Apache OpenOffice

Monday Jan 07, 2013

Your top questions answered

A little over a month ago we asked our users to submit questions to us, on any OpenOffice-related topic.  Users also had the opportunity to vote questions up or down, so we could identify the questions that were of the greatest interest.   We received 274 questions, and 1,743 votes were cast by 365 users.   Thanks to all who participated!   Let is know, via your comments, whether such Q&A is useful. 

But without further delay, the top questions, as voted by you, along with our answers, are:


1a. "From an end user's point of view what is the advantage of OpenOffice over LibreOffice?"

1b. "What is the difference between LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice ? "

(Combining two related questions) 

The question asked for an end-user point of view, so we went and asked our users what they thought.  Using our Facebook page we asked the following question: "You have a choice of several open source office suites. Why do you use OpenOffice rather than alternatives like LibreOffice or KOffice?"

The results were:

  • Features (47%)
  • Quality (22%)
  • Compatibility/Interoperability (22%)
  • Reputation/Familiarity (9%)

Of course, your needs and preferences may or may not be the same as these users.

2. "Why are some bugs never handled? I've reported at least one -- a showstopper for some MS Office users -- that has never been fixed nor, so far as I can tell, even viewed seriously. Even just more feedback would be appreciated."

Giving a specific answer is impossible, since we don't know what bug the user is referring to.  But in general terms we treat all bug reports seriously.  Our testers attempt to verify them and then classify them according to severity and priority.  We don't release a new version of Apache OpenOffice if there are outstanding showstopper issues.   In any case, we encourage the user to communicate the details of their concern directly to the project by commenting on the specific defect report in Bugzilla.

3."Do you share code with Libre? sub question A: If so, will you soon both be even more similar -- in effect unforked? Sub question B: If you are not using each other's code, why not?"

 We cooperate and coordinate and share with LibreOffice, as well as other open source and even proprietary application vendors, in several ways:

  • We coordinate on the response and responsible disclosure of security vulnerabilities that may affect both products due to their common code base.  Although this is not visible to the public, due to the sensitive nature of the topic, there is a shared mailing list subscribed to by security experts from both projects, where we address such issues for the mutual benefit of our users.
  • Experts from both projects, along with representatives from other open source and proprietary products, work together at OASIS, on the Open Document Format standard, which is the native format for both projects.  For example, experts from several open source projects are active in defining enhanced change tracking for ODF 1.3.
  • Similarly, at ODF Plugfests we work with other editor vendors, open source and proprietary, on testing and other activities to improve interoperability.
  • The code that we create in Apache OpenOffice is under the Apache License 2.0, which is compatible with most other open source licenses, including those used by LibreOffice.  So all of our code is made available for others to use.  This is not just a theoretical statement.  We see ongoing integration of Apache OpenOffice features into LibreOffice.  This is a good thing, and we encourage it.
  • It is easy for developers to contribute their work to both Apache OpenOffice and other open source projects as well.  We have a few volunteers who are happy to contribute to both projects, and we've seen programmers contribute their patches to  both LibreOffice as well as Apache.

So there is a good amount of sharing already occurring, though not as much as we'd like to see.   We'll continue to seek ways to engage more directly with LibreOffice developers, including at the upcoming FOSDEM conference in February.

4. "Now that Apache OpenOffice is part of the Apache Software Foundation, can we then expect a cloud solution ? (NOT only interface, but also collaboration tracking)."

It is often thought that Apache is only about server software, or only about cloud computing.  Certainly the ASF hosts some key applications in this space, from the Apache HTTP Server to Apache Hadoop.  But Apache has all sorts of software projects, from developer-oriented tools like Apache Ant and Apache Maven, to domain specific libraries like Apache OpenNLP.  What is common across the Apache projects is not technological.  The commonalities are:

  • A common permissive open source software license, the Apache License 2.0
  • A common way of working within a project, a set of social/cultural norms called The Apache Way.
  • The common benefits of working within an established non-profit foundation.
  • Shared responsibilities for common infrastructure, common events (ApacheCon, for example).

But aside from these commonalities, each project charts its own path for how its product evolves.  So moving to Apache does not mean that we will necessarily develop a cloud solution, though this is certainly a topic of discussion and is of interest to some of our volunteers.

5. "I am curious if there is a free product like Adobe Reader/Writer in OpenOffice? Thanks for your help."

OpenOffice is not intended to be a replacement for a dedicated PDF reader/editor.  But we do have some strong PDF export support.  You can access this feature under the File/Export menu item.  There are additional PDF export options in the dialog that give you additional control over the output.  

6. "Is the project looking at the needs of multi-user installations such as government and business organisations?"

