As a Free Software contributor, being active on the community side is an essential part of Lanedo’s DNA. Whenever possible, we make it a priority to attend conferences and engage with communities. It’s always interesting and a lot of fun.
This year I, along with my colleagues in the LibreOffice division of Lanedo, attended the LibreOffice conference in sunny Milan and again I’ve been reminded about how Open Source is about the people – those who work to create a project and those who use it. The annual conference allows the community to get together and exchange information and ideas, as well as get a feel for where LibreOffice has been and where it’s now headed.
These are the highlights and most interesting things going on in the community at the moment!
Document & Format Interoperability
Interoperability with other formats – especially those emitted by Microsoft Office – was as hot a topic as ever. Reasonably so: for many users, a major barrier to migration is the ability to read and write documents in other popular formats. Measuring compatibility is not a straight-forward task; Miklos Vajna discussed the native Open Document Format (.odt), and Microsoft format (.docx, .doc) support and highlighted some different technical methods of evaluating the progress of this support within Writer.
Document Comparison Tool – “doccmp”
Ultimately, even if LibreOffice supported each individual element of a .docx document, it still may not correctly import, render or export all possible combinations that may occur in such a document. In fact, my colleague at Lanedo, Pierre-Eric, has been working on a web based tool which automatically compares the rendering of these documents, making it easier to detect discrepancies and assess overall compatibility. The tool, doccmp, was announced during his talk.
Dynamically Sized Widgets
Caolán McNamara went over the ongoing efforts to shift towards using dynamically sized widgets in dialogs throughout LibreOffice. The graphical GUI builder Glade can be used to construct interfaces which are saved as XML in .ui files. Developers and non-programmers alike can easily use this tool to create dynamically sized interfaces that bring better support for accessibility, consistency and an improved user experience. Well over half of the dialogs and tab pages within LibreOffice have been replaced with improved versions, with only around 20 left to convert within Writer.
LibreOffice on Mobile Devices
Jay Zaveri gave some particularly interesting numbers about how users make use of office applications on mobile devices. A different set of challenges must be overcome on these platforms, with a particular focus on workflow and UI – users tend to prefer a good user experience over support for every obscure feature of the product, resulting in a need for clean, simple interfaces that allow them to preview, edit, review and share their documents.
CloudOn gathered many of the statistics and found that user activities as a percentage of total time spent on mobile devices were on:
- Previewing (i.e. viewing docs): 47%
- Editing: 22%
- Organising (i.e. moving docs around): 11%
- Sharing: 11%
- Other: 9%
Mainly Word, Excel and PowerPoint are used on mobile devices at this point. 81% of that usage is on tablets, 19% on phones.
From user feedback, it was discovered that users cared about mostly about:
- Interoperability – they want the recipient to be able to view their documents, and to be able to view documents from other sources.
- Mobile workflow integration – e.g. correct use of soft keys (back button), etc. The user experience (UX) is very important here.
From CloudOn’s own usage statistics, they found the industry was divided into:
- Business: 45%
- Education: 46%
- Government: 10%
Very interesting to see how people use office suites on mobile devices.
We also discussed our perspective on LibreOffice in business and government. My slides, which go over a little about our projects and process, can be found here: Adapting LibreOffice for Business and Government. More information about our LibreOffice-centric projects can be found on our LibreOffice projects page.
In the evenings, hackathons were organized for the developers to focus on their pet bugs and for the community to socialize less formally. During these events and between talks, topics discussed included localization improvements, the Google Summer of Code program, private git branches for pre-published remote code storage and a host of other changes and improvements for end users and developers. On a project with several thousand commits per month and around 7 million lines of code, this opportunity for cross-pollination with other contributors is essential.
One thing I did learn is that development is growing and improving as quickly as ever. However, non-coding teams are somewhat under-represented. The QA team and their invaluable work on feedback gathering and bug triaging could always use more volunteers – they really support the developers, as well as seeking to interpret the needs of the users and in that capacity providing a buffer between developers and end users. The design team would also benefit from help from anyone with the technical skills and an eye for visual aesthetics.
The project has come so far in the past three years, it’s hard not to be enthused by where it’s heading in the future. We at Lanedo are certainly excited to be a part of that, and I for one can’t wait for next year’s conference!