The Free and Open Productivity Suite
Apache OpenOffice 4.1.7 released

Community Stories and the Promise of Collaboration

2001 October 13

-Jost Ammon, Marketing Project Co-Lead

I have ever been an addict to music. Of course I've always wanted to share my experience with music. The ‘Net offered me totally unexpected opportunities to do so, first, by enabling me to participate in various mailing lists with others who share the same interest as I, and whom I would never have met where I live, later in getting acquainted with Lyle Mays, composer and keyboarder to the Pat Metheny Group, who was open enough to enter an email relationship with someone he didn't know. And when I thought of writing an essay about this virtual/non-virtual acquaintance with Lyle and with others, I began to explore this new medium which offered possibilities that go far beyond of what is possible with the good old linear and two-dimensional text, based on black letters on a white paper.

I wanted to create a website that would reflect my interests and allow me to communicate with my virtual (and nonvirtual!) friends. And as I started my website I realized I needed an HTML editor. I found some for free, but one of them vanished after I had learnt to handle it, or rather it morphed into a bigger word processing software I never really got to master. Then I needed software that could edit graphics. I found one, but again it didn't have all the features I needed. Finally I needed a database for all my emails, and again had to look for yet more software. I don't know remember when it was, but one day I found a CD-ROM copy of StarOffice in a magazine at the library. I copied it to my PC and started working with it.

It could do everything I needed.

I could compose my website, write my stories, articles, letters; I could control the website’s design easily. I could update the source code of my website. I could edit the graphics; and I also found that StarOffice contained the database I wanted, one that allowed me to index and search through my emails by keyword. The more I became attracted to this universal tool for a universal medium, the more I learned about Open Source, since Sun Microsystems gave the code of its StarOffice to the open-source community helping (the software) get off the ground. I learned about the free and open spirit of the Internet that still lives. And that it lives only through the idea of sharing. I learned about (the Project), this international community that shares the idea of putting the best of each together, in order to create a universal, free and open tool for our daily work. And so I found not only the medium and its tool but also the spirit that embraces it all. is just more than just the best office suite, based on incredible work by some of the brightest individuals the international ‘Net community has gathered together. And it’s more than just the best software to express the universality of the medium called the ‘Net. Free, is ultimately an expression of our will to grow on the grounds of sharing our freely accessible knowledge.

Perhaps it is good to recall some facts about OpenOffice to get a grip on the dimensions of There are more than 3600 subscribers to the mailing lists and contributors of code, documentation and bug identification. Over two million downloads as of this day, not counting those of the mirrors. At least twenty-three ongoing projects including, besides the technical features, things like documentation, groupware, and even marketing. There are now open-source functions such as printing, spellchecker, and thesaurus in English. We have ports available for Linux, Solaris, Windows NT, 2000, 95/98/ME, Linux PPC, and soon even Mac OS/X. And last but not least, receives nearly half a million page hits a week.

All these open-source efforts remind me a bit of editing the French Encyclopédie. Some 250 years ago the brightest spirits of the western world gathered to pool their experiences for the largest status quo of knowledge ever recorded until then. Its impact was inconceivable at the time and paved the way to the civilization we know today. Today the same is certainly true for the Internet and maybe so for the open-source movement. In this context the significance of exceeds being "just another good software," but is rather a significant comment on how we interpret progress.

For the full article, "Halfway to Literacy," please go to Jost Ammon's page.

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