, to reword its donation text and revise its charitable objectives.
That message seems carefully worded to be accurate and sound like they use the money for development without ever saying that:
"LibreOffice is made possible by the efforts of thousands of volunteers around the globe, and by the generosity of donors [but those two things aren't related]. Please support our efforts [whatever those may be]: your donation helps us to deliver a better product [somehow, but we won't tell you exactly]!"
I concur with your post; this would be a great avenue for further journalism. I generally thought of TDF as trustworthy, so I don't think they're pulling an ICANN and using the money they pull in for the enjoyment of the board, but if they're just putting it in a bank account, it's not helping the project very much. What do these people do?
...I would be quite happy to pay a monthly subscription - two or three ponds a month - a relatively trivial amount for an individual to sustain over years, and covering the majority of socio-economic circumstances. Don't even make it compulsory, just make it clear that if you value what LO offers then it depends on most users willingness to contribute, if not their time and IT chops, then at least the price of a coffee to keep the show on the road.
If it dies then we get what we clearly deserve and it clearly didn't mean much to us anyway; if it lives then it lives because many users actually do value what they are being given and are willing to demonstrate that value by giving something back.
I would be quite happy to pay a monthly subscription - two or three ponds a month - a relatively trivial amount for an individual to sustain over years, and covering the majority of socio-economic circumstances
Office 365 for home use, which includes 5 users each with 1Tb of online storage, Mac or Windows, with regular updates, works out at £6.58 per month. Everyone, or near enough not to matter, who is willing to pay for an office suite will do this. Even if your LibreOffice is half that price, for all of those users it wouldn't be worth the money they'd save.
Behrens: "If you use this as an enterprise, you will not get any updates after half a year, so there is no way any large enterprise should use the free version."
No updates after six months? That differs from the plain language on the LibreOffice site and the rules of most distros that include LibreOffice. In any case I don't recall LibreOffice for Windows ever automatically installing an update, just opening the download web page for a manual install, so whatever is Behrens talking about?
The existing version already includes remote open and save which I think covers your cloud sync. But let's be cynical here. Enterprise users can't get their heads round the idea that an office suite doesn't have to include an email client so get together with Mozilla to add the Thunderbird-based element of Seamonkey plus Lightbird and call that the Enterprise edition.
I don't think you should start to compromise Open Source feature sets. Or maybe you'll end up with:
LibreOffice with up to 3 fonts in a document: Free
LibreOffice with ability to use bullet points: Personal Edition
LibreOffice with ability to insert tables: Enterprise edition
But the UK Charity Commission or whatever they're called periodically publicly pleads with "charities" to at least TRY to reach the commission's target of no more than 85% of the donated money being spent on itself/the charity's employees.
Last figures I saw were about 10yrs ago. More than 95% of UK "charities" failed to reach the target. Less than 15% of donations getting outside of the "charity". Most nowhere near that.
"Interestingly", the biggest, most-respected names were the worst offenders.
LiveAid. The original. Big concert in Hyde Park etc, went global, Saint Bob Geldof, raised in that major original event £40m. Perhaps £100m in today's money.
A grand total of £0 made it to Africa.
Bit of a scandal at the time when it came to light.
Which died fast due to major lashback by all the Virtue-Display types. Because Saint Bob! Africa! Children!
Went from IIRC 4% getting through to the nominal recipients, then PR blow-up from the commission's report, to magically nearly 90% about 2 months later. Go go gadget accountants! My own later insider contact with them would strongly suggest that the 4% stayed static in real life. And a Secret CEO episode I much later saw said strongly that 99% of that 4% is pushed down the toilet. Wasted and/or paid to parasites.
OTish but related example of how charity gets diverted:
When I got stabbed in the chest in Ecuador, I discovered an instance of how American Aid gets diverted/flushed down the toilet. (I'm Australian) Spoiler alert: I didn't die.
I got lucky. Twice. First blade I only found out about later during the x-ray; from behind as they ran up, it got stopped by the backpack, though left a mark on my skin. Second blade was from the front and stuck in my rib (we found out later). Locate the location by finding where your bottom rib meets your sternum, go up one rib, go left one inch. Lucky.
Blood everywhere. T-shirt jumping with the squirting. But v.near a hospital.
Got put in the dying room first. Fair enough. Triage. Didn't twig at first. When the second guy died I started to realise, waited a while, stepped out and bailed up some passing doctors.
In retrospect, their shock/startlement at a blood coated bloke stepping out of that room and asking to be treated, makes me laugh.
Long story short: just needed stitching up.
Doctor (v.nice chap) post-xray asked if I'd like local anaesthetic.
