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The Free and Open Productivity Suite
Apache OpenOffice 4.1.7 released

OpenOffice.org: Year 4

2004-10-13

Louis Suárez-Potts

“OpenOffice.org is the most important open-source project in the world.” These words, spoken by the founder of GNOME and Novell Ximian CTO, Miguel de Icaza, on the occasion of our first anniversary, are more true now than ever before. Today, four years after Sun Microsystems released the source code of its popular StarOffice to the open-source community, our project is widely seen as the future of open source and the key to its future.

In the last year, city governments, such as that of Munich, Germany, to name but one of many, and federal administration offices, such as the French Ministère de l'Economie, des Finances et de l'Industrie (MINEFI) and the Ministère de l'Intérieur, de la Sécurité Intérieure et des Libertés Locales (MISSIL), chose OpenOffice.org for its technology, flexibility, and future, not because it is free, or gratis. Are they happy with their decision? Judge for yourself: representatives gave a keynote at the recent OOoCon (PDF, 252 KB), where they advocated OpenOffice.org and open source. They are in good company. As Christian Einfeldt recounts, "One of the most moving interviews among the hundred or so interviews that we have done so far for the Digital Tipping Point film came from Brazilian Culture Minister Gilberto Gil. He was describing what open source software meant to him. He paused for a moment, spread his arms wide, and said with a big smile on his face, "It's walking toward freedom, freedom of use, freedom of speech, freedom of relationship... I think that's what it's about."

It is about freedom to do, but that freedom is only as good as the technology. In the last year, that technology has matured, and an increasing number of companies are selling or otherwise distributing the application. More are also supporting it with professional support. Among the dozens: Sun Microsystems. A full list is found in our BizDev project, accessible from the OpenOffice.org Support page.

Most regular visitors of OpenOffice.org know the facts: Tens of millions use the application daily; millions visit the project website monthly; thousands contribute to the project, which is hosted by CollabNet. There have been at least 31 million downloads since the project began--and that is not counting the millions registered by Red Hat, SuSE, Mandrake Linux, or Debian, among others, which include OpenOffice.org in their distributions. Perhaps not all visitors are aware of how the project has matured, however. Among the highlights:

But all this is but a prelude for the future. Much of our work this year has been in setting the stage for the appearance of OpenOffice.org 2.0, which will, with an abundance of grace and good will, leap over every other office suite. Not only will it include the usual good points and be faster and look even better, but it will also include a separate database component, and be significantly more compatible with Microsoft Office, as well as with other office suites. Those users who have waited to switch to OpenOffice.org because they wanted an Access equivalent will be delighted. Those anxious about possible incompatibilities with older Microsoft Office files should download it immediately. There is more, lots more. OpenOffice.org is as innovative and revolutionary as OpenOffice.org 1.0, but it is better. For more information, see our Product Concept Document.

What I have not discussed is the new file format. Perhaps the most important innovation of the last year, it also points to the future. But what is the OASIS Open Office XML Format? First, OASIS stands for the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, an international standardizing body whose Technical Committee on office suites has been, for the last couple of years, charged with, "create[ing] an open, XML-based file format specification for office applications." The OpenOffice.org file format, which is an implementation of XML, has been the basis for the standard. With the upcoming next generation of the OpenOffice.org suite, OpenOffice.org will be using the standard issued by OASIS.

The implications of this adoption are perhaps not obvious to users accustomed to monopoly systems. Because OpenOffice.org will be using an open standard, there will be no possibility of vendor lock-in, which is where the consumer or user is locked into a particular vendor because files created by that vendor's application are only readable by that application. What is more, any file created by a vendor that has locked you in to their proprietary file format is effectively theirs, not yours. You may license from them the right to use their application but they retain the right to act in their, not your, best interest.

That scenario, of limiting choice and innovation (you are stuck with what the vendor sells you), runs counter to our philosophy. We believe in giving users real choice and--amazingly--in giving users the right to own their own intellectual property.

On this birthday, then, we look to the future. And what is that future? An application that bridges not just the closed- and open-source world but that also bridges the digital divide. An application which, along with its enhanced derivations, such as StarOffice, will become the default productivity suite for businesses and governments from Amsterdam to Zanzibar. An application that uses an internationally standardized file format and an open production process to give users perpetual right over their property.



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