OpenOffice.org Version 2 Released

Programmers released version 2 of OpenOffice.org on Thursday, Oct. 20. It’s a major overhaul to the free open-source software suite that has become a serious rival to Microsoft Office.

Nearly 50 million copies of OpenOffice have been downloaded, according to CNet News.com in “OpenOffice celebrates turning 2.0” by Stephen Shankland. One person commented, “I use OO since spring 2003 (V1.3). (YES this is a MS-Office FREE company!) We work for Volkswagen, Porsche and their suppliers. In the last 2.5 years I sent hundreds of DOC XLS PPT PDF files, that all were created in OO and I never ever had a problem. I only can recommend OO!!!”

OpenOffice.org uses the standardized OpenDocument format — not supported by Microsoft Office — that the State of Massachusetts has decided to use exclusively.

OpenOffice 2.0 can now open even password-protected MS Office files as well as import WordPerfect files, and documents can include digital signatures for authentication. You can work in a multipane view in OpenOffice 2.0 that separates tool and work areas, and you can customize the toolbar. OpenOffice.org now also includes the Java-based HSQLDB database to provide an alternative to Microsoft Access.

For Mac users, there are two different projects aiming to port OpenOffice.org to Mac OS X: the OpenOffice.org team and the NeoOffice team.

NeoOffice/J version 1.1 uses a mixture of Carbon and Java to offer better integration with the Mac OS X environment — including support for rich text and image exchange using the Mac Clipboard or drag-and-drop functionality. But power-users will probably prefer the OpenOffice.org official version for Mac OS X, which still uses the X11 windowing system ontop of Mac OS X, but is more stable, looks exactly like versions on Windows and Linux, includes on-line help, and supports the OpenDocument format. Both are free, and you can safely install both versions side-by-side on the same computer and test them for yourself.

For an inside look at how OpenOffice.org version 2 evolved, see “OpenOffice.org 2.0: An Office Suite With No Horizons” — an interview by the Mad Penguin with OOo community manager, Louis Suarez-Potts. Here’s an excerpt:

OpenOffice.org the project has become enormous and enormously important to millions. The project numbers probably around 100 sub-projects catering to the needs of well over 250,000 registered members. Our downloads average over 400,000 per week, and that’s just from the official site. We support over 50 language projects. And every major Linux distributor is involved in the project, with companies like Novell, Red Hat, Mandriva, Propylon; organizations like Debian, and so on participating in building the code. I’m not even counting the hundreds of independent groups and individuals localizing and porting the source. And now, governments are getting into the act. I feel immensely proud and optimistic when governments like those of Brazil, Massachusetts, Vienna, and parts of the French administrations adopt Openoffice.org…

It seems to me that this is the way history will go: As OpenOffice.org becomes more widely adopted by governments wanting the ODF plus the functionality and flexibility of OpenOffice.org, and those who do business with them, managers will wonder, “Why should we buy Microsoft Office? It’s old. It’s got problems. It’s a security risk. Nothing new is happening there. Let’s use OpenOffice.org, At that point, and I think it will come sooner than later, history will have been written using OpenOffice.org.

Share

Still Insecure After All These Years

It’s nearly the end of 2005, and Microsoft is still having trouble securing Windows XP, Windows 2000, and Windows Server 2003. This time the company actually hurt the ones it loves: power users who’ve tightened the security features of their systems by changing folder permissions.

According to CNET News.com, “Windows patch backfires on the security-minded“:

Microsoft has acknowledged that a patch released last week can cause trouble for some users. It could lock them out of their PC, prevent the Windows Firewall from starting, block certain applications from running or installing, and empty the network connections folder, among other things, the software maker said in an advisory on Friday.

The trouble occurs when default permission settings on a Windows folder have been changed, according to Microsoft. Those changes aren’t common, but have been applied by some people to add extra security to their systems, experts said.

It’s not like Windows users could ignore this patch. It was released to fix four Windows vulnerabilities that Microsoft tagged “critical,” and experts warned that a worm attack linked to the issue could be imminent. But the patch simply didn’t take into account all the possible Windows user configurations.

But you have to admire Microsoft for putting this spin on it:

Even if users experience PC trouble after installing the patch, they will still be protected against any attack exploiting the Windows flaw, a Microsoft representative said.

Well, that’s certainly true if your PC has locked you out or can’t access the Internet.

