Growing The Community

How can you grow an open source community? Two blog posts from The Document Foundation (TDF) illustrate a proven double-ended strategy to sustain an existing community.                                                                                                            Spanish

Fern Fiddlehead

Since it was established in 2010, the LibreOffice project has steadily grown under the guidance of The Document Foundation (TDF) where I’ve been a volunteer — most lately as a member of its Board. Starting from a complex political situation with a legacy codebase suffering extensive technical debt, TDF has been able to cultivate both individual contributors and company-sponsored contributors and move beyond the issues to stability and effectiveness. Continue reading

Superclean code puts LibreOffice at the head of the trend

If you’ve been around open source for a while, perhaps your understanding of the quality of open source code is based on older projects like the infamously unstable OpenOffice.org codebase. Times have changed however and evidence of this can be found in the work of code improvement vendor Coverity. They recently announced that LibreOffice, (four years old this weekend and based on the old OpenOffice code), has a defect density of just 0.08, compared with similar sized open source projects which averages at 0.65 and proprietary code which averages  at 0.71.

LibreOffice is an outlier, an extreme example of clean, defect free code, but it also fits into a larger trend. Since the publication of its 2013 Coverity Scan Open Source Report, Coverity has asserted that open source code quality now outpaces that of proprietary code. While an open source license doesn’t guarantee quality, it does allow for evaluation of quality and encourages collaborative efforts toward improvement. Which is why you can expect to see the trend noticed by Coverity continue over the coming years.

Read Simon’s full article on InfoWorld.

Bringing LibreOffice to Android

At the LibreOffice Conference, The Document Foundation issued a tender document looking for bids to develop an Android implementation of LibreOffice. Could this influx of money affect the ethics and work ethic of today’s open source community? It’s not actually the first time the community has experimented with bringing a LibreOffice editor to Android. The scale of the task however is enough to dampen volunteer enthusiasm and given the lack of commercial motivations for engagement, disappointing low volunteer turnout is not actually a great surprise.

When it comes to money, The Document Foundation is faced with the mixed blessing of having plenty available. In what way is that blessing mixed? As a charity the foundation is legally required to spend those funds over the course of the following year or so. With the clock moving swiftly on, The Document Foundation has already invested in development infrastructure for testing, the backing of community activities and the hiring of sys admin and administrative staff. There’s still a sizeable portion left over though. Knowing that spending in areas where the community is already intrinsically motivated might well reduce contributions, TDF has decided to focus remaining funds on development of the Android port, hoping to bootstrap a necessary new community in the process. Now it simply remains to be seen if anyone will bid to do the work!

Read Simon’s full coverage in his InfoWorld article.

The Document Liberation Project

The problem of old document formats being unreadable by newer software is especially frustrating. It removes effective control from the hands of the original authors, with potentially very damaging effects. Individuals, businesses and even governments have been known to get locked out of their own files after upgrading to newer releases of their preferred office software. Unless something changes though, the problem is only going to get worse as the years go by. Thankfully though, the newly formed “Document Liberation Project” has a plan to help rectify the situation. They aim to do this by collecting samples of all known document formats, documenting them, and building import filters so they can be imported into open source software like LibreOffice.

Sponsored by The Document Foundation, the Document Liberation Project also aims to help governments, companies and individuals to migrate to the Open Document Format (ODF) standard as a long-term storage format for their creative work. Remaining backward compatible even as new versions are released, the spread of the ODF offers real hope for those who think that control of digital content needs to be kept out of the hands of proprietary vendors.

Read Simon’s full announcement on InfoWorld.

Open Source Fonts For Interoperability

Italo Vignoli makes a great point on his blog about the use of fonts. He explains that proprietary software like MS Office uses proprietary fonts by default.

Because of the way they are licensed, they can’t be bundled by other software. That means substitute fonts with different characteristics have to be used. As a consequence, other programs trying to open documents they create — no matter how otherwise interoperable the file format handling becomes — cannot reproduce the same visual appearance or layout since they don’t have the fonts.

The solution to this is open source fonts. They can be freely bundled with software like LibreOffice and thus the documents using them are much more likely to render correctly on other systems.

SUSE LibreOffice developers move to Collabora

Along with SUSE’s announcement that they are stopping development of LibreOffice, they also announced that they’re facilitating the migration of their staff LibreOffice contributors to Collabora, a new home for LibreOffice support. The core of SUSE’s LibreOffice developers (contributing around three quarters of SUSE commits), will now continue their work from within the newly created Collabora productivity suite business unit, named Collabora Productivity.

Whilst many of those left behind remain committed to contributing to LibreOffice on their own time, the developer core moving to Collabora Productivity ensure that both LibreOffice community support and continuity for SUSE’s enterprise customers remain priorities.

For the LibreOffice project overall, the news seems a very natural step for SUSE and highlights the importance of The Document Foundation’s role in managing the project; even in times of corporate change for contributing companies, impact on the project itself is minimal, as all infrastructure for development and distribution is managed by the Foundation. For more commentary, check out Simon’s InfoWorld article.

LibreOffice 4.1 Arrives!

Today saw the announcement of the latest major LibreOffice release. LibreOffice 4.1 is heralded as “a landmark for interoperability” in The Document Foundation’s announcement. They’re keen to emphasise compatibility related improvements and features such as the upgrades to Microsoft OOXML import and export filters and the newly enabled font embedding. Whilst compatibility with proprietary file formats is certainly one of LibreOffice’s key advantages, the new release is not short on improvements and new features in other areas too. In all, the release marks a significant stride forward for LibreOffice, maintaining it’s impressive form.

For those involved with the LibreOffice community, the annual gathering is happening in September in Milan. The call for papers is still accepting submissions until the 4th of August, so get yours in now!