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."