Share

Real Says Yes to Microsoft

Microsoft is buying its way out of antitrust litigation from the European Union, as well as settling legal differences that are too distracting for the software giant. Microsoft agreed to pay Novell $536 million last November under the condition that Novell would agree to drop out of the European proceedings. The same requirement was attached to the $1.95 billion deal with Sun Microsystems and the $750 million peace treaty with AOL Time Warner, and Microsoft also settled a lawsuit with IBM.

Money talks, and legislatures walk.

Just last week, Microsoft agreed to a settlement with RealNetworks that effectively removes the competitor from the European legal action — but there may be some good news for Windows users. There has been copious news coverage of the Microsoft-RealNetworks settlement. Here’s a quick summary, from C-NET News.com, “Real, Microsoft reach truce“:

Microsoft and RealNetworks announced a sweeping deal on Tuesday [Oct. 11, 2005] that puts aside their legal differences and aims to shore up their respective digital-music strategies. Under the deal, Microsoft will pay $460 million in cash to RealNetworks to settle antitrust claims. It will also pay $301 million in cash to support Real’s music and game efforts, and Microsoft will promote Real’s Rhapsody subscription music service on its MSN Web business…

RealNetworks had alleged in its December 2003 lawsuit that Microsoft had abused its “monopoly power to restrict how PC makers install competing media players while forcing every Windows user to take Microsoft’s media player, whether they want it or not.” Real originally sought $1 billion in damages. As part of the deal, Real will also end its direct involvement in antitrust investigations across the globe, including probes in Europe and Korea.

The two companies said they will work to make their respective digital rights management technologies interoperable. “Microsoft will also enable Real to facilitate the playback of content on non-Windows portable devices and personal computers using Windows Media DRM,” the companies said in the press release announcing the deal.

More to the point, Rob Glaser, CEO of RealNetworks, had this to say to CNet News.com about what motivated Microsoft to settle (from “Glaser on finding harmony with Microsoft“):

We had solved a lot of the hard problems associated with how you move things in a trusted domain from one format to another, and we did it with both the Apple format, FairPlay, and Windows Media…

If someone had a piece of content on a Windows device that had security rules, there would not be a trivial way to move that content into a device that had Helix or OMA (Open Mobile Alliance) or what have you. Our relationship with Microsoft puts us for the first time — and I think puts anybody for the first time — in a position of being able to solve that problem.

Glaser also said that while Real and Microsoft will cooperate in a lot of areas, they will continue to compete in other areas — such as with the RealPlayer jukebox, which competes with Windows Media Player.

One change that favors consumers is that Microsoft will help Real improve the performance of RealPlayer on Windows. Microsoft also will make it easier for consumers to modify their preference for playing media files in Windows. In addition, MSN Messenger users will be able to play music from the Rhapsody catalog of 1 million songs while chatting. And when using MSN Search to find music, consumers will be presented with the Rhapsody catalog.

In all, RealPlayer users and Rhapsody customers should benefit from this settlement, and RealNetworks get a cash infusion. But Windows Media Player will still be bundled with Windows — and be nearly impossible to unseat as the dominant player.

Share

Interview with Tony Bove in XYZ Computing

The news about my book, Just Say No to Microsoft, is just hitting the Web. The book itself should be in stores by the end of this month.

XYZ Computing ran this interview on Sunday. The interview is six pages long — so click “Next” at the bottom to continue through the  pages.

The interview was picked up on Slashdot, the most prominent news and forum site for developers and programmers. This site is famous for its wild, anonymous comments; most interviewees get roasted — insulted and derided. The comments appear below the topic, usually “nested” so that you can see comments about the comments — it can get crazy with people trashing each other. The comments are ranked by unseen moderators, so you can choose to ignore the more out-of-topic ones (or the ones with bad language). Note that no one has actually read the book yet — they are responding to the idea of the book, and the interview.

Happy reading!

Share

Microsoft Calls SP3 Fixes Fake

According to a PC World story, “Microsoft Exec Warns of ‘Fake’ XP Update” by Elizabeth Montalbano of the IDG News Service, a employee is warning against downloading an unauthorized version of Windows XP Service Pack 3 that has surfaced on a popular Web site that provides software patches

To paraphrase the folk standard, “How Can a Poor Microsoft Customer Stand Such Times and Live?”

