OpenOffice is an open-source version of what was once StarOffice, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s application suite.
"I'm going to make a blatant plug here," said Bill Roth of Sun in Palo Alto, California. "We need people on this project."
Roth is the "group manager" of OpenOffice.org, the Web site that serves as the focus of the various OpenOffice porting projects (teams are working on Solaris, Windows 2000, IRIX, Linux and other versions) and is co-hosted by CollabNet. The project is opened under a version of the Free Software Foundation's GNU LGPL (Lesser General Public License).
"It's a two-phase license," Roth said. "As long as you're compatible with the file format and have API compatibility, you don't have to give back the code. If your work is not compatible, you have to produce documentation on the changes you've made."
Though Roth said that the code for ports of OpenOffice to other operating systems is being updated "every day", he noted that the Mac OS X port is still looking for a project lead.
Looking for a lead
In fact, said Scott Hutinger--who works at the Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill, and who has applied his computer science degree toward the LinuxPPC port of OpenOffice--"I don't know anyone who is actively working on the Mac OS X port".
On April 11, Sun released the build information for the OpenOffice code after initially releasing the general C++ code the previous October. "Currently," Hutinger said, "the status is about where it was when Sun released the code and information."
"After Sun released the OS X porting information, I was hoping to see some people take over and start finishing the first portion of the port, which is get it running. Since nobody that I know of has done anything, I figured something should be done," he said.
However, Hutinger said, it's not as though he's starting from scratch. "Sun, Patrick Luby [a senior engineer at Sun and former manager for the Mac OS X port who is now working on the Solaris and Linux ports of OpenOffice] and his team have done a lot of the ground work, or should I say all the hard work. They have fixed all the problems with the current tool chain Apple is using."
Still, Hutinger explained that the protean state of Mac OS X might be a concern for volunteer developers. "Mac OS X is somewhat of a moving target in some areas, although nothing like it used to be. I think it's getting to a stable point," he said.
Kevin Hendricks, associate professor of operations and information technology at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, has also pitched in on the Mac OS X porting project. He came to the Mac OS X version by helping complete the LinuxPPC port.
"As far as I know," he said, "only a few developers have taken up the [Mac OS X porting] effort, and that only happened quite recently. The effort desperately needs more help if it is to progress."
Also stalling the Mac OS X porting project, Hendricks said, were issues with the tools. In an interview on the OpenOffice.org Web site, Hendricks noted problems with the GCC (GNU Compiler Collection) compiler that he told eWEEK was his "primary tool" in the porting work.
"The compiler/linker issues alone are enough to make a new developer pull his or her hair out," he told OpenOffice.org.
Asked for an update, Hendricks said, "The tool issues have not been resolved. We are hoping that GCC 3.0 [released on 18 June] or follow-up releases, when ready, will address many of [our] issues. Some of the issues are linker-related as well."
"Since GCC 3.0 has trouble building STLport right now on most platforms and STLport is required for an OpenOffice build, we will have to wait for the next bug-fix release of GCC to see how much of an improvement GCC 3.0 really is," he added.
Complicating the work with Mac OS X, Hendricks said, is the fact that Apple needs to maintain and tailor GCC code for work with Mac OS X development.
Hendricks suggested that developers interested in assessing the work that still needs to be done on the Mac OS X port refer to the Mac OS X To-Do page on the OpenOffice.org Web site.
As for whether OpenOffice will ever come to Mac OS 9 or earlier versions, Hutinger said that he didn't know of anyone working on a port to Apple's legacy operating system. "It gets pretty messy going from Unix to Mac OS 9," he said. "It takes way too much time to port due to many factors."
StarOffice originated in 1993 as Star Writer for Windows and OS/2; Star Writer was the flagship product of the German developer Star Division GmbH. By the end of 1995, Star Division had announced the company was developing a Power Macintosh version of what was, by then, StarOffice 3.0, a suite of applications that included an Excel-compatible spreadsheet, a word processor, a graphics module, image-correction software and more.
The English version was scheduled to ship in early 1996, soon after Windows 95 and OS/2 versions; all three were expected to cost about half the price of Microsoft's Office products.
However, the project met developmental delays, and in August of 1999 Sun purchased Star Division, complete with StarOffice.
By early 2000, reports of a planned Macintosh version of StarOffice resurfaced. The Web site MacCentral.com quoted a public relations manager at the San Francisco firm of Burson-Marsteller: "Sun is planning a Mac port, and a schedule will be announced when the requirements have been reviewed." But that company later ended its relationship with Sun, and a final, commercial version of StarOffice for the Mac did not see the light of day.
In July 2000, Sun announced that it was opening the StarOffice source code. "We decided that the best way to move the Mac product forward was to open-source it," Sun's Roth explained.
At the time, Sun said that the move to open source would result in OpenOffice being available "for all major platforms, including Solaris Operating Environment, Windows, Linux and, later in the year, the Macintosh." It also predicted that "StarOffice 6, the next version currently in development, will serve as the source code base for OpenOffice.org. With the upcoming StarOffice 6 technology, the next generation architecture of separate applications and componentized services will be introduced." However, the current release of StarOffice remains at Version 5.2.
"We had really wanted to produce a Mac OS X version and had been talking to Apple about it," Roth said. "But we couldn't do the port without their help." He said that in addition to needing Apple's help to iron out compiler issues, Roth also noted that Sun had requested help with marketing and distribution factors.
"The Apple community is very tight, and Apple has the key," Roth said.
Apple representatives were unavailable for comment.