When Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) bought Sun Microsystems last winter, the database giant also acquired a whole lot of open-source projects it didn't necessarily want, need, or know how to handle. Now it looks like Oracle is losing its grip on some of them.

This week, several top developers of the OpenOffice.org (commonly referred to as OOo) productivity suite broke away from the Oracle umbrella to start a development foundation of their own. This new version of OOo will be known as LibreOffice, unless and until Oracle formally joins the project and donates the old name back to its development community. The Libre people have asked for this to happen, but many industry observers refuse to hold their breath. We may have to learn to love the LibreOffice moniker, if Oracle's track record in open-source support is any indication of future performance.

For example, the OpenSolaris project has been unceremoniously killed by a lack of Oracle support. Many Java developers are nervous about future support for the software they know and love, as Tibco Software (Nasdaq: TIBX) Vivek Ranadive told me when the deal went down. The open MySQL database always felt like an obvious candidate for the chopping block, and raised the hackles of government regulators everywhere as it directly competes against Oracle's own core offerings.

To put it bluntly, the open source community has little faith in Oracle as a steward of truly open projects.

Even for the programs Oracle does support in the traditional open management structure aren't really open. Instead of happily giving the software away, and then making a killing on support services -- which is how Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) and Citrix Systems (Nasdaq: CTXS) do it -- Oracle (like Sun before it) insists on one free and one rebranded proprietary version of each project. If you're not paying up front, Oracle doesn't feel compensated.

The LibreOffice foundation has the enthusiastic support of Red Hat, Novell (Nasdaq: NOVL), and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) as well as many well-known heavy hitters in the free software community. Oracle is invited back, but not as the boss, and I'm surprised to see IBM (NYSE: IBM) missing from the initial list of official supporters. After all, IBM's Lotus Symphony suite is based on OOo code, by way of the non-free Oracle Open Office product. (Yeah, that's a blatant misnomer.)

As a longtime OOo user myself, I believe that this change will lead to a stronger code base and better end-user experience, and can only hope that MySQL, Java, and other important projects follow suit. Oracle was never comfortable shepherding these "free love" hippies anyway, and everyone involved would be happier to see them all leave the house that Ellison built.

Will they or won't they -- and does Oracle even care? Discuss in the comments below.