LibreOffice, the popular open source document processing suite, has begun charging users who download the software through the Mac App Store a one-time fee of $8.99. First spotted by The Register, it’s an unexpected step for The Document Foundation (TDF) — the organization behind LibreOffice — which since its inception has made all versions of LibreOffice available at no charge.
In a blog post, Italo Vignoli, head of marketing and public relations at LibreOffice, said that the change was reflective of a “new marketing strategy” where TDF will focus on releasing free, community versions of LibreOffice while “ecosystem companies” develop “value-added” releases targeted at enterprise customers. The LibreOffice client on the Mac App Store falls into this latter category because it’s not based on the same source code as the base LibreOffice project, Vignoli says, and was maintained by U.K.-based software consultancy Collabora. (LibreOffice on the Mac App Store doesn’t include Java because external dependencies aren’t allowed on the store.)
The objective is to draw a clearer distinction between LibreOffice clients backed by professional services and community releases that are supported by volunteers, Vignoli added. “We are grateful to Collabora for having supported LibreOffice on Apple’s Mac App Stores for quite a long time,” Vignoli said. “The objective is to fulfill the needs of individual and enterprise users in a better way, although we know that the positive effects of the change will not be visible for some time. Educating enterprises about [free and open source software] is not a trivial task and we have just started our journey in this direction.”
It’s unclear whether Collabora or another developer will take charge of maintaining the version of LibreOffice hosted on the Mac App Store; The Register notes that Collabora previously charged $10 for “LibreOffice Vanilla” with three years of support. When contacted for comment, Collabora productivity general manager Michael Meeks implied that TDF would lead the charge going forward.
“Recently, TDF have got around to distributing LibreOffice themselves on the Mac App Store, and (it is to be hoped) should re-invest the proceeds in developing LibreOffice themselves — although there’s quite a complex picture around that,” he said via email. “In terms of financial arrangements, when we created LibreOffice Vanilla, we decided to donate 10% of our revenue to TDF to ensure that there was no financial loss from missed donations there. We also donated 10% of Collabora Office revenues, and when the Apple app-store reduced its commission rate, we increased that, too.”
In any case, Vignoli was quick to note that LibreOffice will remain free for MacOS — just not through the Mac App Store. Users have to take the extra step of downloading the release from the LibreOffice website, forgoing App Store features such as automatic updates and account management.
The newly implemented charge might still strike some as consumer-hostile. But it costs $100 per year to publish apps on the App Store, with Apple taking a 30% cut of sales, and loads of open source projects have commercial flavors as their licenses don’t prevent developers from creating paid apps. For example, the open source painting programs Paint.NET and Krita are available for free from the projects’ websites but charge for downloads through the Microsoft Store — the proceeds from which go toward development and support.