A Hands-On Review of the Open Source OpenOffice
Building from the Source
The big news today may be the unveiling of the OpenOffice web site, but lost in the shuffle has been any reporting on exactly what Sun and CollabNet are offering on OpenOffice.org.
We grabbed the source code and binaries from the OpenOffice.org site to see what the new and improved, Open Source StarOffice would look like. As you might expect, Sun did more than just release an Open Source product: it also cleaned up the code and made some significant changes to the software.
How significant? StarOffice is still the monolistic, monster program it once was; although it appears to load in a slimmer package, under the hood you're always running all of StarOffice, no matter what appears on the screen. But the look and feel of the product is improved, thanks to some new True Type fonts; and some elements, like email, are still in development.
There's little point in describing how to find the binaries or source, because a hastily-prepared download page currently replaces the old front page of the site thanks to a crippling onslaught of enthusiasts that managed to bring the site down just after launch this morning.
Building OpenOffice from the Source
StarOffice, as everybody knows, is a large program. Building it is relatively simple once all the pieces are in place. We used a Debian 2.2 (Potato) system with a 650 MHz Duron and 160 MB RAM. Debian users should be aware that completing the build successfully requires more than the normal X libraries they may find on their system (as provided by the xlib6g and xlib6g-dev packages: the xlib6g-static package, used to build statically linked binaries is also required or the configure script provided will fail.
General requirements for a build also include JDK 1.2.2 (available from Blackdown.org, a Perl 5 installation, and csh (bash won't work with the script that sets up the build environment). System requirements include 3 GB of free hard drive space, and 128 MB RAM.
The tarball containing the source weighs in at 80 MB, and contains everything you need to begin building the project. Instructions for how to build the complete package are available at http://openoffice.org/build.html. It's possible to build either the entire OpenOffice suite in its current form, or individual componenents such as the word processor or spreadsheet.
The whole package is not trivial to build in terms of time or resources. Once we worked out the issues with the X libraries on our Debian system, we set out to complete an entire build, which is still in progress as we write this, almost four hours later. Following the instructions provided, though, makes the whole thing very simple. Though it's premature to report success, careful reading of the instructions and making sure all the prerequisites are available before beginning make for a smooth process.
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