The administration of the Italian region Emilia-Romagna will complete its switch to Apache OpenOffice next month, says Giovanni Grazia, an IT project manager for the region. Emilia-Romagna is making the Open Document Format ODF the default on all 4200 workstations, across 10 departments and 5 agencies.
Emilia-Romagna is adding several tools to the OpenOffice suite, “improving the user experience”, says Grazia. Three of these are publicly available OpenOffice extensions, but others are being developed especially for the region. The latter will be made available as open source within the next few weeks, Grazia says.
The first of the official OpenOffice extensions used in the region is Alba, which makes it easy to insert in a document one or more pages with a different orientation. The second is Pagination, which improves the insertion of page numbers. Third is PDFImport, which allows the import of PDFs into OpenOffice.
Emilia-Romagna is building a custom extension to let users view their ODF documents as if they were opened in the ubiquitous alternative. The tool is based on freely available document viewers and should help to avoid the most egregious lay-out errors, since the proprietary office suite does not fully support ODF. “It is a very easy-to-use tool, and it is much appreciated by the users”, says Maurizio Berti, one of the consultants contracted by the Emilia-Romagna administration.
On 31 January, Berti and Grazia talked about the implementation of Apache OpenOffice, at the Fosdem conference in Brussels.
Problems with document interoperability can cause much frustration, says IT project manager Grazia. That is why Emilia-Romagna is working on a tool that lets users find out which public administrations in Italy can read ODF documents. If an administration can not manage ODF, the tool helps the users choose alternative formats, and provides the conversion of the document or documents if needed. “This is a simple solution, it’s certainly not rocket science”, Grazia says, “but it will save users a lot of aggravation.” The tool will be published as open source and the region will also be making its records available as open data.
Next, the developers are about to complete patches for both Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice that improve access to a proprietary document management system. This uses a file locking method not implemented in the two open source office suites, forcing the developers to build it from scratch.
The patch will be released under two open source licences, to accommodate both office suites. Although closely related, there are differences in some of the underlying libraries and the suites are published using different open source licences - one of which allows republication under the other. “We are releasing our patch under both licences”, says Berti “and rely on the good will of the open source community to honour that.”
“Changing office suite is hard work, and we use the occasion to advocate for free and open source software. Some of the region’s civil servants are keen to switch, and some are very annoyed, as they have been using the proprietary alternative for 20 years”, says Grazia. To deal with any issues during the transition, a team of five support staffers is backed up by three IT specialists. “Department by department, one at a time, we’re completing the switch”, says Grazia. “Step by step, change is coming.”