Archive for September, 2007

September

24

by Kaj Kandler

Really, would you eat a can of SPAM that is past its expiration date? Well, I would possibly in an emergency, but not as a regular exercise. Why, because expiration dates on food are predictions and most often nothing really bad happened. It is a safety net that the producer is required to provide so that the consumer and the distributer can check a product for freshness and avoid old and potentially dangerous food.

But what have food expiration dates to do with software. There is no software expiration date, or is there? Well, basically every new release of an application should expire the older version. And in case of a new installation you won’t install the older version, if you can have access to the latest and greatest, or would you?

Some bloggers have tried IBM’s new Lotus Symphony office suite that is based on Open Office. Well, they found out LotusSymphony is based on a rather outdated release 1.X of OOo.

I can’t imagine how a company like IBM thinks it can be at all competitive with a product based on three year old code that has many known bugs and performance problems.

This discovery really begs the question what are the 35 developers that IBM assigned to work on the Open Office open source project are going to do? Have they been involved in repackaging and rebranding this OOo distribution? Are they trained in the technology of 2004/2005? What will be their contribution, if they are not up to date with the latest OOo release?

September

19

by Kaj Kandler

Matt Asay asks the question “What to do when open source is not good enough?” in his CNET blog.

He argues that he sometimes encounters cases where his choice of open source software does not fulfill his desired feature set and so he resorts to proprietary, closed source, binary only applications. For example, Asay switches from Adium to iChat when he needs video chat capability and from OpenOffice.org Impress to MS PowerPoint, when he needs video embedding. He concludes it is o.k. to use binary only applications in these cases and I would not disagree.

However, I’m not quite sure if Asay asks the right question or answers the question he asks.

Open Source is there so you can improve on the software you got, as opposed to a binary license that does prevent you from even pin pointing (debugging) a problem. The core freedom of open source is being able to add/modify/fix what is “your itch”. That the software is it also “free as in beer” is more of a side effect.

The better answer to Asay’s question is “If open source is not good enough, then improve it.” Sure not everybody is a programmer, but everybody can hire someone to do the job.

That is where it becomes clear that the “free as in beer” is only for making a copy of the software. If you really want to get the best out of it and solve your specific issue, then you have to invest like in anything else. You don’t even have to share (publish) the fruits of your investment. Only when you want to give it to someone else (for money or for free) you have to give that person the same rights you got (under the GPL at least).

So now it is your decision if you want to invest your money/talent/time into proprietary software that does not give you these freedoms or in open source that does. I’m not saying OSS is the only solution, but I’m saying it is equivalent to closed source and even better in some cases.

Ask yourself how would you answer the question “What to do when closed source software is not good enough?” I’ll think you’ll come to the same answer, use a competing application that does do what you want. Now in case of proprietary binary only software, you are at the mercy of “the market.” If you can’t find the app with the features you need, you are out of options and have to start from scratch to build the software you need. In case of open source you can take the package that comes the closest to your needs and add/modify/fix.

It’s all about options, you choose yours.

September

18

by Kaj Kandler

Today, IBM released Lotus Symphony, its version of OpenOffice.org as a free offering to business, government and consumer users.

The productivity suite is free to download. Interestingly the website only presents three applications, “Documents”, “Presentations” and “Spreadsheets.” The Database functionality of OpenOffice.org is apparently missing. The Suite supports Windows XP or Vista and Linux RedHat or Novell SuSE. A discussion about MAC OS X support has already started in the support forums.

Lotus Symphony does naturally support ODF and also can read and write the Microsoft Office formats most of the time. The latest MS OOXML is not yet supported.

Unfortunately this is another species in the jungle called Open Office eco-system.

P.S.: If you are PC veteran, you might remember the Lotus Symphony for DOS, which included Lotus 1-2-3. This is not the same!

September

17

by Kaj Kandler

The Openoffice.org community released its latest version, called Release 2.3.

