Paid development pays off for LibreOffice for Android

The Document Foundation's gamble delivers rewards with live demos at FOSDEM that show off the latest features in LibreOffice for Android

android salute
Credit: flickr/Buffawhat

At the huge FOSDEM conference in Brussels this weekend, the developers of LibreOffice for Android presented their work and road map. LibreOffice for Android is currently available as a file viewer in the Google Play Store, but the team is making rapid progress developing editing capabilities as well.

The project is unusual in that The Document Foundation, which manages LibreOffice's development, is using donated funds to pay professional developers to work on LibreOffice for Android. Those funds appear to be having the desired effect of accelerating development.

The Android project is “real” LibreOffice, with the display code removed and the remaining processing engine adapted to create the single native-code binary Android requires. It then uses an adapted set of components from Mozilla to manage display and user interaction, rather than simply trying to replicate the LibreOffice user interface on a touchscreen. This is promising, suggesting the future app will be more manageable than a desktop app crammed into a mobile device.

As for the file viewer available today, Android does not include a file system browser by default, so the project wrote one on its own. It offers document previews of any file format LibreOffice supports. The developers also demonstrated the ability to invoke the native Android Share function (Android’s killer feature, according to JR Raphael) to share files with other applications. Moreover, the developers said they are adding cloud access capabilities to the file viewer, with the open source OwnCloud as the first target.

A full made-for-touch, ODF-capable editor is the goal, however. The developers demonstrated their work building a tiled display system that interacts with the LibreOffice engine. It was clear that work is well under way -- only a short time after the board at The Document Foundation awarded contracts for the development tenders.

It looks as if the unusual approach The Document Foundation has taken, tendering for open source development using donated funds, may well pay off. By building on LibreOffice to handle a wide range of document formats, the Android version could become an essential tool for reading and annotating documents from many sources, including Microsoft Office. Outsourcing of the initial development could produce a very powerful Android tool in record time.

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