Monday Oct 13, 2008

OpenOffice.org and archiving

At the ODF Workshop last week, a number of the delegates were asking about the right way to handle archiving of their documents. Obviously ODF offers a baseline file format that promises long-term readability and editability, but the question remains of how best to handle files. With the release of OpenOffice.org 3.0, there are now two alternatives, and we heard at the conference of a third alternative coming in the future from ODF.

  1. ODF plus PDF

    Most of the archivists I have spoken to have insisted that one should always keep the original document in its original format, regardless of other choices. The easiest option for archiving is to retain the original file, with an optional copy filtered to ODF if the original is not in ODF, and then accompany the file with a PDF image. Technology exists to automatically create all this.
  2. PDF Container

    OpenOffice.org includes extensive new PDF handling features, including PDF/A support, access to PDF's distribution and use controls and the ability to include the original ODF in a "container" inside a "hybrid PDF". This last feature offers a fine archiving alternative, where a single file is created but within it the original ODF is retained for future use.
  3. Read-Only ODF

    At the workshop, we heard from Jomar Silva on the future of ODF 1.2. One of the features he described was signed, read-only ODF, allowing the preservation of the document exactly as used (it's on slide 4).

Choosing which to use is obviously a decision for each archiving authority, but the richness of the new PDF support means that the options open to arhcivists just grew enormously.

Thursday Sep 25, 2008

OpenOffice.org Power Tools

Splash-screen from OOo v3, designed by Jacek Adamkiewicz

You may have seen that version 3 of OpenOffice.org is nearly ready for release - I am now running release candidate 2 and finding it ideal for work. Along with the new release, there's an important change emerging in OpenOffice.org development. For the last 18 months or so, the team has avoided adding significant new features to the core code, focussing instead in performance and usability improvements as well as on preparing a full, native Aqua port of OpenOffice.org to Mac OS X. That hasn't meant that innovation has stopped, however. Instead, the developers have been able to devise valuable new functions for OpenOffice.org without having to mess around inside the (undeniably complex) core code.

The result has been the emergence of many add-ons for all parts of OpenOffice.org and all supported platforms, by virtue of the Add-On Manager and the powerful platform-neutral UNO API offered by OpenOffice.org. After a discussion with Allison Randal on identi.ca about which tools to use, I thought I'd spend a little time while I wait here at the airport describing the add-ons I find are essential.

  1. Presenter Console

    My absolute favourite add-on is the Presenter Console. This adds a new display mode to Impress so that, when using an external monitor (i.e. a projector) the laptop screen differs from the external display. While the audience sees the slides being presented, the presenter sees the slide sequence, speaker notes and a timer and is able to navigate directly to slides if necessary. It's a familiar function with some other packages but it revolutionises Impress as a presentation tool and I have been using it constantly since it first appeared.
  2. PDF Importer

    Next favourite is the PDF Import Extension. As the name implies, this enables OpenOffice.org to import PDF files so that the text they contain can be edited. It's not perfect, not least because it imports into the layout tool (Draw) but it has proven so useful time and time again when I have been supplied with a "dead" PDF file from which I have needed to derive some "live" text.
  3. Presentation Minimiser

    The Presentation Minimiser can be a real problem-solver. I use photographs extensively in my presentations, and the resulting ODT files can be absolutely huge. This add-on does its best to make the file the minimum size possible by removing unused templates, rescaling graphics and doing other tricks to eliminate wastage. Having it on-hand is essential for me when I need to e-mail presentations to other people.
  4. Template Packs

    One of the common criticisms of OpenOffice.org when compared with other packages was that it didn't include templates to allow people to build appealing presentations. Sun included commercially-created templates in StarOffice, but has now paid the originators for permission to make the two template packs freely available to all OpenOffice.org users. Template Pack 1 will be familiar to many StarOffice users; Template Pack 2 includes a range of newer templates and is my favourite. The packs are also available in a range of languages in addition to English.

There are plenty of other add-ons available and which I'm gradually trying, but these are the ones that have become part of my work style. Individually, each of these add-ons has been very helpful for me. Together, they represent a set of power tools I'd not be able to get by without any more.

Wednesday May 21, 2008

Microsoft Embraces ODF, At Last

Slipstreaming Gull

I was tidying in my office recently and found my attendee badge for the Open Source Convention held in Monterey in 2000. The big news that year (apart from the fact that the world didn't end) was that Sun, which had just bought a German company called Star Division, was releasing their flagship product StarOffice under an open source license and sponsoring a new open source community called OpenOffice.org. The t-shirts we all received just said "Freedom". We all had high hopes that simple but bold move, as well as giving all of us a great document suite, would begin to lubricate the market for document tools and get its corroded competitive gears turning again.