It includes a new charting component with much more pleasing default colors, many enhancements that make Open Office extensions more viable and a series of bug fixes, some relevant to security vulnerabilities.

Behind the scenes many configuration options have changed or been added, such as:

  • Suppressing to save the printer settigns with a document, which in times of roaming Laptop users, might print the document half way around the world.
  • Improved export of spreadsheets with cotanget functions, such as COT(), ACOT(), COTH(), ACOTH() to MS Office compatible Excel files.
  • A new Chart Wizard makes it easier to generate charts from spreadsheet data.
  • A new report writer has expanded the abilities of OOo Base to write complex reports with grouping, sorting or different alignments of fields.
  • Exporting drawings and presentations to HTML now support .png images.
  • Exporting a text-document to a MediaWiki (think Wikipedia pages) format is now supported.

Also, don’t forget the smaller memory footprint that this release should include. This will make OpenOffice.org less memory hungry and more responsive as well.

I’m surprised hwo many changes have been made to the look and feel of menus and dialogs. Most of them are to please the extension developer community. I haven’t detailed the changes here, but be prepared to re-learn a few things, especially if you are a power user.

September

14

by Kaj Kandler

Really, what would Dan Heintzman, the director of strategy at Lotus, say about IBM joining the OpenOffice.org community? Andy Undergrove wondered too and interviewed Dan Heintzman from Lotus. Dan makes some interesting points, including:

  • IBM hopes to signal its commitment to ODF and the OpenOffice.org to IT managers that are not sure how long this technology will last. he mentions the $1 Billion invetment tha tIBM announced for Linux way back. However, I must have missed an announcement that impressive or any direct number at all.
  • He acknowledges that there have been tensions between Sun Microsystems and IBM over community governance and that IBM’s announcement means IBM will help to make change in the governance structure of the OpenOffice community happen.
  • Dan’s vision of a document is a container that brings elements toghether, but retains their source. It is more a collage of text, graphics, data then the coherent print form we often think of. He thinks ODF is a viable platform to start this transformation.
  • Dan dodges the speculation if IBM would add an e-mail/calendar program to the Open Office suite.

September

13

by Kaj Kandler

I don’t know how you visualize ecosystems, for me they resemble a picture of a jungle with lots of nurishing water, beautiful plants, colorful birds and some dangerous snakes lurking on trees.

The newest take on the multitude of products derived from OpenOffice.org is to call it an ecosystem. While Sun Microsystem thinks the multiple distributions of OpenOffice.org are an ecosystem, I often feel lost in the Jungle that is. Lets list the well known distributions:

  • OpenOffice.org – the “Original”
  • StarOffice – the commercial version from Sun Micosystems
  • StarSuite – a sun distribution targeted at the Asian market
  • StarOffice from Google – a free commercial (?) distribution
  • OpenOffice.org Novell Edition – free version with new developments by Novell and in the pipeline for integration into the “Original”
  • NeoOffice – a distribution with integration into Mac OS X Aqua UI, also contains some Novell additions
  • Retro Office – a distribution from the NeoOffice project, adding some of the Novell derived integration but not the Aqua UI integration
  • … various commercial distributions that sell the office suite with minor alterations and support plans

The jungle becomes more dense if you consider that Open Office calls its development steps “release”, while Sun counts Star Office in “version.” I find it also confusing that Sun Microsystems does offer support with its commercial Star Office but also offers support plans for Open Office.

I do welcome various distributions of the same core open source base. However, what confuses me is the product strategy of Sun. Wouldn’t it be much easier if they offered a commercial OpenOffice.org Plus packages with the add ons that can’t be licensed under open source licenses? This would simplify the value for the buyer and unify the support plan offering. It would also put the power of Sun’s advertising behind the whole project and put more mindshare into Open Office, while still retaining Sun’s ability to make money from its work.

