OpenOffice May Close The Door

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The history of what we call “OpenOffice” is complex and confusing. It started as a project of Sun corporation, to develop an office suit that was not Microsoft Office, to use internally. Later, a version became more generally available known as Star Office, but also, a version called “OpenOffice” soon became available as well. The current histories say that Star Office was commercial, but my memory is that it never cost money to regular users. I think the idea was that large corporations would pay, individuals not. This was all back around 2000, plus or minus a year or two.

In any event, the Open Office project built two things of great importance. First, it made a set of software applications roughly comparable to the key elements in Microsoft’s Office Suite, including a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation app, and, depending, something that draws and something that relates to databases.

The second thing it did was to create and develop an important open source document format.

But, believe it or not, in the world of software development and programming, even in the happy fuzzy world of OpenSource, there can be fights. And, not just the fun and tongue in cheek fights over which religion you are (vi vs. Linux). These fights often involve differences in points of view between megacorporations that get involved in OpenSource projects, and the unwashed masses of programmers contributing to such things. The majority of code is written and maintained by corporations, much of that in the hands of a very small number, but the contributions from individuals not linked to corporations is extremely important.

In the case of OpenOffice, the tensions were between the broader Office-interested development community and big corporations shifted in 2010 when Sun corporation which had always been involved in OO development, was purchased by Oracle Corporation. Oracle has not been friendly to OpenSource in the past, so the wider community freaked. There is a side plot here involving Java, which we will ignore. Oracle didn’t end up doing anything clearly bad against the OpenOffice project. But, they also ended up not doing anything good, either, which is essentially a death sentence for a project like this. Later in the same year, an organization called The Document Foundation was created and took on the job of forking OpenOffice.

Forking is where a given lineage of software is split to create an alternative. Sometimes this is to bring some software in a different direction, perhaps for a more specialized use. Sometimes it is a way of resolving conflict, much as hunter gatherers undergo fission and fusion in their settlement patterns, by separating antagonists or putting a distinct wall between antagonistic goals. In this case, while the latter is probably part of it, the main reason for the fork and its main effect was to get the project under the control of an active development community so work could be continued before the project stagnated.

That fork became known as LibreOffice. For some time now, it has been recommended that if you are going to install an OpenSource office suite on your Windows, Linux, or Apple Computer, it should be LibreOffice.

One could argue that the OpenOffice suit or its analog (earlier, Star office, later the LibreOffice fork) is the most important single project in OpenSource, because an office suite is a key part of almost all desktop computer configurations. Of course, most servers don’t need or require an office suite, and there, web servers and database servers, and a few other things, are more important. But to the average end user (in business or private life) being able to open up a “Word Document” (a term misapplied to the category of “wordprocessor document”), or to run a spreadsheet, or to make a presentation, etc. is essential, and that is what an office suit provides. OpenOffice was comparable to Microsoft Office, and now, LibreOffice is comparable to Microsoft Office. By some accounts, better, though many Microsoft Office users have, well, a different religion.

Now, it is being reported that the mostly ignored, maligned by some, historically important yet now out of date OpenOffice project is about to byte the dust. As it were.

Dennis Hamilton, VP of the group that runs OpenOffice, “… proposed a shutdown of OpenOffice as one option if the project could not meet the goals it had set. ‘My concern is that the project could end with a bang or a whimper. My interest is in seeing any retirement happen gracefully. That means we need to consider it as a contingency. For contingency plans, no time is a good time, but earlier is always better than later.'” [Source]

Approximately 160 million copies of LibreOffice have been downloaded to date. The closing of the OpenOffice project, should that happen, will probably have little effect on LibreOffice, since most people had already walked away from the venerable old but flawed grandaddy of OO Suites.

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16 thoughts on “OpenOffice May Close The Door

  1. “most people had already walked away from the venerable old but flawed grandaddy of OO Suites.”

    OO had some issues of its own, but as I recall the biggest issues early in its life were incompatibilities with Microsoft Office documents, due to Microsoft’s closed ecosystem and later, implementation of xml “standards” that were marginal at best.

    That said, I use Microsoft Word only when required (we have some departmental forms that must be in Word format, and students must submit Word documents in Blackboard for a variety of reasons) but 99+% of my work at school my workflow is LaTeX, or RMarkdown, to produce pdfs and html files. It works, and in LaTeX, writing and maintaining a long file, across chapters, parts, and sections, is much easier than it is in Word.

