The software developers working on Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice - two closely related suites of open source office productivity tools - should overcome their schism and unite to compete with the ubiquitous proprietary alternative, urges Daniel Brunner, head of the IT department of Switzerland's Federal Supreme Court. Merging the two projects will convince more public administrations to use the open source office suite, he believes.
The current division between the two groups risks creating more instead of less incompatibilities, Brunner warned last week, speaking at the LibreOffice conference, which took place in the Swiss city of Bern. "I had to test this presentation in both suites, to see if it would work."
The Swiss Federal Supreme Court uses OpenOffice, but according to Brunner would benefit from the improved document filters that are available in LibreOffice. However, the former suite is more stable and is available on mobile computing platforms, he says, while the latter benefits from a bigger community of developers, introducing more new features.
The court is one of the country's prime examples of a public administration using free and open source solutions. The court has about 460 desktop PCs, all running OpenOffice. The court moved to using open source following an IT strategy that originally only specified the use of open IT standards, Brunner told the conference attendees.
Three months ago, the court's IT department included a few requirements specific to open source in its strategy, Brunner said. Software solutions must be independent from IT vendors. "We want to be able to switch from one Linux distribution to another." The court also demands that open source solutions must be common: "We do not want to be locked in to a specialised open source application."
The Supreme Court's IT system is built on top of Red Hat Linux server, running Zimbra for email, instant messaging and calendar. The IT department uses Thinlinc, based on Tigervnc for sharing applications across desktops. Desktop tools include the Mozilla Thunderbird email client and Mozilla Firefox web browser.
The court also develops its own software, which it makes available as open source. One example is a service that removes identifying particulars or details from the legal documents. The court makes extensive use of document templates, which are developed in the XML specification for the Open Document Format, enabling automated document generation services. Another tool lets users create PDF documents from documents received by email.
Public administrations that consider open source, need to make sure its management understands the advantages of this type of software, Brunner said. "If they don't see the benefits, don't even start." For end users, the switch must bring new possibilities, adding value. "This offsets small problems they encounter elsewhere."
Unity makes strength
Should OpenOffice and LibreOffice unite? Will a unified OpenLibreOffice bring more public administrations to replacing the proprietary alternatives? What do you think?
Please add your comments below.
Presentation by Daniel Brunner (PDF, German)
Presenation by Daniel Brunner (video, German)
Inside IT news item (in German)
Earlier OSOR news item
In your article you quote Brunner as saying:
Why do you or Daniel Brunner think OpenOffice is more stable?
If you are using a Release Candidate, (RC), or some other Development version, then yes, LibreOffice might be less stable than an OpenOffice "Stable" version, however, the "Stable" versions of either the 4.3.x.x version ("Fresh"), or the 4.2.x.x ("Still") branches are just as "Stable" as OpenOffice "Stable", if not more so. There is also development underway for an Android version of LibreOffice.
A lot of dead code has been removed from LibreOffice. The fact that there is "a bigger community of developers" developing and bugfixing the LibreOffice code, would tend to contradict Brunner's statement.
If you have facts to back this up, please present them.
The PDF you link to in the English version of this article, is in German, and unfortunately my German is minimal, so I can't read the text.
I do agree that the two projects should become one again, but under the control of The Document Foundation, better equipped to lead the development. Apache has too many projects to properly give enough resorces to this one important project.
Quoting Rick Stanley:
'the "Stable" versions of either the 4.3.x.x version ("Fresh"), or the 4.2.x.x ("Still") branches are just as "Stable" as OpenOffice "Stable", if not more so.'
Although both the Fresh and Still (Mature) branches of LibreOffice are considered stable, this does not in itself prove that either of them is in practice as stable as OpenOffice is supposed to be. Stable versions do have bugs too, and some stable versions have more bugs than other stable versions.
I'm not saying that Mr Brunner's claim is absolutely true, but neither do I think it is a particularly fruitful approach to ask for facts to back up either his claim or the counterclaim. Rather we should recognize that this kind of perception exists among potential users. It is probably not based on any objectively verifiable bug count but on subjective experiences and hearsay that have been accumulated over the past few years. This does not make the perception unfounded, but it makes the issue more difficult to tackle.
'The fact that there is "a bigger community of developers" developing and bugfixing the LibreOffice code, would tend to contradict Brunner's statement.'
More developers do not necessarily result in fewer bugs. Rather the opposite is true, at least in a short-term perspective: more developers result in faster development and new features, which tend to introduce new bugs. Granted, these bugs will get fixed once detected, hopefully before the new version is declared stable, but basically any change in code can also introduce new regressions. A certain amount of instability may be unavoidable if you prefer fast development and lots of new features.
The perception that LibreOffice is less stable than OpenOffice may in part be because the LibreOffice download page primarily promotes the Fresh version, which is regarded as stable but has not yet undergone as much real-life testing as the Still version. (As far as I can tell, this has always been the case, even before they have started to talk about the "Fresh" and "Still" branches.) The more mature Still version is available as an option, but you need to look for it. This option may go unnoticed by many new users, who will download the Fresh version, perhaps bump into some fresh bugs and therefore get the impression that LibreOffice is generally buggy.
"Although both the Fresh and Still (Mature) branches of LibreOffice are considered stable, this does not in itself prove that either of them is in practice as stable as OpenOffice is supposed to be."
And the opposite is also true, as development continues on OpenOffice as well!
I still have NOT been shown any facts that prove OpenOffice, is any more stable than LibreOffice 4.2 or 4.3. They are two different products with different sets of developers, under different licenses. That was my original comment. The two are Apples and Oranges.
Again, the best solution is for Apache to hand over OpenOffice in it's entirety to The Document Foundation, and consolidate the two back into one set of applications.
<cite>Unity makes strength</cite>
I agree, for reasons of uniformity of the project, the Document Foundation, is more able to meet the requirements of the office suite, thus, more effective, they can easily dedicate the resources needed for the project.
And this allow to finish with disposals of Open Office that undermined the sustainability of the project.
Not only I disagree with this proposal but also think it doesn't make any sense, simply because the license of both projects are not compatible. In fact, the licenses are in such a way that LibreOffice can use code from Apache OpenOffice, but the opposite cannot be done. Therefore, the best features from the Apache OpenOffice (including some IBM contributions) are already part of Libreoffice nowadays.
This post by Leif Lodahl explains this in more detail: I recommend reading it.
Because of this, I think that a merger isn't necessary, simply use LibreOffice, and, as Rick Stanley says, stick to the previous supported version (at this time 4.2.x), if you really need to make sure it is stable, and only upgrade to 4.3.x when The Document Foundation releases 4.4.x. LibreOffice is pretty much the standard office suite in most Linux distros, therefore you definitely won't be "locked in to a specialised open source application."
Also, Brunner says that OpenOffice is available in mobile platforms. Is he referring to AndrOpen Office? Because that's a proprietary port of Apache OpenOffice that doesn't contribute to the Apache Foundation or The Document Foundation. Therefore, relying on this app is a mistake, because you'll be locked in for sure.
"...as Rick Stanley says, stick to the previous supported version (at this time 4.2.x)..."
Actually, I didn't say not to use the 4.3 branch.
Both the 4.2, and 4.3 branches of LibreoOffice have stable and development versions.
From the Release Notes:
"LibreOffice 4.3.1 (2014-08-28) - Fresh Branch"
"This is the second release from the 4.3 branch of Libreoffice which contains new features and program enhancements. As such the version is stable and is suitable for all users. ..."
A similar statement, on the same page, is made about:
"LibreOffice 4.2.6-secfix (2014-08-28) - Still Branch"
Development is underway for the 4.4 branch.