This morning I read a news update about LibreOffice, the free and open source office Suite. They are in the process of releasing web based version. For this, they will use a technology called LOWA. The development is in early stage at this point in time. I believe a demonstration was given earlier, during the meet of free and open source software developers meeting (FOSDEM). Reading the article from Makeuseof, and looking at the web based interface brought back a flood of memories.
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From Staroffice to Openoffice and Libreoffice
I first used Star office in 2001, when I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Over the subsequent years, I used different versions of this office suite as I traversed my journey with Linux and Open Source. Many of you may be aware that Libreoffice and Openoffice have roots in Star Office, the office suite that was developed by Sun Microsystems. The development of the Staroffice project has stopped for a long time. Its last version was called Oracle Open Office. Around 2012, Apache Openoffice was released. There are other incarnations, such as Neo Office for Mac, but LibreOffice remains the most well known and actively developed fork (technically, fork of a fork) of Star Office today. Star office project may be long dead, but Apache Openoffice is still around. I was pleasantly surprised to find them discussing issues and making announcements even in 2021 and 2022.
Update: the open source version of Staroffice was called openoffice.org. (Thanks to user “angstrom” at LES for this clarification)
Web Version of LibreOffice: web based open sourced office suites
I used my Kitchen Sink desktop test this open source online office suite. That machine has 24 GB RAM and is connected to the faster network at home. Even then, I found the download and loading of the application to be a very slow process. The post from the post on Makeuseof does mention this part and note that there is about a 300 megabyte download required for the application to run in the browser. During the process, I saw a message which read, “QT for web assembly soffice”. Now that is a name I hadn’t heard in a long time. Source: tenor
What is Soffice or soffice.bin and what is its significance?
Some of the code base, including dependencies on Java, and the executable file (called `soffice.bin`) are legacies from the Star Office era. They really show the roots of LibreOffice. I am not being judgemental, but merely reflecting on the legacy of this program. The download and installation of LOWA extension took about ten minutes. Once it was loaded on to my browser, a window similar to the one below loaded.
First Impressions of LibreOffice Online office suite
LibreOffice Web runs version 7.4, which is pretty recent! I used the standard functions of the text editor- the menu and screen were responsive. Highlighting text, changing font or patterns, and I was also able to save and export the document (within the container).
The trouble arose when I clicked on advance features, On clicking the “Web” link or while trying to export the document to a pdf, the application crashed and I got the below error.
While saving the document, I got linked to an android menu- probably that’s what the virtualization environment uses? This needs a bit more digging into.
Update: Web Based Libreoffice – Rollapp
A couple of years ago, I had signed up for a service called rollapp which offers web based SaaS versions for some 200 odd Open source tools. I had used audacity and had tested out Gimp. They do have a section for “office applications” and do offer web based Libreoffice. Albeit it was version 4.1 for Libreoffice Writer.
Online Office Suite from Libreoffice: A case of too little, too late?
If one were to look and ask around for web based office applications, some of the common names include Office365, Apple iWork, and Google Workspace (formerly Google Docs). Many advanced users may have heard of Onlyoffice and Zoho (you can read my post on Zoho Docs and Zoho Workspace on this blog) . And the true open source believers may even have tried LibreOffice with Nextcloud (as Collabora). Finally, we have the newer kids on the block- Airtable and Notion. With so many options available, does an online version of LibreOffice ? Considering we are already in the third month of 2022, Is it a case of too little, too late? Time will only tell.
Notes and references
1. Learn about the Apache Software Foundation:https://www.apache.org/
2. Star office Forum https://www.staroffice.org/forum.html
3.For those of you who are interested in knowing the history of Star office, you can see this timeline from Wikipedia.
About this post:
This post was written as a part of the #bloggingchallenge for 2022. Wordcount: 800 Time taken for writing, research and editing: approx.2 Hours.