I'm now completely convinced that it worked. The widespread adoption of OpenOffice.org both on Windows (for which millions of copies of OO.o are downloaded each year) and on GNU/Linux (where it is distributed with almost every copy) was an early sign. The growth of OpenDocument format from a seed planted by OpenOffice.org to an independent plant nurtured by OASIS to a spreading young tree at ISO was another.

But today there are many senses in which we all in the OpenOffice.org community could be delighted at our influence on the world of software. The steady pressure has paid off. Not just because OpenOffice.org is better than ever at version 3.0 (now available in a native Mac version among others). But because we were accused of being derivative, yet it's now our innovation that is setting the pace.

Change of Heart?

I'm referring to the announcement Microsoft just made that they will be issuing a service pack for Office that adds native support for ODF. I've been repeatedly calling on them to support ODF like they do many other formats, and to do so in a way that makes it just another format that can be made the default. They've said they will as of SP2, and I warmly congratulate them on finally overcoming the NIH and FUD instincts. Way to go!

More than that, they also announced they will join the OASIS ODF TC and work to develop ODF. I've also been calling on them to do this, pretty much since the TC was formed right in front of them (they are board members at OASIS) in 2002. I'm not a member personally, but if I were I would want to warmly welcome them to the team as it enters the final straights towards completion of ODF 1.2 and submission to ISO.

Of course, I might also reflect on the fact they are finally doing exactly what Stephe Walli said they ought to do to kill ODF. But for now, it's huge, warm congratulations on giving your customers the freedom to leave and the confidence to stay - and a small British mutter of "about bloody time".

Thursday Mar 06, 2008

OpenOffice.org goes to LGPLv3

Slipstreaming Gull

You may recall that a team from Sun devoted a great deal of time to the process of drafting the GPLv3. Our engagement was not just the monitoring exercise that I suspect it was for many of the corporate participants. It was always my hope that Sun would use the license for significant software projects.

Since then, the FSF has made some welcome clarifications to the license and Sun released its first project, Openxvm, as GPLv3. The next step for us has been to review the licensing for OpenOffice.org. We consulted widely in the community and received an overwhelming response on a number of proposed modifications to the project, starting with the license. The LGPL has served OpenOffice.org well, so the move to LGPL v3 seemed very logical. LGPLv3 is actually almost identical to GPLv3, but with an additional clause limiting the scope of the requirement to release source code under the same license.

Upgrading to the LGPLv3 brings important new protections to the OpenOffice.org community, most notably through the new language concerning software patents. You may know that I am personally an opponent of software patents, and that Sun has already taken steps in this area with a patent non-assert covenant for ODF. But the most important protection for developers comes from creating mutual patent grants between developers. LGPLv3 does this.

So it's a pleasure to be able to say that Sun supports the community's input. OpenOffice.org's license will change to LGPLv3 as part of a broader set of changes intended to improve the OpenOffice.org community for everyone. Those changes also include a switch to the latest version of the standard Sun contributor agreement, with an addendum specifically tailored to the needs of the OpenOffice.org community. There's increased latitude for documentation writers to publish their work on OpenOffice.org. And in future, plugins for OpenOffice.org may host their source code directly on the community site without copyright being shared, helping collaboration within the community.

There's more news about OpenOffice.org's infrastructure as well as the project's governance - see Jim's blog for more detail as well as Louis' community announcement. For all the details, you can listen to a discussion Barton George had with Michael Bemmer, the development director of OpenOffice.org at Sun, his boss Jim Parkinson, and with Peter Brown, Executive Director of the Free Software Foundation, on this podcast: [MP3]-[Ogg].

Tuesday Feb 19, 2008

Document Freedom Day

Comma - Open

The news just went out that March 26 2008 will be the world's first Document Freedom Day, celebrating and championing the cause of true freedom for our data. You may recall that I wrote about this back in 2006 and also gave a speech at the European Commission. I coined the term "Freedom To Leave", referring to the liberty to take your data and go elsewhere uninhibited by DRM, closed interfaces or file formats that require a particular program for faithful reproduction and use.

I believe this to be the new front line in defending the freedoms of computer users. Richard Stallman's four freedoms are now driving the mainstream of software (especially here at Sun), and while software freedom is not yet a given, the next challenge for us is our freedom to own and move our own data anywhere, any time.

Defining Data Freedom

I believe there are multiple dimensions to data freedom.

  • There is the personal dimension - being able to take the data I "own" and use it with any software or service that's appropriate.
  • There is the historical dimension, ensuring future researchers have access to the electronic information that is driving directions in society today.
  • There is the commercial dimension, ensuring that data interfaces remain open, equitable and interoperable so that we have a fair yet competitive marketplace.
All of these converge on Document Freedom Day. I'll be taking time on March 26 this year to celebrate and campaign for each of us to have the Freedom to Leave, with our data - I hope you will too.

Tuesday Jan 29, 2008

How To Get $1m From Sun

You'll remember when I was in India I announced a $1m programme from Sun to recognise contributors to a selection of Free/open source communities (and gave a few more details afterwards). In the interim, each of those communities has formed a team to work out how they would like to direct the $175,000 Sun has allocated to them, and I'm delighted to announce that the six programmes are now live. Full details in the press release which links to each of the community sites.

Monday Jan 21, 2008

Strategically Ignoring Customers

Interesting to see the Microsoft folks making a big deal out of the fact that companies are implementing OOXML features in their software products. I'd hesitate to join them being thrilled at IBM's new-found support for their strategy. Truth is, when there's a monopolist in the market it's impossible to ignore the consequences of even their worst ideas, let alone their good ones. Responding to the needs of locked-in customers who will find themselves using OOXML is a different deal to strategic support.

A much more crucial question, though, is why the folks at Microsoft are so surprised. If you know your customers have a requirement, surely you respond to it? The real question this situation brings to my mind is not "why are IBM implementing OOXML features". It's "why won't Microsoft implement support for ODF at least to the same level as RTF built-in to Office?" Given they have a number of very significant and visible customers demanding that support, it seems to me they are the ones with the explaining to do, not IBM, Google, OpenOffice.org or anyone else.

Monday Dec 03, 2007

Getting Paid to Develop

Beaver photo (c) S Phipps

We've got an exciting development bubbling that I hope to be able to announce in full detail at FOSS.IN in Bangalore on Friday when I speak there.

Just to give you a glimpse of what's happening, Sun will be announcing a multi-year award program in support of fostering innovation and advancing open source within our open source communities. We'll be providing a substantial prize purse and working with the communities involved to develop the approach that works best.

I'm announcing it in India because that's where I expect the greatest open source community growth to come from in the near future - the FOSS.IN programme committee relaunched their CfP a while back with this in mind. If we can play a part in catalyzing the emergence of India as a key international open source power-house, the effect on the software industry will be huge. Not to exclude others in the region of course, so much is going on there.

This year's participants include OpenSolaris, GlassFish, OpenJDK, OpenSPARC, NetBeans, and OpenOffice.org. This is a great opportunity for members of these open source communities to take their passion and creativity and push the innovation boundaries - and get paid in the process!

Update: I've added more detail as well as information responding to questions in the comments here to a new posting.

Update Jan 2008: Details of the individual programmes are now available.

Wednesday Oct 03, 2007

OpenOffice.org Tipping Point?

Slipstreaming Gull

I've been engaged with the OpenOffice.org community for a number of years, and I'm as aware as anyone that it has had some historic issues with its contribution processes. However, all the signs I see suggest those have been or are being addressed - most notably via the Engineering Steering Committee, but with a number of other important changes (including huge improvements in responsiveness on patch integration in response to earlier complaints). I hear there's more to come, too - Jim Parkinson, the VP who employs all Sun's contributors to OpenOffice.org, has a blog on the blocks about a new OpenOffice.org Advisory Board.

The result has been a fresh start over the last six months, with both IBM and Red Flag 2000 choosing to participate for the first time alongside Sun, Novell and others, and with a fresh road map and new ideas. I'm sure there remain issues to address, but what with all this improvement as well as the strength of the ODF community, OpenOffice.org is on the up-tick. As I said on the panel at OOoCon, we're reaching a tipping point for ODF and OpenOffice.org that is making the opposing forces sit up at think.

In the midst of all this, I see my friend Michael Meeks has been challenging Sun in a creative way - it even made Slashdot today. I remember the days when Michael used to enthusiastically encourage OpenOffice.org community members to sign the contributor agreement, as recently as last December...

Thing is, there's way more to it than Michael is discussing. It seemed to me that Michael has been looking for an excuse to publicly challenge Sun for ages, and finally found his excuse in some well-meaning actions by his employee Kohei. There are two independent issues here that Michael appears to be intentionally confusing in order to make his competitor look bad.

Community Norms

The first is an attack on community norms. It's tempting to use a real-life example but here's a work of my imagination. Let's detach the Novell-Sun competitive issue and work by analogy. Imagine you decide you want to work on Apache Roller, their great new blog server project. You create a fantastic new capability that, when people see it, they realise it needs to be part of Roller - just like you hoped.

