Budget request for a P2P LibreOffice Project

During the Board election period I posted a proposal for making progress on adding collaboration capabilities to LibreOffice that serve individual users rather than only those in a position to engage in cloud hosting. I said I would propose executing this vision if I was elected.

Given the positive responses from community contributors (e.g. from Michael and Regis) I believe the best first step is to assign or hire a staff member to create a plan for TDF’s involvement by consulting potential contributors and the ESC, identifying a preferred direction and creating a project proposal for consideration by the Board. Ideally the plan would be ready in time for review by the community gathered for the LibreOffice Conference in October.

I therefore propose adding to the budget an allowance of €50k (or similar) to cover the salary and project costs for an additional staff member (or cover for an existing staff member) for between 50% and 75% of full-time for 12 months as a Product Manager for Peer-to-Peer LibreOffice Capability.

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Irrespective of the budget specifics, I believe P2P capabilities for LibreOffice would be a wonderful feature addition, both practically and symbolically:

  • Undermines the paradigm Microsoft, Google and others are pushing, of your work as a user going through them, visible and data-mine-able to them, requiring connectivity to their servers…
  • Offers potential for more easily switching between simple on-your-computer document and collaboratively-edited documented: Instead of uploading, inviting, controlling access, etc - it would be just clicking a “connect and edit with” button, entering an address, and when that session is over - not needing to do anyhing but click a button or close LibreOffice, and none is the wiser.
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Hi Simon

Irrespective of the technical merits, innovation acumen and cost of the feature, the proposed budget is below a realistic budget for the feature. It should be raised to >80K.

If I may, the feature risks the same fate of

  • The TSCP classification + paragraph signing

  • The hybrid PDF

  • OpenCL

  • Time Stamp

  • The screenshooting feature

  • many others niceties we have in LibreOffice.

In other words, features no end user knows about and will likely never use by complete ignorance and lack of understanding. At best, restricted to the 1% heavy office suite users.

The extra 30K is my estimation of the cost to proper advertise the feature, produce usage videos, media advertisement, how-tos and go-to-market actions.

Not to mention the yearly maintenance of the feature, so many features in the graveyard.

Yet, extra 30K seems dim for the Office Suite market.

My 2 cents.

Cheers
Olivier

PS. IIRC there was a similar project by TDF a decade ago using XMPP protocol, which I never saw working. Is that a continuation?

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Clearly a Project Manager isn’t going to implement much if anything of this rather substantial feature - however getting an agreed direction, and a design that can be worked on by the ecosystem and community, who can collectively make an impact on this problem with whatever additional funding that TDF can apply is something that is achievable.

I would expect the overall cost to be Eur 500k - Eur 1m to get a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) - but I would imagine that (once again) the ecosystem and others outside TDF will carry much of that cost. And you’re quite right to highlight the need for marketing, documentation etc. :slight_smile:

Naturally - Collabora would be interested in contributing to that process, and yes - I was involved in implementing the XMPP prototype through which we learned a lot about how not to do this :slight_smile: as you see, there is a huge gap between a demo and something reasonably complete and usable. You might want to also read at least my thoughts on how better to do this.

Thanks,

Michael.

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"the overall cost to be Eur 500k "

It will cost more to the project if we don’t do it.

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I agree, Eyal. More than that it also offers a focal point for us to grow collaborative capabilities in the future. For example, the European Commission is forcing vendors like Google and Microsoft to interoperate with their peers through the Digital Markets Act. Having a collaborative capability in LibreOffice - especially one that allows interoperability with systems like Collabora Online - would give us a new “attachment point” for interoperable collaboration that is user-first rather than vendor-first.

I’ve no objection to a higher budget request, although I do not anticipate this budget leading to an actual feature that can be marketed yet; as others have said the overall cost of the feature will be more like €750k spread across all the contributors who join in.

I do think it’s important for TDF to take a product management role though; this is not the vision of any vendor (it’s at best orthogonal) so we can’t rely on someone else to design and lead. Hence this request is for the initial step in product management, and if successful will lead to further requests in subsequent budgets.

Hi all,

I support this idea and have so from the start!

However I think for TDF, the discussion here is starting somewhat into an odd direction: For TDF this would primarily be a research project to further science and research, particularly in the field of computer science. As such, a discussion of it as a commercial product or its commercial viability is a bit off in my humble opinion: showing something is really new and possible here with a proof of concept is what – at least TDF – will need to focus on in this phase.

Maybe later, other considerations will come into play for TDF once the basic research is completed, like sustainability and with that ensuring a continuous civic engagement for non-profit purposes by having steady contributions from both volunteers and ecosystem contributors. At that point, some viability as a product feature might help indirectly.

So at this early stage, “viability as a product feature” might of course be a topic of interest for everyone being involved with LibreOffice, but it is not yet that relevant for TDF itself and its funding here IMHO.

Best Regards,

Bjoern

(note: if something is bold and italic here, its a reference to the statutes in some way)

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Hello,

I fully support the idea of collaborative editing in a browser, mobile device and in the desktop version of LibreOffice. Many users and donors want to work together on documents in real time. TDF can and should contribute to it, as it did in the past, financially as well as in marketing and staff time. With this being a joint effort between TDF, current and new partners, our commitment will result in LibreOffice features that would be preserved for and made available to the community also by TDF and at the same time it can be used by ecosystem companies to architect their enterprise solutions around that.

But I have a different opinion on one thing: For 23 years (since OpenOffice.org times) we worked with the idea to have an alternative product to MS Office, being used freely and free of charge on personal and business/government computers. Contributors are happy if what they do can be used by millions of users. Donors give money to us to make the office suite better, because they love it.

