2011-02-10

Updates

I have some news: I've left Oracle. But I have not left OpenOffice.org and so remain deeply involved in the project and in the promotion of the OpenDocument Format, or ODF. In fact, my focus, my efforts are strengthened by my newfound independence.

And the timing for this is good—for me, for the community, for the Project, for the ODF campaign. Decisions rolling tens of millions of dollars (and every other national currency you can count) into the future stand poised as the latest release, OpenOffice.org 3.3, is evaluated not just for what it can do now to replace the alternative (laugh) but how it will work with future technologies—like mobile devices, most obviously, but also in other sectors I invite the community to imagine and suggest.

We need to drive our vision of openness—open code, open standards—into a future that can be realized sooner than later. The ODF is not just about office documents, I've long held. (And what even really counts as an "office document"? Is a video embedded in a presentation a movie, a cartoon, or an over-the-top business presentation given by a marketing executive? There are no boundaries, only conventions.) The ODF is about standardizing the expression of data so that implementations from this or that vendor can work with the file. It's about, as we have long repeated, no vendor lock in. And that is a statement that defies time's passage, for an open standard is not owned by one company but maintained by a consortium. It is open to all, the future included.

Not all the work I want can be done on OpenOffice.org; not all is suitable for the Project and not all ought to be there. Focus is important, else nothing gets done. OpenOffice.org is about, well, OpenOffice.org and the technology that makes up the suite, which can, of course, always be extended. But, that immensely useful suite is but one, if key, implementation of the ODF. Many others support or fully implement it. More to the point, there is also, for the development of ODF support per se is done, the ODF Toolkit Union, or, if that is also not suitable, I have no doubt that some other host can be found that is. At this point in our maturity, there is no difficulty finding the right host.

I own an iPad and when my MacBook Pro crashed *twice* last year (logic board failure then total HD death and actual data loss; Apple was magnificent, btw, in recompensing me as much as it could), my iPad became my primary computer, and it did great. But I had real difficulty working with ODF files on it. In fact, I couldn't easily do it. I could use a virtualization app, but it was uselessly slow for writing and reading ODF files. Another app, FileApp Pro, was better for viewing files, but it also needed serious improvement.

So, last month, I contacted the company making FileApp Pro—I do this sort of thing all the time, contact companies working on ODF or OOo technology (another one I contacted, much to my delight, it turns out, was the Norwegian Open Framework Systems, as, or OFS.no, which has a quite brilliant Web app that expresses by default data in ODF; they have since joined Oasis, which maintains the ODF, and will participate in the upcoming 5th ODF plugfest to be held in Maidenhead, UK, not far outside of London, this 24-25 Feb.). After some busy pauses, Vic, of DigiDNA, got back to me and explained the problems his lead engineer faces in creating an editor for ODF on the iOS. (An ODF editor for Android is also under development, and I've previously blogged on it. I invited the developers to the ODF plugfest, but they have not replied yet. Let's hope they do and can in fact make it. Certainly, they ought to. As well, at last year's Budapest OOoCon, where we held another plugfest, Nokia demonstrated an ODF editor for the N900. Do you have one of them? Does anyone? I don't, but if someone wants me to examine it, and write shill-worthy praise, I can supply my postal address.)

I'll shortly be sending the note DigiDNA sent me on to developers--even posting it to this blog will be a start, I'd imagine. But here's the issue: DigiDNA does not have the resources and is not the right company to make such an app. Its focus is on rendering file formats, and it does that very well. (FileApp Pro is worth the money.) But editing is another thing altogether. I'm not suggesting plunking OOo on the device. You don't need to. I am saying that one can have a minimal editor of ODF files that could be saved in ODF or even in .txt. OOo (or any other suitable implementation) can do the rest.

Who would use this app? Let's start with schools. And let's go beyond that. As more and more government offices migrate to ODF, or think about it, they also think about how mobile devices will work with their plans. Everyone knows that the future—the now plus one day, really—is mobile. Desktops will stay, of course, just as the TV is still around, despite the Internet. Mobile devices will complement desktops; they already are (see my own story above). But I'd guess that many government buyers are thinking, when they consider the ODF, "Where's the mobile solution?"

I think we some collaborative effort we can give a good answer---to this, and to other such questions. Some of the work will fit within the OOo project, other won't. But it and all the related work answering the future needs to be done, and I am eager to get to it.