Novell OpenOffice 2.0 for Windows

13 03 2007

Novell OOo for Windows available

I just discovered that Novell has released a Windows version of OpenOffice.org Novell Edition on download.novell.com.

Why a Novell Edition?
To understand why Novell produces a “Novell Edition” of OpenOffice.org, you need to understand how Novell contributes into the OpenOffice.org project. So let’s take a moment to examine that.

It is said that Novell has one of the largest teams of dedicated, full-time OpenOffice.org contributors outside of the team at Sun. (I have not validated that claim, so please do not take it from me as a definitive assertion.) Lead by the inimitable Michael Meeks, this team usually concentrates on features that make OpenOffice work more compatibly with Microsoft Office in a business context. That means that they focus a lot on the kind of document interoperability features that ultimately help organizations move to OpenOffice with greater ease. (Of course all their work is done in open source under a free license.)

Because of the team’s focus, they often take-on big, heavy-lifting projects. For example, the team made a massive code contribution to enable OOo Calc to run Excel VBA Macros. These contributions sometimes involve thousands of lines of code, so they take a long time for the OOo maintainers at Sun to review and accept. Long before that happens, the Novell team has integrated and tested the code in our own OOo version that lives just a bit downstream of the main OOo codebase. This gives openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop a time-to-market feature advantage over other distributions that simply include the standard upstream version of OpenOffice.org.

Although maintaining a “Novell Edition” of OpenOffice.org sometimes generates unfounded controversy, it also sheds light on Novell’s twin strategy for the Linux desktop. The first part of the strategy is to drive all of desktop Linux ahead by making significant feature improvements that are available to all Linux distributions. The second is to employ a team of extremely bright, desktop engineers so that Novell can clearly demonstrate technical leadership when compared to other distribution makers. The Novell OpenOffice.org engineering team consistently delivers that leadership in the contributions they make to OOo, and the lag-time before upstream integration of those features helps Novell to get due credit for those contributions. (Although certain distributions, such as Ubuntu, take the Novell Edition straight away.)

Features in the Novell Edition
Let’s consider a couple of the features that you get in the Novell Edition but are not likely to have been integrated into upstream OOo yet:

  • Excel VBA Macro execution
    • While this OOo feature cannot run 100% of all Excel macros, its capability continues to increase.
  • Performance improvements
    • Novell has contributed several enhancements to make a speedier startup when launching OpenOffice.org, as well as better use of system memory once loaded.
  • AGFA fonts
    • In order to improve the interoperability experience, we ship a set of fonts licensed from AGFA, which are metrically compatible with some of the key / default Microsoft fonts. For various reasons, these have different names, but we transparently map these on export and import to their equivalents:
  • Better Bullets (now in upstream OOo)
    • Up-stream OO.o has really poor bullet support. Novell OO.o includes an improved OpenSymbol font with much better glyph coverage for common bullets, thus instead of ‘missing glyph’ square boxes, nice looking bullets are supplied.
  • Simple Solver
    • Similar to Excel’s “Goal Seek,” this cool feature reverse-calculates a cell’s value in a spreadsheet equation in order to make another cell’s value become a desired value.
  • GroupWise integration
    • We do some basic ODMA integration with the Groupwise document management – such that documents can be loaded from the DMS, and saved.

Why a Windows Version?
If Novell is so interested in the success of Linux, then why would they produce a Windows edition of OpenOffice.org? Isn’t that a contradiction?

Personally, I don’t see any contradiction in producing a Windows version of OpenOffice.org. In fact, it’s a smart strategy. Switching whole platforms is a much larger proposition than switching a few applications. By providing OpenOffice.org to Windows users, Novell enables those people to discover OpenOffice.org. Add Firefox to replace Internet Explorer, and perhaps an IM client like Gaim, and pretty soon you have a serious encroachment of free software on the normally proprietary desktop. Once you know some of the applications, switching the underlying platform to Linux becomes a whole lot easier for the end user. (By the way, this is not just an idealistic hypothesis, Novell has done this, and we now have many customers following our lead.) So, all in all, it’s the right thing to do to help people get into free software.

I should also note (at Michael Meek’s behest) that Novell offers technical support for OpenOffice.org on Windows to any organization that has SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) subscriptions. That means that you can deploy OpenOffice.org on Windows first, then migrate to SLED when ready.

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