Archive for March, 2007

March

29

by Kaj Kandler

The OpenOffice.org community has released their latest version today.

The new release 2.2 has better integration of Microsoft Vista UI elements, as well as improved Apple OS X support, such as smaller installed size and many stability improvements.

On the functional side there are new features in Pivot tables and trigonometric functions for Calc spreadsheets. Spreadsheets also improve interoperability with MS Excel. For the database fan, Base got new “Query in Query” features and improved SQL editing in general. In addition, support for various ODBC drivers has been improved. Impress, the presentation application has improved handling of hidden slides.

All users might see improved character rendering, because the kerning feature, to boost readability of proportional fonts, is now on by default. Making documents look good also touches PDF with improved font handling and added bookmarks. You can now even add form-fields to your PDF.

With the latest update OpenOffice.org has also plugged some vulnerabilities to boost security from hackers.

March

27

by Kaj Kandler

The GullFoss Blog announces the availability of a first version of the ODF Toolkit for .NET.

The new library is called “An OpenDocument Library” (AODL) and written completely in C#. This library allows .NET project to support ODF documents.

It currently supports only a limited set of functions

  • Creating new documents in the text and the spreadsheet format.
  • Loading and manipulating documents in the text and spreadsheet (not complete yet) format.
  • Export loaded or created documents into the HTML format (text and spreadsheet documents).
  • Export loaded or created documents into the PDF Format. (this is in an early state of implementation and only available for text documents)

March

24

by Kaj Kandler

I saw first at the Debian Security website that the WordPerfect and StarCalc import libraries used by OpenOffice.org have some vulnerabilities for overflow attacks. Then is spread around the web in all security services.

The flaw allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code. Affected are users that open WordPerfect documents, a rather small number of users. As far as I know, Word Perfect is used a lot by the legal profession. The work around, is to not open WordPerfect documents before you upgrade to the next version or install a patch.

Debian and SuSE have already issued patches.

March

24

by Kaj Kandler

The OpenOffice.org Conference2007 (OOo Con) will be held in Barcelona, Spain, 19th-21st September.

The organizing committee has put out a call for papers. If you are working on something that interests the community and would like to present it, by all means end in a proposal and share the topic with all of us. The deadline for submission is 1st June.

March

20

by Kaj Kandler

OpenOffice.org has lately been on a fairly short release cycle of 3 month. Martin Michlmayr, researcher on the topic of open source development, points out in his journal, that this has not always been this way.

Originally, when Sun made StarOffice open source under the new name OpenOffice.org, it planned for a release cycle of 18 month. The cycle was so long, because it needed to incorporate all changes into StarOffice as well. However, this did not atisfy teh users who had to wait long time for new features and it did not satisfy the developers, who saw the fruits of their work only after years.

After the 2.0 release was delayed by nine month, the OpenOffice community adopted an agile approach of fixed release dates and variable feature sets. The release ar now pegged at every three month. See Martin’s journal entry for details.

March

19

by Kaj Kandler

I invited my wife to join me for the second day of BarCamp Boston 2. I wanted her to see Rod Begbie‘s presentation on “Powerful Pointed Presentations – How to give kick-ass presentations, and avoid becoming PowerPoint’s bitch.” I knew this would be a highlight of the day and it was. Rod was in his element, when he showed the audience how to reduce the amount of text on a slide, how to focus the attention from time to time and how to make the talk the center of the presentation and use the slides for illustration and not as a distraction. The lesson that stuck in my head, is “Be nice to your audience and finish early.” It leaves some time to contemplate the presentation rather than racing to the next event or catching up with the inevitable urgencies of the day.

Following Rod I attempted to captivate an audience for “How to organize a Meetup”. I only attracted a handful of participants but we did discuss the topic at length. I shared my experience with Meetup.com as an efficient vehicle to organize a group to a given topic in the real world, using the Internet as the tool. In my opinion, the return on investment comes from being instantly above the fold on search results, for someone looking for the key word in combination with a US town. It makes it very easy to attract new members. My audience pointed out that sometimes one even finds a ready made list of interested people for the topic waiting for someone to start the Meetup group.

After lunch I did present on “Plan-B for OpenOffice.org – documentation for non technical users.” My audience was again very small. But the feedback I received for the presentation and the concept was certainly worth it. The group had an interesting exchange about if and how to fund Plan-B for OpenOffice.org with advertising (separate writeup follows).

My last session for the day was a discussion by Michael Feldman about using technology in teaching college students. Michael is a professor for communication at the BU law school. He has long experimented with technology and has often been disappointed. His lessons are “You need to tailor to the least technology savvy student” and “keep your learning objective in focus”. He currently works a lot with Wiki sites to foster discussions and mash up some useful tools for his class.

If you haven’t attended a BarCamp, I can highly recommend to do so. The unconventional format produces a very productive atmosphere and you get to know many interesting people and their projects. I’m very grateful to the organizers: Shimon Rura, Larry Lyons, Ray Deck, Jeff Potter, Keith Erskine, Mike Walsh, Sooz and the sponsors.

See also my report from Saturday.

