I’ll admit it … I’m one of those poor saps who inevitably, when given the chance, roots for the underdog. I can’t help it. For several years, I rooted for the Seattle Mariners, that perennial underdog that has, in its thirty odd years of existence, never made it to the World Series. Its perhaps for this reason (though there many others) that I’ve been a long time fan of Open Office. The open source office suite has come from rather dismal beginnings (the early Star Office incarnations were truly dreadful) into being a solid, capable, and performant alternative to Microsoft Office not only in the Linux space but even on MS Office’s home turf of Windows.
Open Office Developer Writing Content
In the wake of Open Office 2.0, there have been a number of interesting developments that are aimed at improving not only the product itself but also the developer and user communities. One in which I have a direct hand most recently is the establishment by the Open Office development team of a contest for the best technical article about some facet of Open Office. To specifically quote Louis Suarez-Potts of the Open Office Team:
OpenOffice.org, with the support of Team OpenOffice.org e.V. and
extra sponsorship from Sun Microsystems, announces its first
Developer Contest starting February 1, 2006. The goal of the
developer contest is to generate more developer documentation. We are
also interested in promoting OpenOffice.org to developers at the same
As part of the contest, developers are asked to write articles about
developer topics, such as porting, add-on and filter development
(e.g. new wizards, Calc functions, chart types, etc.), bug fixing,
etc. Every month a committee will pick the best article from the pool
of submitted articles. Articles that did not initially win will stay
in the pool, so that they can still win later.
Detailed rules can be found here: http://wiki.services.openoffice.org/wiki/OpenOffice.org_Developer_Article_Contest.
The developer contest team wishes all participating developers and
writers good luck! We look forward to receiving the first articles.
I am a member of the judging board, and I’m specifically going to be looking for decent articles with an XML bent to recommend, so please, feel free to submit as often as possible.
Open Office Labels
Russell Ossendryver, the US director of Worldlabel.com, also recently wrote to me to announce one of those odd little niches in business which can, when identified, make their identifier a very wealthy man. In this case, Russell writes
We just released label templates for Openoffice.org: http://www.worldlabel.com/Pages/openoffice-template.htm. Although it might not seem significant for XML, it is when you consider that the only available label templates for the masses have been in Microsoft Word for text type supplied by Avery Dennison corp., the giant monopoly. Actually 10s of thousands of Word label templates are used daily for printing labels These templates fill a void especially for Office Suites on Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris.
I personally think this is a fairly major thing - most labels are generated for use from within office programs and batch processing mode processing. The templates, in addition to working well within the Open Office environment, can also be opened and examined by unzipping the template document, which means that with a little bit of additional processing you could actually utilize these with XSL-FO to generate labels from other XML sources.
Mitt Romney is Fast Becoming My Hero
When Massachusetts state CIO Peter Quinn resigned recently due to intense lobbying pressure (and some reported intimidation tactics) may have seemed like a major blow to the adoption of the Open Document Format, but it seems that Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney may in fact have the last laugh. On the 30th of January, he appointed a new CIO, Louis Gutierezz, and during the appointment also released a press release indicating that he was still very much in favor of the ODF format and planned on seeing it made official by year’s end, as is indicated in the second sentence of the press release:
Gutierrez will be responsible for overseeing the final stages of implementation of the state’s new Open Document format proposal, to go into effect in January 2007.
This is frankly incredible, and showcases the fact that Romney, who’s rumored to be considering a run for President, is both very much aware of the technical debate and at the same time has absolutely no intention of being bullied by Microsoft on this front. It’s a gutsy stance for any politician to take, and bodes well for the future of open standards in the state … and by extension, may prove to be the catalyst for other states to consider moving their infrastructure to open standards.
(More info on this can be found at Andy Updegrove’s Standards Blog).
Open Office for Intel Mac OSX and Portable Open Office
Open Office recently announced that the first build of Open Office 2.01 for the Intel version of Mac OSX, adding to the applications capable of running on that intriguing hybrid. In similar news, OpenOffice.org teamed with PortableApps.com to create a portable version of OpenOffice, one capable of running off of a USB thumbdrive, a portable hard drive, an iPOD or MP3 player, and so forth. This raises a number of issues, not least of which being that we are rapidly reaching the second fork of ubiquitious computing (the first being files in the Internet data cloud), where one’s data can remain with you even without a computer. If bluetooth or ultra high bandwidth wireless USB ever becomes a reality, this gives rise to the notion that you could walk up to a computer anywhere and start working with the files located on your belt buckle or earrings, without having to worry about having the right tools.
SVG Import Filter
At the end of last month OpenOffice.org released what I’ve felt has long been a sorely needed feature - an SVG Import Filter. While Open Office doesn’t use SVG internally (although it does maintain critical information in an SVG namespace within drawings) the lack of SVG import support has meant that its not possible to load in SVG files as graphics for word documents - something that’s been very frustrating to me and many others. Utilizing the Apache Batik SVG engine, the import filter has undergone a number of improvements since its last update in August, including considerably better handling of gradients (something that’s always been a problem in OpenOffice), better handling of elliptical curves and transformable use and image elements. It does require that you have the Java JRE 1.5 on your system.
Batch Conversion of Legacy Docs
Bob DuCharme, in a superb article for XML.com writes about “Moving to OpenOffice: Batch Converting Legacy Documents.“. In it he covers the Open Office macro language and illustrates how you can create a simple batch routine for taking all of those pesky proprietary MS Word documents and converting them into Open Office format, including invoking this from a command line call. I’ve used Open Office before in this role as a batch document converter not just to ODF (or to the older SXW format) but to DocBook and other related formats. This trick should be a critical part of any document management system that needs to convert legacy Word documents into XML formats, without the licensing costs of going to the MS Office 2003 and utilizing the Office Open (hah!) XML format.
So, to wrap this up, once again I ask all of you budding technical writers to try your chops in writing for the OpenOffice contestOpenOffice contest. It comes with a decent prize ($750 for the winning entry per month), and helps to build the information base for the best open source office suite on the planet.
Do you have any news or case studies about OpenOffice that you’d like to let people know about?