Sunday Jun 23, 2013

Squibbly: LibreOffice Integration Framework for the Java Desktop

Squibbly is a new framework for Java desktop applications that need to integrate with LibreOffice, or more generally, need office features as part of a Java desktop solution that could include, for example, JavaFX components. Here's what it looks like, right now, on Ubuntu 13.04:

Why is the framework called Squibbly? Because I needed a unique-ish name, because "squibble" sounds a bit like "scribble" (which is what one does with text documents, etc), and because of the many absurd definitions in the Urban Dictionary for the apparently real word "squibble", e.g., "A name for someone who is squibblish in nature." And, another e.g., "A squibble is a small squabble. A squabble is a little skirmish." But the real reason is the first definition (and definitely not the fourth definition): "Taking a small portion of another persons something, such as a small hit off of a pipe, a bite of food, a sip of a drink, or drag of a cigarette."

In other words, I took (or "squibbled") a small portion of LibreOffice, i.e., OfficeBean, and integrated it into a NetBeans Platform application. Now anyone can add new features to it, to do anything they need, such as create a legislative software system as Propylon has done with their own solution on the NetBeans Platform:

For me, the starting point was Chuk Munn Lee's similar solution from some years ago. However, he uses reflection a lot in that solution, because he didn't want to bundle the related JARs with the application. I understand that benefit but I find it even more beneficial to not need to require the user to specify the location of the LibreOffice location, since all the necessary JARs and native libraries (currently 32-bit Linux only, by the way) are bundled with the application. Plus, hundreds of lines of reflection code, as in Chuk's solution, is not fun to work with at all.

Switching between applications is done like this:

It's a work in progress, a proof of concept only. Just the result of a few hours of work to get the basic integration to work. Several problems remain, some of them potentially unsolvable, starting with these, but others will be added here as I identify them:

  • Window management problems. I'd like to let the user have multiple LibreOffice applications and documents open at the same time, each in a new TopComponent. However, I haven't figured out how to do that. Right now, each application is opened into the same TopComponent, replacing the currently open application. I don't know the OfficeBean API well enough, e.g., should a single OfficeBean be shared among multiple TopComponents or should each of them have their own instance of it?

  • Focus problems. When putting the application behind other applications and then switching back to the application, typing text becomes impossible. When closing a TopComponent and reopening it, the content is lost completely. Somehow the loss of focus, and then the return of focus, disables something. No idea how to fix that.

The project is checked into this location, which isn't public yet, so you can't access it yet. Once it's publicly available, it would be great to get some code contributions and tweaks, etc.

Here's the source structure, showing especially how the OfficeBean JARs and native libraries (currently for Linux 32-bit only) fit in:

Ultimately, would be cool to integrate or share code with!


Geertjan Wielenga (@geertjanw) is a Principal Product Manager in the Oracle Developer Tools group living & working in Amsterdam. He is a Java technology enthusiast, evangelist, trainer, speaker, and writer. He blogs here daily.

The focus of this blog is mostly on NetBeans (a development tool primarily for Java programmers), with an occasional reference to NetBeans, and sometimes diverging to topics relating to NetBeans. And then there are days when NetBeans is mentioned, just for a change.


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