Ideas around TDF's future

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board that the “next decade manifesto” needs to be updated as that decade is over and it shows in the manifesto being out-of-date.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,


Sorry, but can’t parse your sentence. Can’t find the ‘blessing’:

To me, both sound like a bane.
Only a lapse? Or what do I not understand here?

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

Then you are either willfully creating false equivalence or suffering from the perception of that, because in the real world no text has meaning without interpretation – your only choice is between having one or multiple ones. If that were not the case, we would have an algorithm (or unaffiliated lawyers) in control of the foundations resources instead of elected human individuals.



Hello everyone,

My name is John Mills and I am a new member of The Document Foundation as of last month, I am immensely proud to join this group that I feel is so beneficial to many millions of people world wide. I happened upon this discussion and wanted to provide my perspective that I feel many others may share.

Firstly I want to say that I have used LibreOffice from the first version and before that Go Open Office as it had all of the new cool stuff! So I do have some experience of the software. I became interested in Open Office many years ago as I was quite a poor student and could not afford the ridiculous costs of Microsoft Office, I had two real choices, either I find an alternative or I just illegally installed Microsoft Office. I needed good comparability with Microsoft Word as I was expected to hand in my assignments in this format.

At the time I was not well versed in the culture and nuances of what it meant to be a part of a community and only wanted Open Office because it was a suitable replacement that was free (gratis) and I feel that many other students were like me. I still do. I whole heartedly believe that people are looking for products that fill a requirement and that notions of community engagement are so far out of many users thoughts as to be almost non existent, that is of course no reason to explain the benefits of FLOSS software and the community around these products.

This is why it is crucial that TDF does not charge for binary downloads, it is my opinion that this obsticle would just move users to products like Only Office or much worse WPS, Kingsoft and other proprietary software.

I would say this move would also be financially counter productive as you would not recieve the donations that some users graciously make. I was discussing yesterday on the Design Telegram channel how critical digital liberty is. I’ll copy this below.

*"This is the important part for me in the preamble.

"This software (I assume this means LibreOffice) will be openly available for free use by anyone for their own files, including companies and public authorities, ensuring full participation in a digital society and without detriment to intellectual property.

If you are forced out of the digital society your life is materially more difficult. This is why we must encourage adoption of floss solutions."*

By charging for binaries you would be making the lives of those least able to afford other solutions move from FLOSS to proprietary solutions or simply pirate the software that does not respect their digital freedoms. Like I mentioned before most people have no idea of this they just want a free product, however those who understand that it is a noble cause to help these people realise that are doing our small part to empower them and spread the values TDF stands for. I know that is a good thing.

LibreOffice is a fantastic product and great community of people, I think along with the likes of Mozilla Firefox this software is probably the most important desktop software available. Perhaps it is a diminishing market but it is immensely important for student, small businesses and government institutions and the use of ODF as a format spreads document interoperability far and wide.

So I would just ask those that advocate for making binary downloads non free to just think of the larger picture and the potential harm a move like this could cause if a first rate product like LibreOffice becomes a paid for product.

Many thanks all and I look forward to communicating with you again in the future.

Kind regards,



Hi John,

I dont think anyone advocates for that here.

LibreOffice is a project, not a product – public perception notwithstanding.

Best Regards,


Hi Sweetshark (Bjoern),

I always think of LibreOffice as a product and a community, is this the wrong association to have?

I download the LibreOffice software (product), I can not download the LibreOffice community.

I celebrate the release of version 7.6 product in a few weeks. I can not celebrate version 7.6 of the community.

King regards,


Hello John,

First of all welcome to our community and thank you for participating.


Hi Bjoern,

Again, from Wikipedia:

a product is an object, or system, or service made available for consumer use as of the consumer demand

There are lots of other definitions like this. LibreOffice is a project, yes; but the end result (and what we offer) is a binary installer for end-user software that consumers use. It is by Wikipedia’s and many other definitions a project, with a resulting product.

You see it differently, but almost every definition out there would classify the end-user software that consumers download and install a product. Therefore, LibreOffice is both a project, and a product.

On this topic:

TDF does not universally provide binaries, just a selection

TDF provides binaries for Windows, macOS and Linux, which together make up the vast majority of desktop operating system users. Indeed, looking at the stats, the next biggest desktop OS is FreeBSD, which (while awesome) is tiny. So with TDF providing binaries for 95%+ of desktop operating systems (or even more, depending on the stats source), that’s pretty close to universal, and far more than “just a selection”.

I dont think anyone advocates for that here.

Why do you think it’s important to state that “zur freien Nutzung” doesn’t necessarily mean “zero cost”?