I am sure our developers, localizers, testers, documenters, designers and marketers will be happy to contribute to such a project that reaches already over 200 million users and continues to grow!

Therefore I fear that “viability as a product feature”(…) “not yet that relevant for TDF” is not what I think of and it is jeopardizing 13 years of broad acceptance of LibreOffice in all domains and public - including the whole FOSS industry - and nurtures the idea that the Foundation, and FOSS at large, are a mere sandbox.

It also contradicts the Next Decade Manifesto that TDF was built on (“WE COMMIT OURSELVES: to eliminate the digital divide in society by giving everyone access to office productivity tools free of charge, to enable them to participate as full citizens in the 21st century”).

Let us invest in this project and let us make it something that our end-users and donors can use and the community will be excited about! This will be a benefit for TDF and for the ecosystem that can build on it.

Best,

Eliane Domingos

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Definitelty aagree @elianedomingos. It is necessary that LibreOffice get these features ASAP, for it is not good that this great and wonderful product lag behind in features and usability.
The Next Decade Mainfesto is something that resonates with me and I want to see that commitment fulfilled.

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I completely agree @elianedomingos

Hi @elianedomingos ,

There seems to be a misunderstanding here: Of course, the broader LibreOffice project has such goals. However, TDF as a German NGO has to stick to what is “gemeinnuetzig” and as such is not always suitable vehicle for everything that is people and entities working on LibreOffice will want from it – there are limits. Creating a commercial product is by itself not “gemeinnuetzig” and especially not fitting the three explicit such goals set in the TDF statutes:

  • Public and professional education
  • Science and research, particularly in the field of computer science
  • Civic engagement for non-profit purposes

So anything TDF funds must very much be done to promote and further one of those goals. Anything not doing so should better find other funding. Note this not an opinion, but very much based in tax law (in which manifestos play no role).

So, if TDF is thinking about funding this, the goals of the project need to be aligned accordingly.

Best Regards,

Bjoern

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Hi @Sweetshark,

I believe there is a misunderstanding as nobody has previously mentioned the term “commercial” in front of “product”.

LibreOffice is a “product” in the sense that it is produced thanks to the contributions coming to many sources and it is then made available as a “user-centered free/libre open source software” so that it can be enjoyed by anyone, being it for personal use or for use in business, schools or public sector organisations as prescribed by our statutes and German laws.

TDF does not provide any support services or guarantees that users could purchase from commercial entities.

However, TDF can invest in developers and perform other activities to fund and further its mission and goals as confirmed by professional analysis started in 2020.

Ciao

Paolo

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And do you believe that a funding commitment for a single year is sufficient? Especially if the position is that of someone who’s coordinating multiple involved parties, and that the overall cost/effort is much larger than what the TDF will directly invest?

We certainly need to build a proof of concept to validate the architecture, UI design, third-party libraries, performance, the security model, accessibility…

Best,

Hey Bjoern, curious where you’ve read that German non-profits are not allowed to engage in economic activity such as product development?

Hi @SolarDesalination ,

That is not what I wrote. My understanding is that “economic activity such as product development” isnt written in the goals of TDF, while:

  • Public and professional education
  • Science and research, particularly in the field of computer science
  • Civic engagement for non-profit purposes

are and thus a discussion with the community should IMHO best start from one of those to prevent disappointments.

Which is great, because as what Simon suggests to my knowledge is technologically unique and hasnt been done before, it likely qualifies.

Note that I am not a lawyer, so I cant give legal advise (aka IANAL) nor would be a good source for details. I am happy that TDF does and did employ legal services for those.

Best,

Bjoern

Hi all,

In the statutes § 2 II sentence 2 first bullet point is written:
‘Bereitstellung und öffentliche Zugänglichmachung von Software’ (Provision of and public access to the software)

I didn’t find any additional word like ‘commercial’ in that sentence.

Regards,
Andreas

I was pleased to see consensus break out here - at least before we got somewhat derailed and started discussing some legal topic in public that (AFAICS) is best left to a board discussion with counsel on how best to conform what the board want to achieve to the statutes and legal requirements. Lots of public arm-chair legal discussion is/was thought to give the worst possible outcome here. Furthermore - since it seems to have only tangential bearing on the proposal at hand it is perhaps at best off-topic.

Let me try to summarize where we’re at; I use quotes for direct quotes, otherwise it’s my summary, and square brackets for context:

Simon:

“I believe the best first step is to assign or hire a staff member to create a plan for TDF’s” [peer to peer collaboration]

Eyal:

“I believe P2P capabilities for LibreOffice would be a wonderful feature addition”

Olivier

[Budget] “should be raised to >80K.” and cover more

Bjoern:

“I support this idea and have so from the start!”

Eliane:

“I fully support the idea of collaborative editing in a browser, mobile device and in the desktop version of LibreOffice” … “Let us invest in this project and let us make it something that our end-users and donors can use and the community will be excited about! This will be a benefit for TDF and for the ecosystem that can build on it.” - with a couple of +1s from tomotheonb and diegopresemarques

Then we de-railed =)

For my part I would expect this feature to ship in LibreOffice and be widely used - at least that’s my intention. The separate technical argument about framing the investment and conforming it to our regulatory environment belongs with the board and/or legal experts in this field. Furthermore - my recollection is that a lot of things are possible here that were thought not possible before, and even furthermore - I would expect that much of the work will not be funded by TDF anyway (though it would be good if they contributed more of course).

Lets not defeat ourselves (again) when we happen to agree on a topic by getting buried in some semantic argument - lets try to focus on the art of the possible and moving forward together.