Classified! LibreOffice 5.2 adds document access control

As LibreOffice deepens its government and corporate base, the open source office suite adds features like classified document handling

Classified! LibreOffice 5.2 adds document access control
Ricky Montalvo (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

LibreOffice 5.2, the newest version of the open source productivity suite, is aiming at becoming a tool of government and professional organizations, not merely a free substitute for Microsoft Office.

Most notably, Version 5.2 supports the Transglobal Secure Collaboration Program (TSCP) standards for document classification. These standards describe the sensitivity of the information in a document and how heavily its access should be restricted.

For our eyes only

As implemented in LibreOffice, TSCL-classified documents can be categorized in one of four ways: nonbusiness (no sensitivity), general business, confidential, or internal only. Documents show their classification ratings as a banner across the top of the app when they're opened, and they can be managed by access control policies that use the TSCP standards.

Another related feature is the ability to add multiple digital signatures to a document and to have those digital signatures imported and exported from files saved in LibreOffice's native OOXML format.

The drawback to LibreOffice's TSCP implementation is that document classifications do not survive being translated to Microsoft Office formats. This could be an issue in environments planning a transition from Office, as Office documents have their own classification mechanism that doesn't map one-to-one to LibreOffice's.

That said, it's entirely possible for third-party applications (for example, a LibreOffice plugin) to close the gap or for future editions of LibreOffice to address this more directly.

New toys

The Document Foundation's development team hasn't shirked the needs of nonbusiness and nongovernment users, though. Version 5.2 also includes a wide-ranging clutch of user and UI/UX improvements.

  • A "single toolbar" mode to show the most commonly used application functions in a small amount of screen real estate
  • A one-click option to show/hide revisions
  • Built-in support for two-factor authentication for working with Google Drive
  • A new gamut of drawing tools that span all the applications in the suite

The biggest ongoing change is not any one feature or even any particular family of features. Rather, it's the process for adding features to LibreOffice, which will accelerate as the features appeal more directly to professional users.

Thorsten Behrens, a founding member of The Document Foundation and a leader of the LibreOffice team, described in a phone call how LibreOffice's code work has generally fallen into two buckets. The "reactive" mode of working on LibreOffice means, for example, security fixes are changed as they are brought up.

But of late, the organization is also trying to adopt a a "proactive" mode. There, the developers aggressively use open source and proprietary tooling (such as Coverity) to refine the LibreOffice codebase and reduce the bug density of the application.

Behrens also emphasized how the default mode of adding or working on features has long been the inclinations of individual contributors or directly sponsored by those willing to pay a developer for the work. (The Dutch Ministry of Defense, for instance, has sponsored work on specific features.)

"That said," Behrens added, "with things getting more organized, and with more staff on board to coordinate things, there's a bit of extra planning now. There's a user experience person who's looking into what are actual user needs, trying to distill that down into a priority list. So there's an amount of planning that's going on."