"Do you have any money?"
"No...they took everything. Bag, jacket, wallet, watch...wait! I still have $5 note change in my left-hand jeans pocket!"
He walked me out of the room, out of the hospital, past the shaved-bear security guy still physically throwing people out, through the foyer, outside, and left and up to ....the ice cream and chewing gum lady. Sitting there with her old-fashioned icecream steel lid 2-tub cart with racks of gum and lollies perched on top. He said something very quickly in Spanish, and she flipped open one of the two tubs' steel lids, smashed her hand in deep among a mass of medical supplies and pulled out a single-use sealed plastic syringe. With US Aid or similar printed on it. Boggling, I looked in and the tub was FULL of single-wrapped medical bits, all stamped US Aid (or whatever it was}.
Doc haggled. Cost me $1.50. He gave me the change. A good man in a shit environment.
So all you Yanks: that's where your Aid goes. Doctors having to buy it for cash outside their own hospitals.
I've bought a few beers for Yanks since then. Not quite their taxes' worth. But at least it's something.
What still gets me, is that she knew precisely the syringe to get when he asked for the anaesthetic by its medical name.
Any tourist walking past would think she's just selling gum.
And I think back on how many people I've walked past in various countries (went thru 5 passports) who were slightly peculiar in either or both of their position or their goods for sale in context, and with no apparent customers, and bearing in mind my startled discoveries re similar people I'd walked past in London for years (from girlfriends and friends, including them casually buying stuff from them), and I wonder...
How much was I oblivious to?
How much did I think I was seeing but actually something very different and much larger was actually going on?
"There are rules and regulations in place to prevent entities acquiring charitable status to give themselves an unfair advantage over others who don't have charitable status."
High St shops?
Lower rates, less tax, freegoids.
If anything its EASIER for LibreOffice to employ staff, as pure desktop Office suites are a dying breed. They give the software away, so notbreally gaining a competitive advantage. If they start charging, then that gets harder.
You can't equate "charity," "nonprofit" and "foundation." In the U.S., charity is a general, undefined term as far as legal meaning. Nonprofit and foundation, on the other hand, have separate and distinct meanings in the tax code.
There is (in the U.S.) the general category of nonprofit, which as previously stated just means that the organization can't distribute profit to shareholders (there aren't any), or more accurately, that the assets of the organization cannot be used to the profit of any of it's board members. Most often, these are called 401(c)(3) organizations, after the part of the U.S. tax code that defines them. There are also parts of the code that define educational and religious nonprofits
There is also a separate tax designation of "foundation,' like, say, the Gates Foundation, which is used to hold and give away money without that money or any income from it being taxable. Generally, they are required to give away a certain amount of their assets every year in order to maintain their tax-free status.
I expect, (but I'm not sure, the U.S. tax code is not simple thing, and it's been 13 years since i retired from a big-4 accounting firm, and 7 since left the board of nonprofit org.) that if the Gates Foundation were to start developing and marketing software, it would lose its tax exempt status as a "foundation." If it wanted to promote some software development, it would have to give money to another organization, nonprofit or commercial, to do that.
Being a charity means you are not supposed to make a profit, it doesn't mean you can't have employees.
The International Red Cross is a charity, it has employees.
I don't get why TDF can't have employees because of its status as a charity.
Maybe there are different charity statuses ?
"Being a charity means you are not supposed to make a profit..."
Not quite true, at least in the USA. A non-profit corporation is very much allowed to have income exceed expenses (aka "profit") on their Statement of Activities (the non-profit version of a Profit and Loss). There are no shareholders who can benefit from any profits, and the funds do need to be used in support of the organization's mission.
It's a subtle difference, but important in nonprofit management and accounting. I've run into people that think because a given nonprofit did well financially, they're obligated to blow the excess cash at the end of the year.
Source: >10 years of 501c(3) leadership roles.
I'm not an expert, but I gather that in Germany they're not allowed to do anything that would compete with a for-profit corporation. This is very different from in the US, where non-profits compete with for-profit companies all the time (although there are further exceptions for non-profits accepting tax-exempt donations.)
Open source/FOSS licencing guarantees the freedom to use, adapt, and distribute the software for any field of endeavour. Slapping a "Personal Edition" label on a product implies you can only use it for personal use, which would be against the license. It is technically legal. But it is wrong and misleading and should not be allowed for the same reason that you can't put a sign saying "Private land" at the entrance to a gate to a right of way. You are implying a lack of freedom.
Open source companies need funding to survive. Yet, notice Red Hat has Fedora, not "Red Hat Personal Linux". You can get the message across that one is tailored and supported for enterprise use while another is not without implying a different licence or implying it is cripple-ware.
