LibreOffice 5.0 arrives: A Q&A with The Document Foundation's Italo Vignoli

italo libreoffice fosdem

Italo Vignoli (left) with LibreOffice team during FOSDEM 2012

Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

The Document Foundation (TDF) has done an incredible job with the code that they acquired from OpenOffice. As a long-time OpenOffice user, I felt that the productivity suite was stuck in time, frozen somewhere in the past. But after the formation of TDF and forking of the code, we saw massive improvement in the software. And today, the foundation has released version 5.0 of LibreOffice.

To learn more about what's new in this release and what's ahead for LibreOffice, I chatted with one of the co-founders of TDF, Italo Vignoli.

5.x seems like a milestone for LibreOffice. How do you feel about this release? How far have you come from the code that you acquired from OpenOffice?

LibreOffice 5.0 is a milestone release for a number of reasons. It is the first release of our third phase of software development, after code cleaning (3.x) and code refactoring (4.x). We are now focusing on the user interface, and on features improving the user experience. We are also building on our standard file format and on the interoperability features added over time, to make LibreOffice the best office suite for real personal productivity, in a multi-platform and multi operating system environment.

In addition, LibreOffice 5.0 is at the cornerstone of our multi-platform strategy, as LibreOffice for Android and LibreOffice Online will be based on the same source code. Over time, this will offer a similar user experience independently from the operating system and the hardware platform.

In five years, our growing developer community has been able to turn the vision of an open source office suite capable of standing out from the crowd of products in the same segment - including the market leader - based on features and quality, into a reality. To reach this objective, the source code inherited from OpenOffice.org (OOo) has been completely transformed from the legacy of the nineties to the state of the art of the current technology.

What are the major highlights of the release?

The user interface, which is now on par with the underlying technology; the interoperability with other office suites, which is now extended to Apple iWorks, and makes LibreOffice the best office suite for real personal productivity; and the improvements to Calc, which is getting closer to Excel in term of features.

Major releases of LibreOffice, in any case, are not based on features, which are added incrementally. Because of that, we will never have a "breakthrough" release as intended by large software vendors. Our time based release schedule is thought according to user needs, as a predictable release date will simplify the task of updating the software on large scale implementations.

It’s often seen that the Mac OS X/Windows version of LibreOffice has more features than the Linux version. What’s the reason?

It's rather the opposite. The majority of LibreOffice developers is using Linux, and as such new features are developed and tested on Linux before being ported to Windows or MacOS. Sometime, we mention Windows and MacOS because some features - like in the case of OpenGL compatibility - are eventually available on those platforms after having being available on Linux for quite some time.

LibreOffice has essentially the same feature set on every operating system, and in any case Linux is the preferred operating system of the majority of community members.

Mac OS X/Windows users can easily install the latest version of LibreOffice as soon as it’s available, while Linux users have to wait until their distros offer it through main repos. Don’t you think Linux users miss out here? Any solutions?

The Document Foundation provides the vanilla version for DEB and RPM based distros. The package can be installed using the terminal, and most Linux power users are installing LibreOffice using this process.

Of course, installing LibreOffice through the distribution repos is easier and more user friendly. In some cases, though, distributions provide a specific repo for the latest LibreOffice release, as in the case of Canonical providing a PPA for each LibreOffice release, including pre-releases.

For instance, I have been writing this document using LibreOffice 5.0 RC4 installed from the LibreOffice pre-releases PPA, provided by Canonical. I have got all the updates from the repository, without the need of fiddling with the DEB vanilla provided by The Document Foundation.

What’s the core focus of the LibreOffice/TDF teams now?

Developers are working in four different areas: user interface, interoperability, Android and cloud. Of course, this is the focus of developers paid by companies while volunteers are free to work on their preferred task, to scratch their own itch. In some cases, this is in line with the work of core developers, like in the case of the work done on the user interface by several volunteers, which has produced the improvements of LibreOffice 5.0.

When can we finally see LibreOffice for mobile, ready for prime time?

We are targeting the last quarter of 2015 for an app with editing features. The long term objective is to have an app with full editing features.

What is the status of online service based on LibreOffice?

LibreOffice Online is actively developed, and will be announced in early 2016. The first demo will probably be available at the LibreOffice Conference in Aarhus during the month of September. Collaborative editing will be announced later, in the second half of 2016.

It should be clear, though, that The Document Foundation will not provide the online service, as this is not our mission. We will provide LibreOffice Online to enterprises for their private clouds, and to Internet Service Providers to provide a solution for their subscribers.

How has open source development model help in the overall development of LibreOffice?

We have based our success on the advantages provided by the open source development model, and especially on protecting volunteer developers thanks to the copyleft license and the lack of contributor agreement, and using a time based release plan instead of a feature based release plan. Actually, this model has been the reason why LibreOffice has been far more successful than other OpenOffice derivatives, where companies were dictating the rules.

Are there any wide adoption of LibreOffice/Open Document Format in more countries?

We are seeing a strong uptake of LibreOffice in Europe, and not only by the public administration (which is traditionally looking at open source for political and budget reasons) but also from enterprises. It looks like the improvements we have made in the area of interoperability are attracting companies in sectors we would not consider a target for open source software, such as large banks.

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