You tell them "look, I'd love to contribute it. I have put it under the Apache v2 license. Please accept my contribution." They say to you "well, that's great, but it's a community norm that we ask people to sign Apache's contributor agreement" (yes, that is an Apache requirement in this sort of case). You say "no way Jose" and the Roller guys say "well, we can't accept your contribution until you do". This goes on for a while and it's clear you're not going to budge. All the same, the users make it clear that the feature you are implementing (which is just like one we all saw in WordPress) is just going to have to get implemented.

Finally, some other guys on Roller decide they are going to reluctantly do an independent implementation of the same function. It will use none of your code, and probably work rather differently, but it will make sure Roller gets that feature that Wordpress has too. It's a waste of everyone's time, but Apache has those rules to protect all the members as well as their own administrative functions.

Despite Michael's framing, this is the same situation he describes. An existing community, with existing and well-understood norms, is approached by an enthusiastic developer who breaks the community rules and refuses to accept the correction he receives. The rules were not made to thwart Kohei - they have been there for years.

Contributor Agreements

The second issue is the subject of contributor agreements. They are very common - the FSF has one, so does Apache, and so do projects like MySQL and even, I believe, some of Novell's own projects. There are several reasons to have them:

  • They act as an assertion of originality. By saying you grant rights to another party, you implicitly but demonstrably assert you have the rights to begin with. That means the community can have greater confidence that there are no submerged rights issues waiting for the future.
  • They allow the copyright steward to act on behalf of the community in the event of any license violation. FSF has done this before now, and Sun is more than ready to defend the projects where it is steward in this way.
  • They allow maintenance of the license in the future. Without aggregated copyright, a switch from v1 to v2 of a license (for example) involves locating every single contributor and getting their agreement to the change. If any of them decline or even ignore the request, the code will need re-implementing. It took Mozilla two years to complete this when they re-licensed. The only cases where this isn't necessary are those that have what I call "class A licenses" (like MIT or BSD - more in my white paper).
  • More controversially, it allows dual-licensing to parties (such as corporations) who are too worried about open source to work only under an open source license but are willing to work through a mediator.
  • In many cases (including some very well-known open source projects) it also allows the original donor to offer commercial offerings, thus ensuring the project continues to have engagement funded by its major participants.

The Sun Contributor Agreement is in my view the best there is. Sadly the OpenOffice.org community doesn't appear to be using the latest, much-improved version - maybe that's the problem? We've been evolving it to have some very desirable community attributes:

  • It does not require the contributor to surrender their copyright. They share their rights instead and retain the freedom to do whatever they want with the code contribution.
  • It has several layers of agreement, so that if one proves to be unenforceable in some jurisdiction, there are other layers to ensure the community still has aggregated rights.
  • There is an "open source covenant" - Sun promises that any contributions that get used will always remain as Free software wherever else they may end up, so that proprietary-only forks are impossible.

It's a shame Michael has chosen now - a turning point in OpenOffice.org and a moment when Sun has radically improved the SCA in response to broad feedback from many communities - as a time to mount a fresh challenge to Sun that by implication also harms OpenOffice.org. And when you distill out all the details, that's what this turns out to be even by Michael's admission - a competitive issue, not a community one.

Update Oct-17: Someone pointed out to me that Novell demands copyright assignment on Evolution and on Mono, and what's more the agreement they require involves giving Novell the copyright, not sharing it, and includes the same language Michael criticises as inadequate about subsequent open source licensing. What gives, guys? You criticise Sun for doing the same thing Novell requires of contributors? Right in the area where you work?

Sunday Sep 09, 2007

IBM Joins OpenOffice.org

Some great news today. I'm delighted to see that IBM has joined the OpenOffice.org community and will be making contributions resulting from their use of OpenOffice.org in Lotus Notes. I hear there will be load of IBM staff at the OpenOffice.org Conference in Barcelona next week so I'll be keen to find out more about their plans when I'm there in Friday.

Wednesday Feb 07, 2007

Sun Announces ODF Plug-In for MS Office

Great news today. Sun has announced that it will make available a plug-in for Microsoft Office that adds seamless support for ISO/IEC 26300 OpenDocument format. It works by using a highly optimised build of OpenOffice.org as a conversion engine and then inserting code into Word that adds ODF as just another peer file format, so that users can open and save ODF files just they way they would expect to, the same way as RTF, Doc and any other file format. You can even set ODF as the default file format.