Companies come of all sizes. I run a 2 man, part time business, we don't pay for LO. We are not parasites on the open community as Meeks would have people believe. We sell Open Source hardware powered by open software that we design ourselves. Everything from invoices to POs is done through LaTeX and our own code. We use LO once a year to prepare accounts. Being an active part of the open source community I am not going to make Meeks make me feel bad for not paying him to do my accounts once a year. I owe far move to the OpenSCAD devs, Linux devs, Python Devs, KDE devs. Part of a flourishing Open Source ecosystem is that we support financially or in kind the projects that we need most. Sod it, we are such a small business I could do my books on paper!
Yes, big businesses should pay. But crying about moral obligation won't get Meeks anywhere. Enterprises have a moral obligation to pay taxes but instead they pay people to find legal loopholes to avoid it. By slapping an Personal Edition sticker onto LO he puts off small businesses without a legal departments, this hurts LO's market share. Large corporations are used to finding ways not to pay and will be able to read the rules. If Meeks wants his company to secure contracts then he needs to sell his support as a product that is needed rather than whine on about moral obligations.
This whining approach damages LO; damages his companies message; and damages his credibility.
Actually, no. As long as they allow you to download the source code you're free to download it, and build whatever you like.
Where's implied in FOSS projects they have to make available readily full binaries to be used for free?
I'm fully aware that most people are not at all interested in the dom that follows free - and are only interested in getting software that they don't have to pay for, but this isn't the true spirit, right? So let LO build the binaries it likes, and build the ones you need yourself... or pay someone to do it for you - this too in the spirit of OpenSource - I probably even read it in something Stallman wrote.
Read the comment you replied to. The comment acknowledges that it's perfectly legal. The comment acknowledges that any terms or suggestion wouldn't be legally binding. The comment argues that, despite those things, people will see them as in some way binding. The comment alleges that people will decide not to run the software because of this. The comment suggests that these are bad things and so the behavior likely to lead to them happening should be avoided. You can disagree with those allegations, but it's hard when you only argue against the thing the comment didn't say.
I read the comment. The comment implied LO has no freedom and just they want software from LO they have not to pay for. RedHat doesn't make the Fedora and CentOS builds - those are "community" projects.
"But it is wrong and misleading and should not be allowed" Really? This is the mindset of people who think Open Source is "hey you, work to give me the software I need for free!"
Again, nobody forbids anyone to take the LO code and make all the builds they like and distribute them. But you can't think to force a company to make the builds you need for free. Otherwise, where's the freedom?
You may have read, but you're doing quite a nice job misconstruing all the points. Let's look at your comments and what they came from:
LDS: "I read the comment. The comment implied LO has no freedom and just they want software from LO they have not to pay for."
gobaskof: "Slapping a 'Personal Edition' label on a product implies [note implies here] you can only use it for personal use, which would be against the license. It is technically legal. But it is wrong [opinion]"
So the original comment demonstrates that they understand that any organization can do as they please with the code, including providing or refusing to provide binaries. That comment disagrees with it.
"RedHat doesn't make the Fedora and CentOS builds - those are "community" projects."
From the Wikipedia article for The Fedora Project:
"The project was founded in 2003 as a result of a merger between the Red Hat Linux (RHL) and Fedora Linux projects. It is sponsored by Red Hat primarily, but its employees make up only 35% of project contributors, and most of the over 2,000 contributors are unaffiliated members of the community. [...] The Fedora Project is not a separate legal entity or organization; Red Hat retains liability for its actions. The Fedora Council is currently the top-level community leadership and governance body. The Council is composed of a mix of representatives from different areas of the project, named roles appointed by Red Hat, and a variable number of seats connected to medium-term project goals. The previous governance structure (Fedora Board) comprised five Red Hat appointed members and five community-elected members."
There's some external community, but Red Hat controls a lot of the code and the organization that owns it. You can argue definitions if you want, but I consider this as having a significant connection to Red Hat.
Original: "But it is wrong and misleading and should not be allowed"
Reply: "Really? This is the mindset of people who think Open Source is 'hey you, work to give me the software I need for free!'"
I don't think that's really true, as the code would exist anyway. It's not that hard to compile most open source projects, so if you don't want to give back, the policy is simple. The original comment was expressing the opinion that labels like "personal edition" imply something that might put off users. Not that they actually do, but that users may believe they do. The opinion was that this belief might dissuade people from adopting it and therefore lose the developers the income from support contracts, extra features, and similar.
LDS: "Again, nobody forbids anyone to take the LO code and make all the builds they like and distribute them. But you can't think to force a company to make the builds you need for free. Otherwise, where's the freedom?"
