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Desktop Linux Summit 2005: Interest Continues to Grow - page 4

Third Time is Definitely a Charm

  • February 11, 2005
  • By Dee-Ann LeBlanc

The folks at OpenOffice.org have been busy, busy, busy. Perhaps the most exciting news for OOo users is that version 2.0 is available for beta testing. New features include a solution for those who have been begging for a replacement for Microsoft Access, called OpenOffice.org Database-- Daniel Carrera with OpenOffice.org confesses that the naming isn't particularly creative, but of course it isn't easy to confuse this component with another.

Other new items include the ability to select sections of text and do word counts of just those sections, nested tables and the ability to mark text as "hidden" in OOo Writer, OOo Calc's limit increased to 65,536 rows, new shapes available in OOo Draw, a new presentation engine for OOo Impress, support for digital signatures, and far more all across the suite. Exchanging documents with Microsoft Office users will also work better. For a full list of additions and changes, visit the OpenOffice Development page, select the latest "current snapshot build" link, and then Guide to New Features.

A special addition to OOo is the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) file format. Due to concerns over the dangers of being locked into proprietary file formats--what happens if the company goes under? what happens if the company is deemed to be a security liability but all of your file are in its formats? and so on--many companies and countries have been looking for a way out of the proprietary quagmire. Sponsors of OASIS read as the usual Who's Who of the tech and corporate community, including Reuters.

The really exciting part for OASIS however, is the interest level of many governments: the European Union released a requirements document in September, for future information systems purchases. These requirements specify an open standards, XML-based file format, and OASIS is very likely the only such format in existence. The EU has, in fact, been carefully working with OASIS to help make sure that the format will meet their needs. Such input is welcome, and according to Gary Edwards, an active OASIS member, has been quite well thought out in the case of the EU.

An interesting aside is that Microsoft has been an observer-level member of the OASIS group since its beginning.

In addition to Oasis, the OOo project has also generated a large collection of documentation that will be freely available for download. This documentation has been read over with usability in mind, given the unfortunately poor reputation of open source manuals, and is also available in print form as displayed at the OOo booth at this event. Each application has a separate manual.

Another project associated with OpenOffice.org that's making headway in non-traditional ways is the INGOTS (International Vocational Inclusive Participative Cross-Curricular) program. Ever since Ian Lynch, the Education Lead of OpenOffice.org, gave his INGOTS talk, I have personally witnessed educators of all stripes gravitating toward him to find out more. Why? INGOT offers four levels of certification suitable for a variety of ages and backgrounds, with a focus on practice and projects-based learning.

The catchphrase on the INGOTS site is:

Tell me and I'll forget, show me and I may not remember, involve me, and I'll understand.--Native American Proverb

In a way, the INGOTS program reminds me of achieving the Girl Scouts' Silver Award, which is a service-based achievement. You have to do more than just demonstrate capability with a program. There is no test to pass. Instead, for example, to achieve the Silver INGOT, you must complete a community-related task consisting of downloading and burning ISO images of OpenOffice.org to give away to people who need them, build a five-page Web site, and prepare an "office circular" (memo) without relying on auto-preparation wizards. While this particular community task may not seem like a big deal in locations like North America, the bandwidth to download ISOs--let alone the hardware to burn CD-ROMs--is not affordable everywhere.

OpenOffice.org doesn't have to be the only software you use. For tasks such as creating Web sites, for example, the primary objective is to test the site under at least three different browsers rather than assuming that only one browser matters.

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