The bright future of LibreOffice

A year ago, the storied quest for a viable open source office suite was in peril. The LibreOffice project turned all that around -- and exciting new innovations promise another leap ahead

February 2012 was a coming-of-age for the LibreOffice open source productivity suite. Multiple announcements show the project is well-supported and thriving. But what of the future?

Formed out of Oracle's neglect of the project by a community uprising in 2010, LibreOffice quickly gathered a critical mass of developers to work on it, drawn from a diverse set of backgrounds and motivations. They hunkered down on the tasks that had been hard to address while the project was in the hands of Sun Microsystems (where I was once employed), such as removing unused code from the project's two-decade legacy or making it possible for a beginner to get involved through Easy Hacks. A year and a half later, there's much to show for their efforts, yet so much more to do.

[ Find out how LibreOffice 3.5 rates in the InfoWorld Test Center review by Neil McAllister and his previous in-depth comparison of the 3.3 versions of LibreOffice and | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Open Source newslettter to ensure you don't miss any open source content. ]

February saw multiple significant events. The most important was the release of LibreOffice 3.5, full of subtle improvements and a few larger features such as support for Microsoft Visio files. InfoWorld's Neil McAllister summed it up in his review:

If you were expecting a revamp on the scale of Office 2007, you'll be disappointed. For all the work that has gone into the new version, most of it is under the hood. Still, if you're a current or LibreOffice user, you should waste little time in upgrading to this version, which is more stable and user friendly than ever.

Supported on a wide range of platforms (including Windows, OS X, GNU/Linux and BSD) this is mature code -- with all that implies, including a need for the very latest ideas to show up. So a second significant event was a demonstration at Europe's FOSDEM conference by community member Michael Meeks of LibreOffice Online, a port of LibreOffice that delivers office productivity to the browser. Add an early preview by developer Tor Lillqvist of a port of LibreOffice to an Android tablet, and it's clear that giving the community control of the project has opened up scope for multiple independent innovations.

A news release from the project early in February offered insight into where this energy is coming from. The community now has more than 400 contributors, including 50 core developers, with over 2,200 volunteers providing bug reports. How did that happen in only 18 months?

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