Why LibreOffice 4.2 matters more than you think

On Thursday the Document Foundation released its newest stable branch, LibreOffice 4,2. Don’t let be misled by its number; if we weren’t on a strict time released scheduled alongside a clear number scheme without any nickname for each release, I would have called this one the 5,0. Yes, you read that right, the mighty Five. Why? Mostly for two big reasons.

This is a major code overhaul

Do you remember one of my first posts about LibreOffice, at the end of 2010? I had hinted that one of our goals was to develop a brand new engine for Calc, which had stayed pretty much the same since 1998. Well, the 4,2 just got that: Ixion has been integrated as the Calc engine and that, among other things, such as real-time integration of data feeds, is about to change a lot of things, and not just in terms of performance boosts (over 30% of improvement depending on the cases). This might actually open the door for brand new types of users in professional and scientific venues for instance.

Alongside this rewrite, we also have a major work on the user interface layout and dialog rewrite. As Michael Meeks explains it, we had introduced this rewrite with the 4.0 but now quite many of our dialogs and widgets have been rewritten. Other user interface improvements such as a brand new iconset, document snapshots on Windows bring a fresh and refined user experience to LibreOffice.

More Enterprise-ready than many others

We have heard this song here and there. You cannot be innovative and be successful as an enterprise solution. You cannot be the right choice for companies if you haven’t a major American corporation as your main sponsor/steward/overlord/friend. You cannot deliver a professional grade office suite if you work along a time-based release system. I think that these theories have already been proven wrong, unless you have a twisted definition of what the enterprise market  needs. But with the 4.2, we also have some nice and immediately actionnable features that will appeal specifically to the enterprise market:

  • Integration of the CMIS stack allowing you connect to document repositories on SharePoint, Nuxeo, Tibco, Alfresco, Google Drive and many other CMS.
  • Expert configuration options now all put in one place
  • Advanced deployment options
  • Better group policy controls for deployment and installed user base
  • Improved Microsoft Office (.docx, etc.) and RTF document filters
  • Improved look and feel on Windows
  • Change tracking on ODF and even on OOXML documents

I’m not listing a good dozen of other improvements of importance, but here’s the complete list.

It’s not about success. It’s about what comes next.

And now, I’m going to really explain why LibreOffice 4,2 matters more than what meets the eye. The amount of code clean-up, refactoring, write up, the inclusion of new features and the continued growth of contributors between the moment the Document Foundation released LibreOffice 4.0 and the 4.2 is truly amazing. The 4.0 was a major accomplishment, but this time we did even more, seemingly with less effort (although this comment does not diminishes everyone’s accomplishments for this release).

What’s going here? A giant in Free and Open Source projects is emerging and we are witnessing this unfolding right under our eyes: a growing development powerhouse, increased funding, an effective structure, overworked but growing contributors, an increased presence on worldwide events, improved processes on localization and quality assurance… I guess many observers as well as several insiders were thinking that once we had set up the Document Foundation as a structure and released the 4.0, things would take a course and a pace of their own. That hasn’t happened. On the contrary the word around the project was “Up!” and has not changed ever since. Another  possible reason is that once the founders -with some hindsight, I start to see it more clearly- got the structure, the governance, the main processes going, priorities started to change for the best: Discussions started to be more about resources, funding, sustainability, but the minds were freed from the worry of the next day and were able to focus on developing something great. I realize I’m painting a very nice picture, but I know that the road won’t be short and it will not be easy eiither, but judging by what this community has already overcome I am confident the Document Foundation is going to push the enveloppe on many levels in the years to come. I am truly proud of what we have accomplished so far and I would like to thank everyone who made this release possible. Happy FOSDEM!

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