March

19

by Kaj Kandler

Last summer I went to the first BarCamp Boston. I had a great time there and did not want to miss BarCamp Boston 2 this past weekend.

BarCamp Boston 2 was held at MIT Stata Center, the famous building by architect Frank O. Gehry.

The rules for a BarCamp an unconference of geeks are simple. Every participant can chair a session, discussion or provide a lightning talk. The organizers have set aside a few appropriate meeting rooms and a schedule on a blackboard where one can read the program and add one self to the offering. In addition the organizers and sponsors did provide us with food and refreshments.

The first session I attended was “JavaScript Encryption” by Alan Taylor. Alan presented a self contained HTML document that included encrypted content which could only be revealed with the correct password. He calls his project Message Vault. His experience with making the application secure was very interesting. His biggest challenge was to embed an encrypted form of the password that was hard to decipher.

Next, I attended “Open/Collaborative/Green Mapping” by Jerrad Pierce. I had met Jerrad earlier in the hall where he presented his maps and had talked him into presenting his experience with this project in a session. He has created a Green Map of Cambridge, as part of the GreenMaps initiative. He also wrote his thesis on the subject of a better index to points on the map. Jerrad had 45+ interested listeners and a lot of questions where asked. How did he get the data from public sources? What tools did he use? What other tools he could recommend, especially those that where available at no cost?

Amanda Watlington presented before the afternoon break about “Video – How to Make It Found in Search Engines”. She stressed that video and audio files become more important to search as people use the web increasingly to consume media. So she told webmasters that it is important to annotate the media assets with internal and external keyword tags and to write, if possible, a transcript from the media and post it on a page that contains the file. In addition she recommended to submit the media file to specialty search engines, in order to make it available to the searching public.

My last session for the day was “Financing your Startup” by David Kaufman. It wasn’t all new, but certainly a comprehensive overview of how to finance your startup. I took away the following tidbits of wisdom: “Revenue or advanced financing by your (future) customers is the best way to survive the first phase” and “VC financing is only appropriate if you can show a very fast adoption curve and a large market.” Typically VCs want to invest X Millions and have that returned 10 fold within 3 to 5 years. If your business model does not show a plausible case for this kind of development, do not spend (waste) your time with talking to VCs. In addition, think about who the VC would potentially sell his share in the company? It helps to know who would be a potential buyer, especially as the default exit strategy of an Initial Public Offering (IPO) is not as available as it used to be.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the socializing in the evening, as I had prior commitments.

March

13

by Kaj Kandler

Ted Haeger lets us know that Novell just released its own edition of OpenOffice.org.

Thanks to Ted I now know why Novell is cooking its own version. Novell feels that the open source model is a good one. They follow the intention of open source to solve one’s own problems and contribute back to the community. In Novell’s case they solve the issues of their Linux customers and benefit all others too. All Novell additions are factored into the main stream OpenOffice.org eventually. While the community does absorb the contributions, Novell does enjoy the benefits of an advanced version that makes their brand of Linux more competitive. That sounds like a fair deal to me.

Now the Novell developers even released a version of Novell Edition OpenOffice.org for Windows. Why? Because they learned from their own experience that it sometimes takes a few baby steps until you are ready to switch from Windows to Linux. Switching from MS Office to OpenOffice.org is such a baby step. Lets hope that the Mac version is not far behind. Although I’m not sure how many Mac users can’t wait to switch to Linux.

March

13

by Kaj Kandler

The OpenOffice.org community has written a letter to Michael Dell, CEO and founder of Dell Computers to offer help in making the wishes of their customers happen. Dell Computers recently opened DellIdeaStorm, a website to solicit customer ideas and wishes. One of the top items with over 24,000 votes in two days was OpenOffice.org pre-installed on Dell computers.

The OpenOffice.org community offers in the letter help to make this happen. They are proud that their product is desired by so many of Dell’s customers and want to work with Dell to offer the open source office suite pre-installed as standard or an option.

As of today “Pre-Installed OpenOffice | alternative to MS Works & MS Office” is the second most popular request on DellIdeaStorm with over 75,000 votes.

March

06

by Kaj Kandler

Californian Democrat Mark Leno introduced a bill that requires the Californian government be equipped to store and exchange documents in an open, XML-based format. This legislation would stipulate this requirement starting 2008.

Massachusetts was the first state that recognized how important it is to store and archive office documents in a format that can be guaranteed to be readable in 30 or 50 years from now. Software that reads proprietary document types can vanish with the company that produces it and the support from rivals to support this format will vanish shortly thereafter. This can leave you with a heap of bits, perfectly preserved on tape or other storage media which is not reproducible for the human eye. And after all that is the purpose of all document archiving. There response was to include a similar mandate in the id term IT plan, requiring storage and archiving of documents in ODF or PDF.

We will see how this proposed bill will work out and what it’s effects are. Currently only ODF, also known as ISO 26300, does fulfill the requirements as storage format. And OpenOffice.org is the most widely distributed program with comprehensive support for ODF. While there exist import filters MS Office they are currently limited to text documents (MS Word) and do not include spreadsheets or presentations.