September

11

by Kaj Kandler

Today I visited the Sun Tech Days Boston for day number one. Sun Microsystems put on a big program at the downtown Sheraton hotel with three major tracks:

  • NetBeans and various Java related technologies
  • OpenSolaris and its community
  • University a cross section for students, introductions to almost every Sun developer technology

I peaked in to the introductions for OpenSolaris. What I and a moderate crowd listened too was core developers who focused on the developing community of OpenSolaris and how it becomes more than Sun employees developing with everybody else watching. In many ways OpenSolaris does catch up with many other *nix like OS distribution. The word “modernize” was used often in describing the efforts to create new installers,
updated shells, new packaging system, more drivers, etc. OpenSolaris really seams to be a train picking up steam.

I was surprised, how undecided the road map was for the various projects and initiatives. It often was unclear when a certain feature would arrive in which release of OpenSolaris or Solaris the commercial distribution of Sun Microsystems. As an engineer I like things to be finished and done right, instead of rushed to meet a deadline. But from the business perspective, it is not a good thing, that many processes, and I mean decision processes, are not yet decided on. I’m well familiar with such mixed messages from the OpenOffice/StarOffice project, I’m more involved with. If I would meet Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, I’d let him know that Sun’s positioning of the commercial Sun products versus the open source products is not clear and that it is hurting Sun.

Back to the Java track, where I peaked into sessions about Ajax frameworks and upcoming Swing technologies. It appears Sun does not take sides with the various Ajax frameworks, other than trying to support them all in NetBeans. NetBeans 6.0 impressed me with its ability to not just syntax color and code assist but also to have many wizards that generate code for your from a few questions. This was especially apparent in the session about Swing Application Framework and Java Beans Binding. NetBeans supports these brand new frameworks with code generation that can rival Ruby on Rails scaffolding, although for pure Java apps.

Speaking of Ruby on Rails, or better Jruby on Rails. This session was rather disappointing, as the speaker was jsut a few days into Ruby and Rails and basically did talk about her own excitement about a dynamic language and the impressive meta programming Rails style. I would have hoped for more hard facts on how JRuby does vs native Ruby and what the challenges are and how they are overcome.

As you can see it was a busy day, and the program only started in the afternoon. I look forward to tomorrow.

September

10

by Kaj Kandler

You got two choices for going Retro Office:

  1. You can order some steel furniture for your office
  2. You can download RetroOffice for your Mac OS X

RetroOffice is a tongue in cheek version of NeoOffice. While the NeoOffice project is primarily about integration of the Mac look and feel, NeoOffice has recently jumped the gun and integrated some features of OpenOffice.org Novell Edition as well. RetroOffice is simply the additional features with the X Window system UI or original Open Office on the Mac. RetroOffice is delivered as is and does not enjoy any support. It is for users that need to have the latest and can’t wait until the different contributions are integrated into official releases.

September

10

by Kaj Kandler

Most users know that Sun Microsystems is the main force behind OpenOffice.org and its development community. Historically they did buy StarDivision and release Open Office as open source. Today, IBM announced to commit to the OpenOffice.org development community with a team of 35 developers in China working full time on the project. IBM also contributed today a chunk of code making the open source office suite more accessible for users with disabilities.

While IBM has developed the accessibility interface called iAccessible2 for a while and also supported ODF (ISO 26300) in its Lotus Notes products, this announcement is a long term commitment to develop OpenOffice.org as a competitive suite.

September

06

by Kaj Kandler

I blogged yesterday that ISO rejected the MS OOXML application for fast tracking this proprietarily developed format as an ISO standard. The Electronic Frontier Finnland has an interesting article on their website, stating a strong correlation between the ‘YES’ vote for MS-OOXML approval and the Corruption Perception Index (CPI).

While not all correlation can be interpreted as a causal relationship, all causal relationships should show near perfect correlation.

Interesting in this context is also recent research into why “myth” are hard to defeat. It states that ignoring the myth gives it a stamp of approval, because nobody does claim its falsehood. However, correcting a myth does often reinforce the false statement in the human mind instead of reversing it.

I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions.