LibreOffice Rethinks the Office Suite: Page 2

Posted November 16, 2010
By

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield


(Page 2 of 2)

  • A reduction of the dependency on Java: Since Sun owned Java's code, the corporation encouraged its use in OpenOffice.org. Java is not required for basic functionality in OpenOffice.org, but some templates, wizards, and extensions do require it. Now, with Oracle suing Google over Java copyrights and patents, avoiding Java is a sensible decision, especially for a group like TDF that has probably drawn Oracle's ire already. Java has become a potential liability to LibreOffice, just as it was in some observers' estimation before Sun released its source code.
  • Better first draft functions for Writer: This change is mentioned only in the German news release, and no more details are given. However, it may refer to improved outlining tools, which have often been requested.
  • Improved "Layout fidelity" in Writer and "slideshow fidelity" in Impress: These features are mentioned only in the English release. Vignoli explains, "Many people use Writer and Impress with sophisticated layouts, which sometimes create problems when printing or displaying, especially when there are multiple fonts with different metrics.... In addition, documents are moved between platforms (Windows to Mac to Linux, and vice versa) and this increase fidelity problems." If the gap between on-screen display and output, or between layouts on different versions of the software are too great, then users have to print regularly to check their results. Similarly, if different software versions fail to give the same results, users have to spend extra time tweaking their documents. At times, they may have to limit layouts to design elements that can cross platforms without creating problems.
  • Improved format conversion: Asked if this referred specifically to compatibility with Microsoft Office and its newer OOXML format, Vignoli replies, "Definitely. Users are discovering interoperability, and the future should be one where we all use our preferred format (although at TDF we all prefer the same one" -- that is, Open Document Format). The difficulty with this goal is that given the constant changes in Microsoft formats, efforts at compatibility have historically always been at least one step behind what users need. However, simply by including the support for OOXML in Go-OO, TDF could improve conversion for many users.
  • Missing and Unmentioned, and the Future

    One omission that might surprise some observers is the lack of any mention of Mono support and features. Given that TDF's supporters include Novell, the foremost Mono development, and that Mono featured in Go-OO, which many TDF supporters worked upon, many assumed that Mono would also be a presence in LibreOffice. Yet, so far, it has not been mentioned.

    Another point that gets little attention is major changes to the interface. Charles Schultz does mention the need, but not, apparently, as a declared goal. However, not only could the interface do with some rationalization, but LibreOffice also has to decide if it will include any support for a ribbon interface like the one in the current releases of Microsoft Office.

    Still, as vague and as ambitious as some of the proposed changes sound, at least they are a start. No doubt, with TDF still deciding on its governance as well as its development plans, expecting more so early in the organization's existence is unrealistic. Still, the directions mentioned do suggest that TDF's members have a reasonably solid sense of priorities.

    Another uncertainty is how quickly these changes will be implemented, and which take priority. Although LibreOffice has shown a flurry of activity in its first six weeks, it is still be written mainly by 20 coders, and the proposed changes are likely more than they could easily handle in the next few months. In fact, in announcing these directions, TDF might run the risk of promising more than it can deliver.

    All the same, if these goals are only partly realized, then LibreOffice's compatibility with OpenOffice.org may diminish as early as the next release. Files could still be shared between the two office suites, but some features in one might become unavailable in the other -- unless, of course, OpenOffice.org borrows LibreOffice's code for itself. That would be a humiliating exercise for Oracle, but it might well become a necessary one.

    Meanwhile, despite some vagueness, TDF sounds like it has more direction than Oracle. If nothing else, it sounds more willing to make a fresh start and to question long-established conventions.


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    Tags: open source, enterprise software, Linux desktop, OpenOffice.org, office suites


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