LibreOffice for Android takes first small steps

The first incarnation of LibreOffice for Android is little more than a document reader, but the plan all along was to start small and build up

next steps walking upstairs

Is it the fate of every popular app -- especially the open source ones -- to be ported to Android? LibreOffice has made that leap, but don't expect to take your work on the road with your tablet yet.

Collabra Productivity, a major contributor to the LibreOffice project and a provider of LibreOffice services and consulting, has released the first version of a LibreOffice port for Android. However, it is -- by design -- an extremely minimal application, not intended to do much more than preview text, spreadsheet, and presentation documents.

Officially known as LibreOffice Viewer for Android, the app is still very much in beta. Warnings on the Android Store page note that the app isn't stable: "Do not use it for mission-critical tasks – it may misbehave!"

But aside from being able to display read-only versions of many LibreOffice Documents, it can also render documents for Microsoft Office, from version 97 all the way through 2013 (in other words, both DOC and DOCX format).

libreoffice viewer Collabra Productivity Ltd.

LibreOffice Viewer supports many common office doucment types, including both LibreOffice's .ODF and Microsoft Office's DOC and DOCX formats

Porting LibreOffice to Android has been in the works for some time and, according to the Document Foundation's notes on the project, is not based on the existing ARM build for the project. Instead, "the technical platform will be the work that is currently carried out for having a LibreOffice viewer for Android, which is built on the Mozilla for Android framework," according to the notes.

A big part of this decision was apparently driven by the way the Mozilla-based project had already solved a number of key technical issues, such as application threading, working with the touch interface, and providing other behavioral integration with Android. (The only LibreOffice application that has thus far existed for Android is the LibreOffice Impress Remote app, which turns any Android smartphone into a remote control for LibreOffice Impress presentations, but doesn't actually have any LibreOffice functionality of its own.)

LibreOffice Viewer has landed around the same time as two other significant developments in office productivity. First is Microsoft's public release of an edition of its Office suite for Android. That program doesn't have anywhere near the same full gamut of functionality as the desktop app, but it covers the most commonly used bases. On the other hand, it isn't unified: Microsoft released separate Office apps for Android tablets and Android phones, with the phone version being a major letdown.

The other big recent development has been Microsoft, in conjunction with various hardware makers, pushing dirt-cheap Windows tablets -- some going for as little as $99. Their minimal processors, storage, and memory clearly make them substitutes for Android tablets rather than more upscale Windows machines -- and Microsoft isn't hesitant to give away copies of Office 365 to boost sales of devices in that class.

Still, the Document Foundation and its partners seem determined to make a full-blown LibreOffice on Android a reality, even if they are only moving toward that goal in small stages. The next step for LibreOffice Viewer is to enable features like links in documents, along with "complex presentation support and many additional features ... planned for future releases."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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