Ideas around TDF's future

Adding some posts here from Asking your input!.

Hi Bjoern,

In your blog post, “Quo vadis with the Document Foundation”, you write (regarding the statues of The Document Foundation):

the translation to free of charge is misleading. The German original says “zur freien Nutzung” which does not have to specifically mean “free as in beer”. It can also mean “free as in freedom” – especially in this context.

Do you foresee a TDF in future that doesn’t provide free (as in zero-cost) binary downloads of LibreOffice for end-users?

If so, what would be the objective of such a large change, after over a decade of doing this?


Hi Mike,

(answering this here as it is a direct question, dear Moderators, please move if this is considered off-topic here)

I think its better turn that question around: If TDF isnt required to provide binaries free of charge why did it do that anyway and will those reasons still apply in the future?

So up front: TDF does not universally provide binaries and never did – e.g. for s390x (but RedHat does), or for ARM (but Canonical does), or MIPS (but Debian does), or NetBSD (but NetBSD does). So neither is the foundation required to do so, nor would it have done so, if that were the case.

So why does TDF do this? The preamble of the statutes say:

The foundation promotes a sustainable, independent and meritocratic community for the international development of free and open source software based on open standards.

With “promotes” also meaning “advances” or “provides for” due to translation ambiguity. And this is were the motivation for binary downloads can be found: Both existing and future contributors are motivated and benefit from their contributions made available to a wider audience.

If I contribute a patch to LibreOffice, I am happy it becomes available to Windows users too without me needing to create a custom build. Beyond individuals, the same applies for contributions of entities. This btw. is the reason why a lot of GPL’ed software provides easy binary downloads at least for common platforms without the license requiring that. Because that is valuable to contributors and might grow them in both quantity and quality. Which fits right with the quote above (and is also the reason e.g. Debian, NetBSD … provide their binaries).

So, as noted above, TDF does not universally provide binaries, just a selection and that selection might change (and did in fact change in the past) – so this is nothing big, new and scary.

As long as binary downloads for desktop installation is relevant for current and potential contributors, I dont see that to change. Note however, that beyond that, this has implications too for other ways of making the work of contributors available to a wide audience (e.g. SaaS, “Cloud office”) or the focus of new development(*).

Best Regards,


(*) Because in the cases of SaaS and new development, the question “will this enable more contribution” might be more tricky – and also might have different answers.

The whole Preamble reads (only legally binding version is the German text):


Ziel der Stiftung ist die Förderung und Entwicklung von Office-Software zur freien Nutzung durch jedermann. Die Stiftung fördert eine nachhaltige, unabhängige und meritokratische Community zur internationalen Entwicklung Freier und Open-Source-Software auf der Basis offener Standards.

Speziell erfolgt die Förderung und Verbreitung eines Repertoires digitaler Produktivitäts- und Kreativitätswerkzeuge (Office-Paket, also Software für gebräuchliche Arbeiten zur Erstellung z.B. von Texten, Tabellendokumenten, Präsentationen, Zeichnungen, Bildern und Diagrammen). Diese Software wird jedermann, einschließlich Unternehmen und Behörden, zur Sicherung der vollständigen Teilhabe an einer digitalen Gesellschaft offen und ohne Beeinträchtigung des geistigen Eigentums an eigenen Dateien zur freien Nutzung zur Verfügung gestellt.

I hope this is helpful.
Feel free to translate at you convenience. But please note that any whatsoever translation is not binding.

I would assume, and suggest, that we first and foremost adhere to our written statutes and the law as the status quo. That would already be very sufficient.

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I would assume, and suggest, that we first and foremost adhere to our written statutes and the law as the status quo. That would already be very sufficient.

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Thanks. I was there when it was written. What part of the whole preamble do you feel would be missing or misrepresented when focussing on the core sentence:


Best, Bjoern

Thank you and all for their effort to get the statutes at that time sucessfully written up.

From my point of view just pointless to single out one or another sentence and qualify it as “core sentence”. The statutes (including the preamble) as a whole is core of the The Document Foundation and worth to be carefully followed.

Instead some seem pretending there is a wide space for ‘nuances’, ‘interpretations’, ‘special circumstances’, etc. in order to twist and circumvent unpleasant rules they may not like (anymore).

