Three things to not forget to make LibreOffice (and ODF) succeed


OpenOffice (OOo) is the free, currently most popular alternative to Microsoft Office, the office suite that (with active help from some schools and Public Administrations) creates cocain-like addiction problems.

The OpenDocument Format (ODF) is an international standard for office documents like texts, presentations and spreadsheets. ODF is already widely adopted worldwide. Using ODF for all your office documents is by far the easiest, safest and most realistic way today to really free yourself from the cocain-like nature of Microsoft Office file formats. The fact that using secret file formats instead of ODF is what actually maintains the Microsoft monopoly in desktop computing is proved even by a Microsoft job offer.

OpenOffice is Free/Open Source Software, but its development is controlled by software giant Oracle. For this reason, a big part of the OpenOffice larger community created in October 2010 The Document Foundation (TDF), to develop what it calls “the next evolution of the world’s leading free office suite”, an OpenOffice spin-off named LibreOffice. In my opinion, the success of OpenOffice, LibreOffice and of the only thing that really matters here, that is ODF (we use software because we need documents, not the other way around) depends (also) on handling three issues. One, that deserves its own page, is to not repeat some OpenOffice mistakes but provide efficient, VOLUNTEER-friendly online LibreOffice support for casual users. The other two are explained below.

Explain the fragmentation to the masses

This problem is summed up very well in these two comments:

  • P. Wastholm on Just when non-geeks were starting to learn that there is such a thing as OpenOffice, the name changes to LibreOffice.

  • Andbax, reacting to an italian announcement of LibreOffice: “now this is very bad news, if you ask me. We know that OpenOffice (together with FireFox) has always been the key that opens the door to migrations to Free Software. If, after years fighting with my boss to convince him to migrate to OpenOffice, I go and tell him “Hello, the future now is LibreOffice, let’s switch” he’ll just laugh and tell me to f**k off”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that creating LibreOffice was bad. It only means that underestimating such reactions would be very, very bad. Only software geeks like choice and diversity in software. All other human beings hate it.

OpenDocument first. Always

Microsoft reacted to the ODF menace with bad information and by creating its own office document “standard”, called OpenXML or OOXML. Back in 2007, I asked everybody to Just Say No to OOXML because Microsoft and Novell, another software company, had signed an agreement that

_...lasts five years, so it cannot ensure anything **after 2011**. Besides, it is officially **not meant to make OpenDocument usable in Microsoft Office**. Instead, it is going to make sure that OpenOffice users can continue to be slaves to a proprietary format that is very hard to support completely in other software programs... The Novell-Microsoft agreement will actively work to preserve this situation, practically making OpenDocument (and the very concept of non proprietary formats) irrelevant and unused in any large organization_

As of today, since the birth of TDF with… Novell as one of its main sponsors, I’ve seen:

so pardon me if I feel a tiny bit nervous and in need to say a couple of things:

  1. saying no to OOXML is even more necessary today than it was in 2007; please let’s all make this as clear as possible to (at least) all end users of LibreOffice, OOo and Microsoft Office

  2. the most idiotic and suicidal thing that OOo and LibreOffice may ever do is to diverge on ODF compatibility (because even ODF can contain compatibility traps). There’s nothing else that will motivate people more to abandon both. Diverge and differentiate on everything but that, please

My own feature wish list for LibreOffice and OOo

While I’m at this, let me close with a couple of feature suggestions for LibreOffice:

  • add running count of word and characters in the current document. Maybe almost nobody needs it, but surely almost all the reviewers of LibreOffice need it. Make them happy

  • One of the advantages of ODF is that it is very easy to script. It would be great to have buttons that send all the current document, or only the highlighted text to a plain shell script, maybe replace that text with the result of that script

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