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After 16 years, OpenOffice contemplates retirement

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Image used with permission by copyright holder
Looks like OpenOffice might be near the end of the road, according to an email thread started yesterday by the project’s vice president Dennis Hamilton.

The email thread, titled “What would OpenOffice retirement involve?” comes after years of developer attrition. Open source developers have been abandoning OpenOffice in favor of the more popular LibreOffice for a couple years now and it shows. OpenOffice hasn’t been updated since October 2015, and project leaders are getting worried about what that might mean for user security.

Ars Technica reports OpenOffice issued a security advisory earlier this year, detailing a potential vulnerability in OpenOffice which has no apparent fix – besides switching to LibreOffice or Microsoft Office.

“Needing to disclose security vulnerabilities for which there is no mitigation in an update has become a serious issue,” Hamilton wrote.

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Hamilton’s security concerns were followed by a lengthy discussion of what would need to happen for OpenOffice to shut down for good – where to archive the code, and how to box things up before shutting off the lights.

Despite the popularity of LibreOffice, OpenOffice still enjoys considerable support among open source developers, and they’re not happy about all this talk about retirement.

For instance, developers Phillip Rhodes and Roberto Galoppini referred to the email thread as a mistake. They worry that even a discussion of retirement could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, a fear Hamilton echoed in his initial email.

“I cannot prediction [sic] how this will all work out. It is remiss of me not to point out that retirement of the project is a serious possibility,” Hamilton continued.

OpenOffice has suffered ever since the release of the more-frequently updated LibreOffice, which has become the default office suit available in a number of Linux distributions. Originally started as an offshoot of OpenOffice, LibreOffice doesn’t enjoy the name recognition, but by comparison it saw 14 updates in 2015, when OpenOffice only saw one.

Open source projects often live or die by their popularity among independent developers willing to work on the projects, and in that regard it certainly seems like OpenOffice could be on its way out.

Optimistic developers who still support OpenOffice claim that a discussion of retirement isn’t productive, claiming instead that they should be focused on attracting new users and new developers.

Either way, it looks like the OpenOffice team has a tough choice ahead of them.

Jayce Wagner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
A staff writer for the Computing section, Jayce covers a little bit of everything -- hardware, gaming, and occasionally VR.
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