Since the conversion is done by the same ultra high quality code that's used in OpenOffice.org, the quality for the conversions is excellent. There will be a preview version available for download in a few weeks that works with Word 2003, and we'll have a full version (that also exposes support for Excel and Powerpoint to use ODF formats) in the spring.

In other words, we've done what Microsoft could and should have done in the first place instead of FUD-ing and fighting. We've used freely available open-source code to build seamless, intuitive support for ODF into MS Word. No unmaintainable XSLT. No funky, redundant additional menu items. No tortuous workflow designed to make users treat ODF as second class. No pre-requisite for the OOXML add-in to make it work. Just peer support for the industry-standard file format, using open source rather than building from scratch so the improvements that are made to OpenOffice.org lead to improvements in the plug in.

This means that users of accessibility devices don't have to be left behind by migrations to ODF. People with those (expensive) assentive aids are trapped on Office 2003 since the devices use reverse-engineered closed APIs. By adding seamless ODF support, they are able to be full peers in a working environment that is moving to OpenDocument. As the release says:

The Executive Department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is currently using the converter to meet the previously identified January, 2007 compliance date for the start of a phased migration to the ODF format. In addition to allowing the Commonwealth's existing Microsoft Office applications to read and write ODF text files, the converter permits the continued use of the state's chosen accessibility technologies to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

Update: Erwin has some screen shots that shows how Word looks with the plug-in installed.

Saturday Dec 23, 2006

OpenSolaris Internationalisation

Sphere within Sphere

There was an announcement yesterday that may seem uninteresting to those of us in the English-speaking world, but which could have profound impacts elsewhere. One of the key attributes of the OpenOffice.org community is that, while there is a core group of developers doing an excellent job evolving the productivity suite, there is a huge international community making sure that OpenOffice.org is localised globally.

The most important feature of the community is that it provides speakers of 100 different languages and dialects with an office productivity suite in their own language. That's an achievement that the supposed market leader can only dream about - and it makes ISO 26300 ODF all the more valuable as an international standard. The truly world-changing aspect of Free and Open Source software is that everyone can have it in their own language because local people are free to localise it. More than that, because the work is done locally, it can be within an appropriate cultural frame, rather than carrying with it the linguistic prejudices of a foreign company.

So to that announcement. I am delighted to be able to say that Sun has just contributed the Globalisation source code for the Solaris operating system to the OpenSolaris community under CDDL, so that everyone everywhere in the world can have OpenSolaris-based operating systems in their own language and cultural frame. Starting the community was a huge step; this move could prove to have an even greater impact. Congratulations to the team!

Monday Dec 11, 2006

Templates for OpenOffice.org

You'll recall that we've introduced service/support packages for OpenOffice.org and a blogging plug-in for both StarOffice and OpenOffice.org. What I haven't mentioned before is that we are now selling a Template Pack that includes all the professional-quality document templates that are shipped with StarOffice. At $7 it's excellent value and provides another easy way you can support the Sun team that's doing the bulk of the work implementing and maintaining OpenOffice.org - another indication of our direction.

Monday Nov 20, 2006

Software Never Has Bugs

Golden Orb

Have you ever watched one of those sci-fi or war films where there's an alien/enemy take-over of the ship/base and the captain heroically manages to get to the box on the wall, open the cover and hit the big red switch which blows the whole thing to kingdom come just in the nick of time? (Bond, anyone?) Have you had the same thought as me? That building that sort of capability in to your infrastructure is just an invitation for some system defect to accidentally blow the whole place sky high accidentally?

Well, it really happened - just down the road from us in Portsmouth there was huge disruption recently as second world war bombs were removed from a naval base. The benefits of having planted the bombs in the first place were undoubtedly huge in the minds of the military men who planted them, but the unexpected side effects were very disruptive.

This was brought to mind reading MJF's piece on the kill-switch in the new MS Office product, and then Tim's reaction to how it might be subverted. I'm sure it makes sense in someone's mind somewhere, but this customer-hating paranoia at Microsoft is eventually going to really hurt someone (unless, of course, their software never has bugs).

What with the "Windows Genuine Adware" stuff waiting to turn off your system at the slightest whim, the question of why anyone would knowingly install software that includes an intentional self-destruct like this is high in my mind - especially as viable alternatives become more and more common, as this BBC story almost gets round to saying explicitly. ZDNet newbie Larry Dignan may be able to stay neutral-voiced, but I just have to shout that it's a calculated abuse of a dominant market position.

Putting a "kill switch" that can be locally and remotely triggered depends on the fact that Software Never Has Bugs. Yeah, right.

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