205.1 Forking digital inclusion: The development of LibreOffice and the document foundation

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 9:00 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Sara SCHOONMAKER , Sociology and Anthropology, University of Redlands, Redlands, CA
In this paper, I explore the development of LibreOffice and The Document Foundation (TDF) as a project designed to promote digital inclusion. The project seeks to eradicate the digital divide and promote civic participation by providing free, universal access to LibreOffice as a suite of what project participants call “office productivity tools.” By supporting open document formats and open standards, the project fosters conditions for LibreOffice users to share and control the documents they create. The paper is divided into three sections. First, I analyze the power relationships between the OpenOffice.org community, Sun and Oracle that gave rise to the creation of LibreOffice and TDF in September 2010. I analyze the process of forking OpenOffice as an example of Free Software community participants defending digital inclusion against corporate actions that could have undermined the open nature of the project. Second, I investigate the growth of the project since September 2010, exploring the contributions from independent community volunteers as well as company-sponsored developers. I highlight the importance of language for the process of digital inclusion by probing The Document Foundation's goal of preserving native languages by encouraging community participants to translate, document and support LibreOffice in their native languages. Finally, I assess the strengths and limitations of the strategy of forking for the broader project of developing digital inclusion and the digital commons. I focus on the dynamic relationship between Free Software communities, corporations and markets. Data for the paper include interviews with founders of The Document Foundation and members of its Steering Committee, as well as The Document Foundation Blog and the information technology business press.