    I’ll stop my dinosaur mode rant now.

  2. That wasn’t specifically a problem with OO vs other projects, it just had to so with the history of documents.

    But, it also didn’t happen as many say it did.

    Inded. OO was pretty much as compatible with any Microsoft format as Microsoft was. If you took a range of MS Word implementations, and threw OO in there, and took all the MS document formats, and tested for cross-compatibility, you’d find a lot of problems, but they weren’t clearly associated with OO. They occurred across MS Word implementations, mainly.

    Then MS switched to DOCX and broke all compatibility with itself and OO. the, IIRC, MS was forced to make DOCX compatible with itself, and to follow standards, and all the compatibility issues more or less went way except for those using older MS Office versions.

    Using Word (or any word processor) only when required is excellent advice. Unfortunately, many people use it all the time even for “text” documents!

    You claim that your work is mainly LaTex. But that is not an editor. You must be using a text editor underneath it all.

    Come clean, what text editor are you using??? vi or emacs? ???!!??

  3. I upgraded my VirgoOffice to LibraOffice after consulting my Oracle. It said my StarOffice had moved into the House of the Sun, which was on a descending line, and would OpenOffice me to great misfortune if I didn’t switch. And I’ve since found it to be much better.

  4. This OLD programmer is STILL using a very old version of MS Word on my XP system. Haven’t tried either OO or LO. The problem of using the new DOCX file format has not always been solved by the compatibility solution offered by Microsoft. (I have DOCX files which display as one line per page!) For simple documents I often use Wordpad, which allows text format and size control. It starts much faster and usually results in a smaller file. For just text, there’s always Notepad, even for code editing. The disadvantage is you have to do cut-and-paste instead of drag-and-drop.

  5. Yes, you caught me in the error of seeming to say LaTeX is an editor.
    I use emacs or Rstudio on my Mac at home (the latter allows me to include R code, output, graphics, and markdown or LaTeX formatting in a single file) , Texstudio and Rstudio on my Windows computer at school. Everything moves back and forth seamlessly between operating systems. Isn’t that what we want to have happen?

  6. And, the comments about the issues between Microsoft Office and Open Office were spot on – what I tried to get at. Those issues were a perfect illustration of the difference between philosophies and designs of open source software and commercial software.

  7. emacs is the best editor. RStudio is great.

    I don’t use windows so I’m not familiar with Textstudio.

    BBE editor is great on a mac. If you fully loaded your .emacs file and put everything on a set of menus, it would be BBEdit.

    I think TextWrangler is the toned down free version of it. BBEdit is a great example of good proprietary software, but I do wish there was an OO and Linux version of something like it.

  8. Thanks Greg! this was interesting. I have used OO for years now, but only rarely as needed. I was always very appreciative of the fact that they provided these tools for free vs the predatory pricing of MS. I would have been glad to buy MS Office for a reasonable price, but (I don’t know what it is now) I recall seeing it at nearly $300 retail at times.
    I had no idea about any of this backstory though.

  9. @ Greg, #6. Thanks. I should have said I’m editing .RTF files with Wordpad. Their advantage is compatibility with many editors, and it’s free on MS systems (at least so far). Here’s a hack: if you really can’t read the contents of a .DOCX file, just change the type to .ZIP and then find and copy the text content.

  10. “emacs is the best editor.”

    My advisor would say the same thing about vim.

    Texstudio is nothing special – command completion, integrated viewer – but it works.

  11. Dean, your advisor must be some kind of monster!

    Gary, yeah, I figured Wordpad would be RTF. So by using RTF in Word everything should work together nicely.

    RTF covers pretty much most or all of one’s needs.

    I personally like markdown.

  12. I’ve used both OpenOffice and LibreOffice.
    All I can say about OO is “good riddance”. LibreOffice is better.

  13. Open Office was great – it could even open old documents created by Microsoft Office that newer versions of Microsoft Office couldn’t. I was saddened when it went through the troubles, and I moved on to Libre Office once that was up and running, but I’ll always remember Open Office with respect and affection.

  14. Thanks for this article. I’ve been using Apache OpenOffice for a while — three versions, I think — on WinXP. I’m now on version 4.1.2. It sometimes fails to load, so that I have to reboot the machine. But that’s rare, and I haven’t had any other problems with it.

    The article linked below compares it (briefly) with LibreOffice, and the comments give some good notes on the history of the two efforts. Apparently LibreOffice can use code from OpenOffice, but not vice-versa.

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