HI @S.t.e.p.h ,

the “interpretation” of the statues are both a blessing and a bane. A blessing, because because the objectives set are so broad that a community not aligning on one – at least broad – interpretation will be ineffective and without focus. A bane, because having different interpretations between members will not only be ineffective and without focus, but also cause friction and frustration between members of the community.

The “nachhaltige, unabhängige und meritokratische Community” of contributors (which should be roughly the same as the trustees) thus needs to consolidate their interpretations of the statutes, so that members of the board can have concrete guidance on how to spend funds and members of the staff can have guidance on how to spend worktime.

The board of directors, as the selected subset of the trustees representing the will of the trustees, is the place to consolidate that one interpretation. For focus and alignment, a narrow interpretation would be best as it would give the best guidance. Given the irritation all around however, even one broad interpretation would be a great start.

When I handed over the board in 2020, I told the then incoming board that the “next decade manifesto” needs to be updated as that decade is over and it shows in the manifesto being out-of-date. This has not happened yet. I hope it still will and I hope it will be concrete enough to derive proper guidance for individual members of board and staff in this decade.

Best Regards,


As the author of the statutes (see the bottom of together with Mike Schinagl, our legal counsel, I commented on this repeatedly already. The intention is clearly free of charge, which in the meantime has been also confirmed in legal statements done by independent, external lawyers. Just because obviously the opinion of those who actually wrote the statutes and signed the incorporation papers didn’t matter…

I’d like to also add some practical consideration here:

As mentioned before, a vast majority of donations comes from downloads. End-users donate, and these end-users use a product. That’s why they donate. We saw the correlation between downloads (of a binary program, not of source coude) clearly in the past already.

Also, the tenders we run sound like feature implementation and bugfixing. Isn’t that for a product?

There are even budget items (see [DISCUSS] 2023 budget - #2 by floeff) that talk about “Aggressive Competitors” and features to implement.

Also many contributors, e.g. localizers or those doing documentation, contribute to a product. They localize a product, and they document a product - not source code. It’s actually one of the incentives for people to join the project, to have an impact on software the users use on a daily basis, because their contributions end up in - a product.

Exactly, and it’s true also for QA, where users are the most exposed and their great feedback is what makes our product more robust. Would we have attracted contributors in UX without having a UI too? and what about the Certification Program too? This perpetual interaction between users becoming contributors in all the areas of the project is what is nurturing and evolving our community.

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Hi @floeff,

Indeed it doesnt, as the reader of the statutes cannot guess intentions beyond what is written and to be derived from the context. And if “free of charge” (“kostenfrei”) would have been written into the statutes, I would have objected back then – as I am sure many other founders would have.

I hope not, because paying for a product is not a donation, but a sale. Donations are towards helping the people contributing – that is: donations go towards a community of contributors – a project.

Only indirectly and as a means of last resort. Those tenders should reflect the will of the contributors for efforts they want to happen in the project and for which they do not find volunteers among themselves. Its important though that it is the contributors (the project), not some non-contributing users (“a product”) making that call(*).

No, they contribute to a project, not a product. Products are nothing you can contribute to. That is the core difference: projects have contributors, products have users.

And the contributions of volunteers are driven by their own priorities, not by those of non-contributing users as it would be if we would be having a product. That LibreOffice exists as a product usable by non-contributors beyond being a project fulfilling the needs and desires of its contributors is mostly an side effect (with one notable exception, see below).

Yes, the product is a means of the project. But not more. Its not an end in itself. Its only reason d’etre is promoting contribution to a sustainable, independent and meritocratic community (**).

A product “LibreOffice” is merely a means to fulfill the desires and needs of the contributors to make their work easily accessible to an audience. The desires and needs of (non-contributing) users are only relevant as far as contributors share them.

Best, Bjoern

(*) Also note that anyone justifying decisions purely with the “needs and desires of the users of a product that is free-of-charge” is making inherently non-falsifiable claims. Those are worthless.
(**) that is, you guessed it: the project.

