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LibreOffice 3.3 Breaks from Oracle with New Release

The Document Foundation this week released LibreOffice 3.3, calling it the first "stable release" of the free, open source office suite, whose developers last year split from the effort, now managed by Oracle.

LibreOffice is a suite of productivity applications, including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, database, equation editor, and drawing program.

The developer efforts behind LibreOffice now come under the purview of The Document Foundation, reflecting a split from the open source project back in September. The split happened not long after Oracle announced the acquisition of Sun Microsystems, which had overseen the open source project for a decade or more, basing the code on its StarOffice acquisition.

While Oracle explained in a FAQ that it "plans to continue developing and supporting OpenOffice as open source" and has rolled out 3.3, it has not contributed funds to the LibreOffice project, according to Italo Vignoli, a spokesperson for The Document Foundation. Vignoli, who is the president of PLIO ( Italian National Language Project), explained in an e-mail that LibreOffice developers have been cleaning up the code, which extends back 20 years. Consequently, LibreOffice 3.3 will still look very similar to OpenOffice 3.3.

"LibreOffice is still very similar to the upcoming OpenOffice 3.3, as most of the changes are not visible because they pertain to source code cleaning," Vignoli, stated via e-mail.

However, the goal of The Document Foundation is to take the productivity suite further, break free from single-company control and introduce new features. Given time, the two open source suites will begin to fork. Some of the new features in version 3.3 of LibreOffice include improvements in scalable vector graphics editing in the Draw program, import filters for Microsoft Works and Lotus Word Pro, and support for 1 million rows in the Calc application.

LibreOffice 3.3 supports the OpenDocument Format, and The Document Foundation is contributing to the development of that standard, Vignoli explained. The suite can read and write formatting in the Office Open XML format, both for Office 2007 and Office 2010, he stated. However, Vignoli noted ongoing challenges with the existing ISO/IEC 29500 spec, which is the international standard for Microsoft's Office Open XML document format.

"There are too many flavours of OOXML, and several of them are too different from ISO/IEC 29500 'strict,' which is going to be implemented only with the next MS Office," Vignoli explained.

Even Microsoft isn't following all of ISO/IEC 29500 Strict. The company implemented the earlier ECMA 376 standard for Open Office XML in its Office 2007 and Office 2010 products. According to a Microsoft TechNet library article, "Office 2010 provides read support for ECMA-376, read/write support for ISO/IEC 29500 Transitional, and read support for ISO/IEC 29500 Strict." Document format support is an important consideration for organizations considering moving to alternative productivity suites, and even between Microsoft Office versions. Not all properties may transfer from the older formats.

The split with Oracle appeared to be bitter, as suggested by Charles-Henri Schulz's blog post in October that "the Oracle employees who are members of the project and who expressed themselves these past days have displayed a disturbing lack of understanding of Free and Open Source Software." Schulz formerly was the NLC lead and now serves as an Community Council member.

LibreOffice will have a more regular public release cycle starting in March, according to an announcement by The Document Foundation. The group claims a community of more than 100 developers. The next meeting will be at FOSDEM in Brussels, Feb. 5 and 6.

Organizations considering alternatives to Microsoft Office mostly view them as complementary apps or as apps for specific workforce segments, according to a Forrester Research report, "The Next Wave of Office Productivity," published in August. That report found that there were 340 million users of versus 500 million Microsoft Office users.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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