Can Microsoft’s own bug fixes be trusted? Not until Microsoft has the opportunity to sell you its “new” system first. If you still want to use Windows XP after the Windows Vista rollout, Microsoft will grudgingly provide it in a service pack unofficially called SP3. Until then, the company not only disavows these fixes, but officially condemns any other vendor that supplies them.

Here is how Microsoft treats its customers: You can get specific “hot fixes” for bugs in its system and applications software directly from Microsoft’s support line, but the company won’t acknowledge these fixes or allow others to provide them, nor will the company package these fixes into a service pack until Windows Vista (formerly Longhorn) ships in late 2006 or 2007.

Mike Brannigan, an enterprise strategy and senior consultant at Microsoft, announced in a post on Google Groups that an unofficial version of Windows XP SP3 provided on The Hotfix.net would likely harm your computer and put you “out of support from Microsoft” because it is not an official Microsoft package. “You would be well advised to stay clear of this fake SP3 package,” Brannigan wrote. “It is not suitable for testing as it is NOT SP3. …Anyone who installs this thinking they are getting SP3 (even as a preview) is being grossly mislead and is posing a significant potentially non-recoverable risk to their PC and data.”

Ethan Allen, the creator and administrator of The Hotfix, asserts that though the version of Windows XP SP3 provided on his site is not necessarily the official version, it is a reasonable preview of what will appear when the official service pack is released. “Our pack is indeed a preview to what the official service pack will be, as these hotfixes will be in Service Pack 3 as proven by Microsoft’s own knowledge base,” according to a post by Allen on TheHotfix.net. “Each of these hotfixes can be obtained for free from Microsoft by calling their support lines.”

Allen also wrote that while there is a possibility the SP3 on his site will make a user’s machine less stable, it is not the fault of The Hotfix, because the software came from Microsoft, not the site itself. Duh. And yet, Allen is criticized for providing the software. You, the hapless consumer, must wonder where you fit into this picture. Should you try any of these fixes, or wait until Microsoft blesses them… more than a year from now?

The HotFix.net site has since posted the following message:

All hotfix downloads are linked directly to Microsoft. These are 100% official downloads. None of these are promised to be in SP3.

Good luck figuring that out.

Share

Dude, Dell Got Linux

According to CNET News.com, Dell offers an open-source PC:

Dell began offering a new desktop PC on Tuesday with no operating system installed. The machine is designed for people who want to run open-source software such as Linux instead of Windows… The Dimension E510n PC comes with a blank hard drive and a copy of the FreeDOS operating system, which can be installed by customers.

The computers are designed for customers and companies that want to experiment with Linux and other open-source operating systems. Many large companies that have pre-purchased Windows through licensing programs have to erase all the software that comes on factory-shipped PCs and then install the alternative software they’ve chosen. Buying a PC without an operating system saves a step and eliminates the cost of the extra software.

This is not so surprising. Dell has invested about 100 million in Linux distributor Red Hat, and sells servers with Linux installed.

I have never been happy with Dell’s support for my Dell Inspiron notebook computer. While it is no big deal that Dell is selling a poorly-configured, overpriced PC with no operating system (Wal-Mart also does this), it does represent a sea change for the company and demonstrates the growing demand for desktop Linux PCs.

Share

Replacing Office and Outlook with Web Applications

The buzz is growing about Web applications one day replacing Microsoft Office, and perhaps replacing Outlook even sooner. And the Google-Sun alliance is fueling that buzz, for no other reason than people really want to see Microsoft challenged.

For an excellent overview of where we’re at with Web applications that will someday replace the need for desktop applications like Office… see In pursuit of the zero-footprint Office by ZDNet‘s Dan Farber. Here’s an excerpt:

It seems that a tipping point, or at least an new level of awareness, has been reached about the next Web frontier — a new generation of desktop productivity applications (think Microsoft Office without all the bits on your machine) with rich, interactive client interfaces and low-cost administration. They are built using technologies like AJAX, Flash and Java, with all the logic on the server and using XML and Web service bindings. Some of the features in browser-based apps–Web mail, wikis, blogging tools, hosted CRM–and Web apps like Google Earth, are good examples of the trend…