And once again, the original comment clearly states that there is no requirement forcing anyone to make specific builds, but that if the proposed specific builds were made, they believe that decision to be a bad one. I think part of the reason that leads to this opinion is that it wouldn't be the core LibreOffice team making those decisions, but instead a commercial company, Colabora. It could be considered misleading if someone other than the LibreOffice control organization made software calling itself LibreOffice but with restrictions. It would be legal to do (and again the original comment says as much), but it could sound bad to some people, including the one you replied to.
Sorry, there are sentences like "Slapping a "Personal Edition" label on a product implies you can only use it for personal use, which would be against the license." which are utterly wrong.
"implies" doesn't mean an opinion - while "Personal edition" would be just a label, to which they're given a very restricted meaning (guilty conscience?). Otherwise, "Community edition" would mean you need to be at least in two to use it? Whatever matter is the actual license, don't believe users are stupid - the elitism among too many open source activists never helped it.
Probably not the best marketing choice, but should they have called it the "Volunteer edition, only supported by volunteers"? Would it improve enterprise adoption? Nope. LO could have used "Community edition", and someone would have promptly complained "they're going to remove functionalities!!!" even if it wasn't true.
They could use a new name, like RedHat/CentOS o Ansible Tower/AWX, would it help or confuse users even more?
Anyway, soon "Personal edition" may mean LO is being coded by a single person, if they can't find more developers, and those putting their efforts in coding the damned thing are thanked by saying "hey, shut up, and give me your code for free".
"made software calling itself LibreOffice but with restrictions." Which restrictions? A label in an about box is a restriction? It won't be legal to add any restriction the GPL forbids - all they can do is make builds with a subset of the code while still pointing you at the full source code.
If you don't like their builds look for another one or build yourself - and say thank you to those working on code that is made freely available to you.
"Sorry, there are sentences like "Slapping a "Personal Edition" label on a product implies you can only use it for personal use, which would be against the license." which are utterly wrong."
Maybe you would accept it if rearranged. Here's what I think it is trying to say:
If a project said that you can only use it for personal use, that would be against the license. Slapping a "Personal Edition" label on a product implies but does not really mean that.
The sentence occurring immediately after the one you quoted makes it clear that they understand that the implication is not true. They are not claiming license violations. They are claiming user confusion.
Thank @doublelayer for defending my honour, perhaps in future for the benefit of LDS I should write my posts in the following manner:
<fact>Open source/FOSS licencing guarantees the freedom to use, adapt, and distribute the software for any field of endeavour.</fact><opinion>Slapping a "Personal Edition" label on a product implies you can only use it for personal use,</opinion><fact>which would be against the license. It is technically legal. </fact><opinion>But it is wrong and misleading and should not be allowed for the same reason that </opinion><fact>you can't put a sign saying "Private land" at the entrance to a gate to a right of way. </fact><opinion>You are implying a lack of freedom.</opinion>
We need to go back to the point where it became obvious; that to remain civilised, we must always be able to access our, indeed, every-bodies work.
We take a book for granted; every book printed, every written document that has been collected, every fragment of papyrus is conserved to enable the passage of thought to be retained over the ages. What changed was an uncivilised attorney came up with the idea that a company, such as, but not just Microsoft, could remove the right to access of any work created by anyone who had purchased their software. A good parallel would be for an 18th century manufacturer of bone china cups and saucers, deciding that, to increase sales, they would employ people to climb through the windows of the homes of every single household that had previously purchased their bone china; to destroy it. For a start, that would mean that there would not be any old bone china left to use today; every single purchase would by now have been destroyed.
A good example was the recent decision by Microsoft declaring that their software Paint, was no longer to be "supported"; except what they did, in addition, was to effectively destroy every single image previously created by inserting damage to all those images. In my opinion, that was a crime, a criminal action against humanity; that was effectively saying that we are removing access unless you pay us, every month, for access to your work . . . for ever! That decision made Microsoft totally uncivilised!
It was these problems that drove the creation of free software, where dedicated groups of individuals set out to allow humanity to retain access to their work.
No one can work forever for free; sooner or later, a normal business model has to be implemented to allow the people doing the work to be able to enjoy a normal life, earn their keep, pay their bills, create a home, marry and bring up their children. That is a normal life for the vast majority.
So there is only one proviso; they must NEVER try and prevent access to documents; always remain dedicated to the concept of a civilisation who retains knowledge for the benefit of future generations.
On the whole I agree. However as afar as I can seen MS deprecated Paint but had to back-pedal and the only damage was to drop support for the original .pcx format a long time after support for standards was included. Their real offence in my eyes was to keep releasing S/W which, by default, saved in non-backwards compatible format, effectively forcing expensive upgrades.
