Alex Hudson

Thoughts on Technology, Product, & Strategy

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a wonderful, welcome, huge step forward for what was OpenOffice.org. People are complaining about the name and stuff, but really, that stuff doesn’t matter: what does matter is that this now unfetters developers to do anything from the firing of drive-by patches to more fundamental work, and get the project going at the speed it deserves.

Lots of people have talked about the direction the project ought to be going in; I fear to some extent many of those people think that OpenOffice.org is a better app than it actually is. I’m a heavy user of it, and there’s a lot of it which is really hard to recommend to people. As an example, I’ve been working on a document that’s some sixty pages long over the past week: every time it saves, it takes an absolute age, and the entire suite – including spreadsheets or any other part of it you have open – just locks up entirely while that happens. And because it auto-saves every now and then (a necessity, sadly, because it’s not rock-solid) it means every ten minutes there’s virtually a minute of down-time while it saves the various files. And yes, this was an OpenDocument file – which should be the best performing backend (though I haven’t checked if this is actually true!).

However, with all the faults the suite has, it is still extremely valuable, and root-and-branch fundamental change to the codebase is exactly what it doesn’t need right now. I can’t see a Firefox-alike style project doing much other than throwing away what makes it so worthwhile: of course, everyone could name features that could be junked (“Who uses StarBasic?!”), but for every person who thinks a given feature is basically worthless there are likely to be at least two people for whom it’s crucial.

For what it’s worth, I think these points are the most important, though:

  1. OOXML support. Yes, OpenDocument is the native format, and should get the most love. But the output from Microsoft Office should come a close second. Let’s not kid ourselves: interop with Office is the key reason people can use LibreOffice at all. This feature is absolutely, 100% crucial for large numbers of users.
    Support is already in there, of course, but it needs to be better. There’s no technical reason LibreOffice can’t support these files as well as Office.
  2. User interface. It’s not as bad as people make out, for the most part, but some bits of it are clearly stinky sewers. Setting custom colours being the obvious pain-point which hits me every time. There are key bits which need significant work.

Other stuff, like resource usage, speed, etc. will come naturally with time one hopes, and in most ways the suite is basically usable now. New features are also definitely required – online collaboration being something which comes immediately to mind – but with an easier route into the codebase which doesn’t require libraries of specifications to be filed before work begins, it’s much more likely that people will commit to starting such features. OpenOffice.org 3.3 is a pretty lame release feature-wise – for most users, they won’t identify anything new beyond the “fast find” feature (which on its own is hardly rocket science) – and in a sense, it really doesn’t matter what features LibreOffice starts to deliver. It just needs to deliver new features consistently.

This has, of course, highlighted Oracle’s up-to-now lack of participation in the community. Presumably the web-based Oracle Office will be a tremendously exciting product, but it’s a totally different track. This also puts IBM at something of a cross-roads: OpenOffice.org itself appears to be on life-support (and potentially dead, depending on what Oracle decide to do). It’s conceivable that they could ship a version of Symphony on top of LibreOffice, although one would suspect it would be harder than what they do now. I hope they take the plunge and donate large parts of Symphony to LibreOffice – though I find it difficult to believe that they might.

In the same way that big business like Oracle and IBM ought to step up to the place, I think it’s also incumbent on pretty much everyone using LibreOffice to contribute. Maybe that contribution could be in the way of templates, graphics, documentation improvements and other non-code stuff. Hopefully, more excitingly, it will be a lot more straightforward to download LibreOffice, compile the bits you’re interested in and make code changes that can be sent upstream. I suspect for most people this will, initially, be little more than correcting obvious faults and one-liners, but it’s certainly something I’m going to have a bash at again and hopefully the success of the project will encourage many other people to do that too.

Previous

Beyond dogfood

Next

Philip Green report on Govt spending; UK Free Software

9 Comments

  1. I actually love the name LibreOffice. It’s way less awkward than OpenOffice.org IMHO!

  2. Xi

    Change the icons!!! Love the software!!! Fast and compatible!!! I can now edit PDF’s and SVG’s without added plugins!!! LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Alex

    I can’t say I disagree. I think too many people will call it “Libra Office”, because “libre” is a hard word to say in English, but I’m sure people will get over it.
    I also strongly suspect that many people who ship it will call it something different – e.g. “Novell Office” or whatever.

