I started writing books on computer in the 1980s. I used a Commodore plus/4, a Macintosh Classic, a mid-90s Mac laptop, and assorted UNIX boxes. This assortment of platforms has taught me something important: as an author, I don’t want my writing tied to any single software vendor. My documents should be in a format that I can easily access on any operating system or platform. This excludes proprietary solutions, such as the Commodore plus/4’s text editor, MacWrite, or Microsoft Word.
OpenOffice interested me right away. I could write and mark up documents, and they would be stored in XML. Even if OOo died tomorrow, I could find a Perl script to extract my text. Oracle buying Sun, and getting OOo with it, is enough to make the paranoid angels who live in the back of my head start their chorus. Oracle cannot take away the software that’s freely available today, but Oracle has absolutely mastered the proprietary software business model. Oracle is excellent at extracting every possible dollar from every available asset. And Oracle is smarter than I am.
That’s why the new Document Foundation LibreOffice interests me. It’s a proactive move to block Oracle from dominating the free office suite space. (I’d like to commend the Document Foundation on not waiting for Oracle to toss them overboard.) And the Document Foundation is sponsored by several companies who have publicly committed to, and are even built upon, an open-source ecosystem. I downloaded and installed LibreOffice on my laptop.
LibreOffice is supposedly the latest OpenOffice, plus fixes for many long-standing bugs that outside developers couldn’t get into the main OpenOffice code. They’ve replaced the Oracle logos in the latest OOo update, and the window decorations are slightly different. The LibreOffice beta looks and feels just like OOo. OOo crashed on me every few weeks, and I haven’t run LibreOffice long enough to reproduce such a crash, but on the whole it seems perfectly fine.
My one complaint is that LibreOffice didn’t import my OOo dictionary. I write many documents with specialized vocabulary, and I spent a great deal of time getting everything into my OOo spellcheck dictionary. LibreOffice means that I have to start over. In the grand scheme, however, this is a minor annoyance compared to the threat that Oracle poses to my writing.
The Document Foundation has stressed that they are not offering an OOo fork. Oracle is welcome to join with them, or otherwise demonstrate their good intentions. I feel confident in predicting that in 2012, however, LibreOffice will be a better choice than OOo.