Monday, December 12, 2011

Capacity Focus, 25: Libre (Open) Office, the Android mobile operating system, and office productivity on tablet PCs

The Libre Office Logo

Further reports: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Libre Office is a fork of the well-respected Sun [Now, Oracle] Open Source -- i.e. free for download -- office productivity software, Open Office. I have come to use this as my main office productivity package, retaining an old MS Office suite as a means of compatibility. We should note, that the open document format used by OO is an ISO standard, and is solid. OO family products will open MS Office products and will work in and save to that format also. Indeed, I have found cases where OO is more compatible across MS Office files than various versions of MS Office, especially if one has to bridge Macs and PCs.

(Personal view: I definitely do not like the "Ribbon" interface introduced as of MS Office 2007, which I find too restrictive, obscure and hard to work with. LO or OO are much better bang, especially for no bucks. Though, I find the problem of what happens when document recovery fails a bit annoying.*)

Android is, of course, the Linux-based operating system developed for mobile phones, and which has been extended to Tablet PC's.  That means that it has a viable Apps market, and that it is a credible base for educational tablet computing. I think that a 7-inch tablet, in a cradle, with USB connector and a compact keyboard, for US$ 80 - 100 or thereabouts,  a very viable form factor for educational computing and eBook reading, in a year or so:
A cradled tablet, in a folder with a keyboard

 However, so far, there are some problems with having a good free overall office productivity  suite that preserves format when converted to Microsoft's formats and opened up in MS software, especially as there does not seem to be a version of MS Office for Android. (Microsoft sponsors a rival mobile operating system, a minor player in the Smart Phone market, so far.)

One workaround is to circulate documents in PDF format whenever possible, as this is about the most controlled, consistent format there is. However, this does not answer the problem of a good, free office productivity suite that will more or less reliably work in a world that is still dominated by MS Office.

According to Softpedia and other sources, though, The Open Document Foundation, sponsor for Libre Office has announced that late in 2012 or early in 2013, they should have a release of the Libre Office Suite, for Android. The key factor for this, is that LO -- like OO -- is written in Java, so it is far more portable across operating systems than other suites.

From Softpedia, Oct 17th:
The Document Foundation proudly announced a few days ago, at the LibreOffice Conference 2011 event in Paris, that LibreOffice will be ported to the iOS and Android operating systems.

As LibreOffice is an open source project, it can be easily ported to other operating systems were Java is supported, such as Android and Apple's iOS, making LibreOffice on iPads and Android tables.

The Document Foundation announced that a web-based demo, called LibreOffice Online Prototype, will also be available soon. It is based on HTML5′s canvas and the GTK+ framework.

The first public releases of LibreOffice for Web, iOS and Android will be available sometimes in late 2012 or early 2013.
As announced, Libre Office will also appear in a web based "cloud" form similar to Google Docs and the like.

Bottomline: in 1 - 2 years, we will have a credible open source Android suite for office productivity that would make the tablet in a cradle format very useful for education use. 

And, for those worried about needing compatibility with MS Office, or that people using OO or LO will not be able to work with Ribbon format MS Office suites, the simplest solution is to install LO on the machines, which will cost management essentially nothing. If you want something that you pay for, I have been testing ThinkFree office suite, which goes for about US$ 50, and which is noted to be very compatible with Office. With one exception: no ribbon, an ADVANTAGE in my view. It is available on the cloud, for PC's and Macs, AND for Android.

So, the tablet format is plainly very viable right now, and in the 1 - 2 year window, we will have a free for download office productivity suite that is industry strength.

So, I flag the 7" tablet in a cradle format as the format to watch for educational computing. 

So, here is a new motto:

OTPS-- one tablet per student! 

One year's time . . . END
* F/N: Whenever the program starts up, it will ask you to try to recover the failed document. You may have to dump the install and start over, so keep your download file handy.

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