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The state of OpenOffice.org

Posted by egovindia on August 5, 2006

The state of OpenOffice.org

Wednesday August 02, 2006 (06:00 PM GMT)

By: Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier
http://software.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=06/08/02/1625228

It’s been nearly a year since OpenOffice.org 2.0 was released, so I sat down with Louis Suárez-Potts, chair of OpenOffice.org’s community council and community manager, at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Ore., last week to see what’s on the OpenOffice.org development roadmap. Suárez-Potts says that development is moving along nicely, but it will probably be a while before we see OpenOffice.org 3.0.

Suárez-Potts says that OpenOffice.org is concentrating on smaller releases that add features to the OpenOffice.org 2.0 architecture. He says that 3.0 is “on the drawing board,” but that the project is moving away from the “proprietary logic” of “big” releases, and focusing on incremental releases instead.

Suárez-Potts says that the project released OpenOffice.org 2.0.3 recently, and should have a 2.0.4 release in a couple of months. The 2.0.3 release isn’t a huge leap in functionality, but it is more than a bugfix point release. For example, Suárez-Potts says that 2.0.3 adds additional features for PDF export, better integration with database structures, and an online update feature that allows users to check for updates online.

However, the update feature doesn’t actually download and install the update, as Firefox does now with its online update feature. Suárez-Potts says that a full update feature is something he’d like to see for the future, but he also noted that it’s a complicated feature to implement, and that many users get OpenOffice.org through other vendors — such as Linux distributions — that wouldn’t make use of the update feature.

OpenOffice.org and ODF gathering steam

In keeping with the dominant theme of this year’s OSCON, Suárez-Potts emphasized the importance of open data, and highlighted the importance of the Open Document Format (ODF) for OpenOffice.org and other applications. Tony Coates may have put it best on his blog, saying, “Your data will outlive your applications.” The OpenOffice.org and ODF folks have planned for this well by developing a well-documented open standard that can be used by many applications. Suárez-Potts says that with proprietary standards, “You have the kiss of death.” If the company behind a proprietary format goes out of business, or simply stops supporting that format, “that’s it, all the data that you had? Gone.”

Louis Suárez-Potts  
Louis Suárez-Potts talks about OpenOffice.org – click to view video

As of now, Suárez-Potts says that ODF is supported by StarOffice, KOffice, SoftMaker, Writely, IBM Workplace, and a number of others. Of course, ODF isn’t a perfect solution for sharing data just yet. As Marco Fioretti pointed out last September, macros still pose an obstacle for sharing data between applications because, unlike ODF, they are not application-agnostic.

Suárez-Potts says that the OOo team is aware of the problem with macro support across ODF-supporting applications, and he would like to see some work done to standardize macro support between programs to make it easier for people to migrate with minimal difficulty. He cautions that care would need to be taken that macros aren’t supported too well, to avoid enabling Microsoft Office macro viruses in OpenOffice.org.

ODF is also pushing adoption of OpenOffice.org, according to Suárez-Potts. He says that many governments are looking to ODF as a way to ensure that they are able to access their data in the long run, and showing particular interest in OpenOffice.org as the “reference implementation” for ODF support. Suárez-Potts also says that OpenOffice.org is starting to get attention from third-party vendors who have traditionally provided add-on applications, such as accounting packages and accessibility support, for Microsoft Office.

OpenOffice.org extensions

One of the features that has contributed greatly to Firefox’s popularity is the ability to add new functionality through Firefox extensions. Suárez-Potts says that OpenOffice.org too has made it possible for developers to add functionality through extensions. The idea, says Suárez-Potts, is for OpenOffice.org to be “lean and capable, and added to easily,” rather than trying to add every feature directly to the OpenOffice.org codebase.

OpenOffice.org extensions haven’t caught on yet — Suárez-Potts says there really aren’t many popular extensions for OpenOffice.org at this time — but extension development will be a major topic of discussion at the OpenOffice.org Conference (OOoCon) 2006 that will be held from September 11 through September 13 in Lyon, France.

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