Is it time to unplug frail OpenOffice's life support? Apache Project asked to mull it over

Software hit by dev drought: Patch it or lose it

The Apache OpenOffice project has limited capacity for sustaining itself in an energetic manner. The retirement of the project is a serious possibility.

Those are the words of Dennis Hamilton, the volunteer vice-president of OpenOffice who advises the Apache Software Foundation board. Yesterday, he publicly floated the idea of possibly shutting down the software suite because there just aren't enough developers working on the code, and security bugs aren't being dealt with.

In his openoffice-dev mailing list post, Hamilton wrote:

I have regularly observed that the Apache OpenOffice project has limited capacity for sustaining the project in an energetic manner. It is also my considered opinion that there is no ready supply of developers who have the capacity, capability, and will to supplement the roughly half-dozen volunteers holding the project together. It doesn't matter what the reasons for that might be.

In the case of Apache OpenOffice, needing to disclose security vulnerabilities for which there is no mitigation in an update has become a serious issue ... It is remiss of me not to point out that retirement of the project is a serious possibility.

There are those who fear that discussing retirement can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. My concern is that the project could end with a bang or a whimper. My interest is in seeing any retirement happen gracefully. That means we need to consider it as a contingency. For contingency plans, no time is a good time, but earlier is always better than later.

On the topic of OpenOffice security bugs, Hamilton shed some light on the handling of CVE-2016-1513, a vulnerability that can be exploited by a malicious presentation document to execute code on a machine when opened. It was reported in October, around the release of OpenOffice 4.1.2. A fix was developed in March although there was no rush to patch the public source code because there was a fear internally that miscreants would spot the commit and realize it was exploitable. Instead, the OpenOffice team held onto the fix to sneak it into an official point release.

The person who found and reported the hole grew impatient, and said they would have no choice but to go public to protect users. In July, the OpenOffice team announced there was an exploitable bug, there was no stable patch ready to roll, and the workaround was: use another office suite.

The vulnerability will be addressed either in version 4.1.3, a maintenance release, or the 4.2.0 feature release both due later this year. If you can't wait, there's a hotfix to apply manually.

Things like this have got Hamilton worried that the open-source suite will crumble rather than gracefully close down. One way out is to put the software into archive mode: no further commits will be accepted, code will remain online for people to fork, and no further releases will be made.

This is all at the discussion stage at the moment: the Apache foundation board has not yet taken any decision on the fate of OpenOffice.

While OpenOffice suffers from a slow release cycle, has been described as "all but dead" by a Red Hat engineering manager, and has been thoroughly overtaken by the lively LibreOffice fork, programmers working on the code were quick to defend the project from the cyber grim reaper.

"Wow, just wow," chimed in source contributor Phillip Rhodes.

"I have to say, I think even broaching this topic is a mistake. 'Self-fulfilling prophecy'? Not even that, it'll be a 'third party fulfilling prophecy' as soon as this hits the press. There are a lot of people out there who seem to have it in for Apache OpenOffice and have for a while.

"Now you know there will be a headline appearing in the next week, reading 'Apache OpenOffice Mulls Retirement' or 'Apache OpenOffice Begins To Wind Down', etc. Yeah, it's crappy journalism, but it's almost 100 per cent certain to happen. And that's just going to dampen enthusiasm even more.

"I wish I could say I had a magic bullet of an answer for how to get things moving again, but I don't. But I don't think opening a discussion about retirement and giving OpenOffice's enemies more ammunition is a strong tactical move." ®

Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021