Yes.  We're investigating improvements in the following areas:

  • Support for incremental updates, so a maintenance update can be applied without requiring a full re-install.
  • Support for admin/script directed "silent" installs, with ability to control default settings, which extensions are installed, etc.
  • Reducing the storage requirement of the per-user profile information.
If you have additional requirements, let us know.

7. "Open Office doesn't handle tables in Word well - for example re-sizing of columns, keeping table rows together, inserting page breaks within tables. Could OpenOffice development include a goal of fully matching MS Office functionality for tables?"

Improved interoperability with Microsoft Office is a key requirement for many users.  We're in the process of merging in a significant number of improvements in this area (over 100) from the IBM Lotus Symphony contribution.  These improvements (you can see some examples of them) will start showing up in Apache OpenOffice 4.0.

8. "When is OpenOffice going to get a visual refresh and be built with each OSes native widgets?"

A visual refresh is part of our continuous effort to improve the user experience (UX).  It is challenging to innovate with a modern UI vs. gradual transformation of the huge amount of existing users, leverage OSes native widgets vs. keep consistent look & feel across multiple platforms.  Look at the mixed feedback Microsoft gets when it makes major changes to its UI for an example of some of the issues we are dealing with.

Our UX designers and developers are working together on a visual refresh.  You will notice some improvements in Apache OpenOffice 4.0.  You can see some of the design sketches on our wiki.  The more feedback we get from you, the better design we can make.

9a. "Is there a version of OpenOffice for iPad3?"

9b. "Can I load OpenOffice onto my Google Android tablet?"

(Combining two related questions)

Apache OpenOffice is available from the project for Windows, MacOS and Linux.  Community members additionally have ported OpenOffice to BSD, Solaris and OS/2, and make these ports available on their own websites.   There is also a new 3rd party port to Android.    There is also a 3rd party service called rollApp, that allows remote access to an OpenOffice session from an iOS device.

10. "Why is the "User Profile" causing so much trouble in migration from older versions to 3.4.1?"

Apache OpenOffice 3.4.0 and 3.4.1 manage the user profile differently than previous versions. The user profile contains the user's customizations and installed extensions, and the new handling helps make the OpenOffice startup faster and reduces the amount of disk space it uses. The old user profile is not deleted when OpenOffice is upgraded.  It is automatically converted so that users can keep their extensions and settings. In a minority of cases, especially with highly customized profiles (many extensions or customizations) the conversion doesn't succeed.  Typical symptoms are: frequent application crashes, problems with dictionaries or thesaurus, OpenOffice starting and crashing after a few seconds. To solve this, just reset/rename your user profile as explained in the OpenOffice community forum. http://user.services.openoffice.org/en/forum/viewtopic.php?t=12426

These problems should go away with Apache OpenOffice 4.0, since with major version updates we start with a clean profile.

11. "Does Apache OpenOffice run on Windows 8?"

Yes.  Although Microsoft Windows 8 was only in preview when we released Apache OpenOffice 3.4.1, subsequent testing and user feedback has been positive, and no incompatibilities have emerged so far.  Note: OpenOffice runs as a desktop application on the x86 or x64 platforms.  We don't support Windows RT or the Metro UI.

12.  Is a portable version of OpenOffice available?

 Yes. It's called "X-ApacheOpenOffice", see http://www.openoffice.org/porting/

Comments:

The breatherian business model of OO.org strikes me: "Apache does not pay for developers, for translators, for QA, for marketing, for UI, for support, etc. Of course, we're happy to accept donations to the Apache Software Foundation, to keep our servers runnings and for similar ovehead expenses." In fact, it does not appear very sustainable. On the other hand ASF dissuaded attempts of building a business around AOO via trade mark enforcement.

Posted by rebentisch on January 12, 2013 at 09:37 PM UTC #

@rebentisch, Apache is a non-profit corporation, a public charity. So "business model" is probably not the right word to use in this case. Or think of it this way: With a large bankroll, a corporation can waste huge amounts of money over long periods of time, on unproductive ventures, and then fail. Ditto for governments, spending from their treasury. But a project with little funds, and relying on volunteers, must always be relevant. They have no ability to go long stretches in the wrong direction. The tolerance is much lower. I think that is pro-sustainability, since errors are punished, and corrected, quickly. As for trademarks, we enforce them to the benefit of users and the ecosystem. We regularly receive requests, and grant permission, for 3rd parties to use our trademarks. But an unenforced trademark can be considered abandoned under U.S. law. So we do require explicit permission aside from some routine cases. I recommend reading "Passport without a Visa: Open Source Licensing and Trademarks" for one view of the complexities: http://www.ifosslr.org/ifosslr/article/view/11

Posted by Rob Weir on January 14, 2013 at 03:43 PM UTC #

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