Judging just by the number of lines of code, Sun's releasing of (most of) StarOffice
under open source
licensing is certainly the most massive project of its kind, ever.
The code -- released
this past Friday (the 13th), just as Sun predicted back in July -- is
now out in the open. You can download and play with it, either under
the GNU Public License or another license
crafted to allow Sun and others to make proprietary offshoots.
Mainstreaming the technical
The publicly available source code is now called OpenOffice. Think of it this way:
OpenOffice is to StarOffice what Mozilla is to Communicator. Indeed, there
are many parallels between OpenOffice and the Mozilla browser project, in
the ways that the two companies (Sun and Netscape, respectively) grapple with
the challenges of bringing proprietary code through the open source world.
Thankfully, among the parallels there's one important difference: the
code made available at the beginning of the OpenOffice project actually
produces a binary that runs. By comparison, Mozilla.org delivered a blob
of uncompilable code that required almost a total re-write and still isn't
out of beta 18 months later.
Mind you, just because you can get the
source code to OpenOffice, doesn't necessarily mean you're going to
want it. The sheer volume of the code requires more than three gigabytes
of hard disk space in which to build, and compiles have been reported to
take more than 20 hours to complete. I'm no programmer, and I have better
things to do with 20 hours. So I just downloaded the binaries, which have
worked OK for me so far, though I haven't exactly done any
So what we have in OpenOffice at this time is some usable software
(version 6.05) that the website says is alpha-quality code, which means
that the maintainers of OpenOffice have
some work ahead of them. It's just as well that the maintainers are
Sun staff, since it's going to take the rest of the world quite some
time to get its head around all those million lines of OpenOffice source
code. Apparently most of the comments in the code are in German,
reflecting StarOffice's roots from before it was purchased
by Sun last November. This further slows the code examination process
for most people who live outside Germany and Austria.
Software in transition
Now, I admit, I do use StarOffice. Well, at least I try. The documentation
that came with the 5.2 download was pretty ratty. At the StarOffice
website, the closest thing I could find to a tutorial was a PDF-format "reviewer's
guide" -- and it's not that good either. I'll be having a look soon at
what I hope to be reasonable third party books. But competent
documentation is something I certainly miss as I leave WordPerfect.
There are also some StarOffice features that I'm not particularly fond of
and that I expect to find repeated in OpenOffice. But I'll keep using
StarOffice, and will likely move to OpenOffice once it's stable, since they're
the only tools natively available on Linux that nicely read a whole bunch
of proprietary Microsoft file formats. As most of you probably know, if
you can't read documents produced by Microsoft software, there's a lot of
the world whose communications you can't read. And StarOffice, for all its
warts, is capable of reading and writing these files. Unfortunately -- and
this is extremely irritating to someone trying to switch -- StarOffice
(and OpenOffice) won't read WordPerfect files.
Yet I don't expect I'll be using StarOffice, or even post-alpha versions
of OpenOffice, for a very long time. I see, not far away on the Linux apps
horizon, other open source word processors that will have the features I
need without the bloat -- or the heavy-handed politics.
Yeah, politics. Nasty politics, and plenty of it. But you'll need to wait to hear more about about that...