It looks like you have a wrong view of the reason for the majority (99%) of the donations, as from the questions we receive and by talking to users it’s absolutely clear that donations are for the product and not for the project. The absolute majority of LibreOffice users (again, 99%) ignores the fact that behind the product there is a community.
Also, I wouldn’t have contributed to OpenOffice and then to LibreOffice if it wasn’t for the product, and as one of the founders I will STRONGLY oppose any decision about dropping the product. There is a large number of contributors who agree with me and is ready to fight against that decision.


Hi @italovignoli

Even if people are thinking they pay for a product rather than donate to a project, as a NGO TDF should not reinforce that illusion. Because exchanging a product or a service for a price, rather than donating to a community of contributors is something companies do, not NGOs that are tax exempted.

TDF is tax exempted precisely because the users do NOT buy a service by donating and do NOT control the allocation of resources (funds and staff time). That is up to the project – the community of contributors.

(And nobody suggested to “drop” the product, it still needs to serve the project.)

Best, Bjoern

They do not pay for a product, they give for a product. They absolutely don’t care about what we do in the community, they want to see the result of their donation in the product. They do not buy anything, but they encourage TDF to continue to develop the product they use on a daily basis and allow them to do their job correctly.


When we answer to emails, we make it clear that donations are voluntary and as such optional, and they are supposed to help the project, but this doesn’t change the perception of the majority of users (who are “educated” by proprietary software companies and their clones, who have a similar business model and ask for money for any feature beyond the basic set).
By educating users, we have managed to grow the percentage of repeated donations from close to zero to around 50% in term of transactions and 20% in term of amount, which is not bad (but of course can be improved). These people are the ones who support the project and not the product, but they all start with a first donation to support the product and not the project.


Hi @sophi,

so …

exactly – given that wikipedia says a product is:

… an object, or system, or service made available for consumer use as of the consumer demand; it is anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy the desire or need of a customer.

and a project is:

…any undertaking, carried out individually or collaboratively and possibly involving research or design, that is carefully planned to achieve a particular goal.

What do you think matches your description better?

I think we are just violently agreeing: We both think they donate to the project and not to the product (according to wikipedia definitions).

Best Regards, Bjoern

… or to put it another way, the majority of first-time donors donate to the project because they value what they perceive as a product produced by the Foundation. LibreOffice remains a project enabled by the Foundation in the service of its objectives no matter what the perception of the donors might be. Seems like strong mutual agreement here…

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Not so sure about that, reading the feedback from other founders here.

Then we need to tender completely different, focusing less on code, but much more on documentation and mentoring. We would buy knowledge, not code deliverables. And we would not have tenders, approved even by the ESC, that talk about “competitors”. It would be about enabling, not delivering.

Of course, you can even contribute to your washing machine, if you give the vendor feedback about things you like, things that don’t work out, and glitches you find in the documentation. A washing machine is a product, actually a very heavy one. :wink:

You are quoting only parts of the statutes. We e.g. also have “consultation and training of the users”. How would you train a user on a non-product? We talk about end-users and trainings, not about contributors.

The next decade manifesto is actually a very good reference: TDF/Next Decade Manifesto - The Document Foundation Wiki

It explicitly states, emphasis by me: "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 "

Yet another confirmation about the origins and meaning of TDF, and also the manifesto you committed yourself to when you were in the board.


Hi @floeff,

Very sure about that, given the feedback I got from various founders on my blog post.

I agree on the mentoring, less to on documentation. That seems entirely within the means of contributors and something unlikely contributors would want to give away for hire. Also I dont think one should only focus on tendering here: There is TDF funding spend on staff and on tenders – and the tendering part is minor in comparison. Given that, as a whole TDFs investment “on code” is still quite low.

Honestly, Florian, you seem to be very confused here: A product (“anything that can be offered to a market to satisfy the desire or need of a customer”) and “free of charge” are inherently contradicting. Even the only exception – namely the “if something is free then you are the product” model of e.g. social media – is at best a trap.

Ask any martial artist. Or chess player. Or triathlete. Or software developer.

Seriously, try going to the next debian conference and tell them their project isnt enough of a product. I suggest you put on good running shoes before trying that stunt.

… is over. Since three years. So are many assumptions that went into that manifesto.

Best Regards,