OK, so Oracle did give OpenOffice's intellectual property (IP) to The Apache Foundation. So what! The Document Foundation (TDF), which forked OpenOffice into LibreOffice, isn't waving the white flag. Instead, the group has released its next major LibreOffice version: LibreOffice 3.4.
TDF proudly boasts that the latest LibreOffice "incorporates the contributions of over 120 developers (six times as many as the first beta released on the launch date)." And, that, "The majority of these contributors have started to hack LibreOffice code less than eight months ago, and this is an incredible achievement if one recalls that the OOo [OpenOffice.org] project has attracted a lower number of contributors in ten years."
How does LibreOffice do it? In a statement, Italo Vignoli, a TDF Steering Committee member said, "We care for our developers, and it shows. Our core developers have invented the mechanism of the easy hacks, which makes it simple and enjoyable for volunteer contributors to get to know LibreOffice code challenging their development skills with basic or elementary tasks."
This is the same approach that the Linux Driver Project uses. By starting developers with simple problems and helping them work those out they learn how to create better software.
Michael Meeks, a senior SUSE Linux developer and leading LibreOffice programmer said, "Once they have completed the first easy hacks, contributors are ready to scale to more difficult tasks. We spend quite a lot of time mentoring new contributors, in order to increase the number of people working on bug fixing, patches and features. This is soon going to be reflected in the quality of the software and the number of new features of future releases."
So how have they improved LibreOffice this time and what new features have been added? Most of the work in this version seems to be improvements rather than standout features.
True, LibreOffice 3.4.0 Calc, its answer to Microsoft Excel, is much faster and has improved Excel import compatibility.
Most of the changes though are cosmetic or under the hood. For example, the user interfaces of Writer; Impress, LibreOffice's take on PowerPoint; and Draw have been improved and a lot of junk code has been trimmed away.
TDF also states that "LibreOffice 3.4 is targeted to community members and power users, and should not be implemented in a corporate environment."
The biggest of these, as I see it, is that if you try to save a spreadsheet to XLS you can lose formatting. I avoid that by almost always working in Open Document Format (ODF) Spreadsheet (.ods). If you're using LibreOffice and Microsoft Office in your office on spreadsheets, I'd certainly avoid it for now.
Indeed, TDF recommends that offices don't use LibreOffice until 3.4.1 appears. That's actually pretty good advice for any software release of any sort. In any case, TDF will support LibreOffice 3.3.x until the end of 2011.
Ready to give it to try? You can download the latest LibreOffice from the site. Enjoy!