  4. BQH

    I think i like the name LibreOffice. One thing need to be changed is the icon. I’m using this software ‘n i really pleased with it. 🙂

  5. Jon Gorman

    The saving and closing of files is what absolutely drives me nuts with Open/Libre Office. It’s slow, it’s buggy, and I’ve had it crash on me before. If I was involved, it would be one of my highest priorities.

    Of course, I don’t have many good alternatives either. But I keep playing around with them in hopes of finding one. (I occasionally go back to Abiword occasionally.)

  6. henrik eismark

    Why keep putting the software into a business environment straight jacket keeping the word ‘office’.

    Actually I bet most people use it out-of-office, like schools, unemployed, retirees, non-profit org’s etc.

    It’s not just for business but for culture as well, as any non-profit org.

    So get rid of the ‘Office’. We don’t need any longer to give the giant a black eye.

    What will the future of it hold? AV-media? Social links? Or could we simply replace ‘office’ with ‘Creator’ ‘Scriptor’ or something along those lines, imaging we always produce ‘documents’. OpenScript, FreeScript or a visionary word connected to communication and social connections, as few people organize documents just for themselves.

    ‘CommonScriptor’ – ‘CeeCee’ (Content Creator), etc, millions of options, if you just skip the limiting ‘Office’ that was used to irritate the beast.

    ‘Libre’ has not got a good ring too it, ‘Bureau’ too difficult, but why not just name it ‘Free’. That’s it – no more. Free to develop into the future needs, free for all payments, and free to work on etc. Just get ‘Free’.

    That being said, I hope for some more ‘fun’ skins, but as it is imprisoned in trying to outcompete the beast’s software it is looking really, depressingly boring. Why not conquer the free time and creativity of people outside a strict business environment and make it joyful to look at while using it. Why does it have to be square all around?

    If you are really mentally free, why limit yourself to look like the paid boring DDR prison guard competition?

  7. PeterRaper

    As chairman of a local PC user group in Leeds I am constantly on the lookout for good software. Over the years I’ve tried many both commercial, shareware and freeware. I’ve used Lotus, MS Office (very expensive) and as soon as I heard about Libre Office I downloaded and tried it. I use a desktop at home and a laptop to take around for lectures and demonstrations. If you are wondering which office suite to use then look no further. It’s fully compatible with all my Word docs,Excel docs, immediately picks up power point and will edit same. It has a database which is an arm and a leg extra with MS office. You can edit PDF docs in Draw and there is a Math app. All for free and fast. Bravo

  8. I for one would look forward to a massive improvement in user experience; particular in regards to spreadsheets.

    One use case I really see growing is quickly working with open data, in CSV format.
    Google refine shows me what is possible with integrating the web into a data editing UI; the assorted data.gov efforts show me there is an interest in publishing data.

    Much of excel’s user experience in working with raw CSV absolutely sucks – from saving in a given format, autoconversion of values, etc. Unfortunately, open office even went so far as to copy some of the bad usability items.

    Specifics old bugs for nitpicking:
    http://qa.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=80492
    http://qa.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=62729
    http://qa.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=73543 (yay libreoffice; possibly open office itself anyway)
    http://qa.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=73544

    Others:
    When finding, don’t ask me if I would like to start from the beginning (yes/no) – just jump to the top and keep going. I’ll stop clicking find when I’m ready or notice I’m back in row 0

    Features:
    An editing mode which does not format your data at all for you. Dates in particular that act as though they were prefixed with ‘ – just give me that as an open option or a UI behaviour option.

  9. Ryk van Donselaar

    I can’t use this software with its numerous crashes. It crashes when I open a document in Writer. It offers to recover when restarting except that its formatting has changed to where it is unrecognizable. It is not ready for prime time and I’m going to nuke it and reinstall Open Office. Four months of struggling with it I”ve had enough. Buggy, Buggy garbage.

Leave a Reply