Gimp, of course, continues to support .pcx - at least it tells me it would open one if I had one to open.
LO is the only serious contender to M$ Office, but it certainly has its warts. Have not been a fan of MicroSloth since they killed WordPerfect for DOS. As an individual, I donate a couple of beers worth of $ to LO every month just because. It's not the same as a subscription ala Office365, because I'm opting to do it, not being required to.
Could LO be improved? Absolutely. Mail merges are a pain. Styles are awful. The macro IDE is worse.
What could make it better? Just one area would be attracting corporate use that pays an arm and a leg to have Excel on a server. Though they'd love to get you into their Adobe-style subscription model, there are still scads of one-time purchase QuickBooks desktop installations, and none of them can open a report directly into LO as you can with Excel; you have to go with CSV.
Yes, you'd still have to purchase something from TDF to make that work (and yes, they'd have to trick Intuit into "thinking" Excel was installed, but that would be a hack worth writing).
Still, the cost would be much lower than going with M$ and their "It's on a server. Prepare to be squeezed" mentality. I feel many, many companies large and small would jump on this.
It's not the coding, it's the *way* you have to code. (Apple's script editor sucks, too.)
What they *should* do is wrest Thunderbird away from Mozilla, make some adjustments to the GUI, and give M$ a seriously good run for their money. Right now they're kind of like the proverbial red headed step-child', *almost* good enough to take seriously.
Oh, and modernize that IDE!
If MS Office didn’t exist or was much less popular, the compatibility problem with LO wouldn’t be quite so much of an issue. It’s quite tiring having to maintain compatibility with software that has its own proprietary ‘standards’ simply because it’s still the default software used by most companies. The problem with Office, it has to keep evolving (even if it doesn’t need to) to justify people paying for it so LO will always need to keep up compatibility with Office files. It would be nice if one day open source software could be freed from this particular handicap.
"What they *should* do is wrest Thunderbird away from Mozilla, make some adjustments to the GUI, and give M$ a seriously good run for their money."
Or SeaMonkey. The SeaMonkey GUI is compatible in appearance with the default LO GUI - although I suppose they'd need both for the ribbon fans. The ironic thing here is that OO and, I think, LO, were said to have originally included a lot of the email client so it could access the address database. Instead of writing their own code for that they could simply have exposed the UI and made it an all-in-one. Add in Lightbird for completeness.
People talk about "cloud" like it is something that is going to be for ever rather than just a fad. Well these things go around and come around; remember when we all used to call cloud computing terminal services.
Don't get me wrong, from the pov of the provider there is nothing better and easier to manage than terminal services, as someone who develops applications in ncurses I can say this from a first hand perspective as many of the headaches around security are vastly reduced. But I do think that when it comes to everyday applications like office suites, one day the worm will turn and these subscriptions models from MS, Adobe, et. al. will be overtaken by applications that run exclusively on the users own hardware. And I think that ultimately the change will be driven by excessive data slurping.
OK, deliberately contentious subject line.
I paid (a perfectly reasonable price) for and downloaded Collabora Office from the Mac app store, because that seemed to be the easiest way to actually give money to Libre Office developers, as Collabora are a significant part of the development team.
The problem is: Collabora don't seem to have updated Collabora Office since then, over a year ago. They can't complain about lack of income but then not provide updates, even minor ones, when people do pay.
It looks as though, if I want to continue to receive updates, I should just download "pure" LibreOffice instead. I would make a donation, but if it's true that TDF is not or is unable to use donations to pay for actual software development, that's very concerning.
The tension stems from the use (or abuse) of the open-source model. From the beginning, GPL ensures that code created under the model remain freely available and that those who use open-source code in subsequent project continue to make the source available. When a community of individuals contributes to create an offering that is for the benefit of all, including those that just want to use it, they are rightly offended when someone wants to profit from their efforts. It is a slap in the face to those talented people that gave of their time, talent and energy to create a quality product to have someone say "thanks for your hard work -- now I'm going to make money off it". It is the sleezebag approach to profits. The hijacking of an open-source project. Even in the hair-brained marketing world that now wants to pervert the About dialog to make sure people know they are using a "Personal Edition" is an insult to the developers. The fact that companies like SuSE, RedHat, et. al. provide developers to Libre, doesn't change the open-source nature of the product. The distributions directly benefit from including LibreOffice in their own offering and influence some of the features. Open-source does mean free as in free beer and a product is stained by an About dialog that insinuates the freely available version is something less than optimal or the complete package.
Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020