Microsoft is responding to this threat by moving more quickly toward offering software as a paid service. Dan Farber’s blog cites Microsoft Watch‘s Mary Jo Foley in Post-Reorg Microsoft Readies New Services. Here’s more detail from her article:

Microsoft is intent on turning its long-term dream of selling software as a service into reality. Last week, Microsoft made no bones about the fact that it is planning to field a full lineup of consumer and business services across all three of its newly minted divisions. In fact, Microsoft already sells a number of such services, both paid and free, ranging from Xbox Live to MSN Spaces blogging service. Microsoft officials have hinted at other potential offerings in the pipeline, including both consumer and enterprise versions of the Windows OneCare hosted security services, as well as a hosted Microsoft CRM service, akin to what Salesforce.com sells today.

But there are even more Microsoft services in the wings that the company has yet to detail publicly. Among those closest to commercialization: A new small-business bundle of VOIP (voice over IP), instant messaging and data conferencing about which Microsoft has discussed privately with some of its partners, as well as a managed, high-availability Exchange Server offering.

Meanwhile, the press reaction to the Sun-Google alliance is that a “GoogleOffice” will emerge that would replace Office completely. Not quite true, according to the announcements — but Google will be pushing OpenOffice.org (along with Sun’s StarOffice, which is based on OpenOffice.org). In Mary Jo Foley’s opinion (see ‘GoogleOffice’: A Microsoft Office Killer?), “If ‘GoogleOffice’ ever materializes, it won’t be going head-to-head with Microsoft Office. Instead, expect some new MSN services in the pipeline to emerge as Redmond’s secret weapons.” In other words, a “GoogleOffice” would target Web versions of email, calendar, and contact management applications.

As is typical of Microsoft, other companies innovate first, then Microsoft steps in. So we can expect to see a raft of “Office-killer” Web applications this year, and it will probably take Microsoft two years to move in with its own versions of Web applications. I agree with Foley’s point: “Is there a hot technology arena where Microsoft has fielded a new product first over the past few months and others are scrambling to catch up? I am coming up blank. Help me out here, readers. Point me to a place where Microsoft has Google and other competitors on the run.”

Watch this space for more about Web applications and would-be Office killers.

Share

Yet Another Service Pack for XP

Expect Microsoft to issue a security fix for Windows XP after releasing the next version of Windows, called Vista. According to a news report from ZDNet France (“Microsoft confirms next XP service pack“):

Microsoft has revealed plans to release a third service pack for its Windows XP operating system. “There will be a Service Pack 3 for Windows XP,” Bernard Ourghanlian, technical and security director at Microsoft France, confirmed, revealing that Microsoft’s OS is set for another major update. Windows XP’s Service Pack 2, which came out last September, deeply modified the operating system by updating its security. Windows XP SP3 will be available sometime next year — after the launch of Windows Vista, which “is the priority for the development teams,” according to Microsoft France.

Check here for rumors about Windows XP Service Pack 3. While Microsoft won’t officially confirm that there will be a Service Pack 3 — referring instead to collections of already released patches, known as an Update Rollup (as with Windows 2000) — many patches posted on Microsoft’s Web site mention that they’re slated to be part of Service Pack 3.

When will we ever learn?

Remember Service Pack 2 (SP2)? At the time of its release, Microsoft issued a list of nearly 50 popular applications and games that would “encounter problems” with SP2. Among the primary issues were glitches related to the relationship between the Windows firewall, which is automatically turned on as a security default by SP2, and many of the listed programs. The updated firewall prevented applications from properly connecting to outside networks, limiting their ability to receive data. Some of the problems caused by the SP2 update included issues with remote desktops, filesharing, email notifications, and online multi-player games. Among the most high-profile, widely used products listed were anti-virus applications from Symantec, network management software made by Computer Associates International, and multimedia tools from Macromedia.

Windows systems upgraded with SP2 are more secure than those without it. But the SP2 upgrade instilled a false sense of security in administrators who installed it on their users’ desktops and laptops. In many cases, when a warning appeared about the Windows firewall blocking an unknown application, people clicked the Unblock button just to get rid of the warning message and moved on with their work, defeating the purpose of the firewall in the first place.

The SP2 problems related to anti-virus applications were disconcerting, because these applications are the first line of defense against virus attacks. Perhaps Microsoft didn’t move fast enough to help the vendors of anti-virus applications, because Microsoft is looking to expand into this area with its own anti-virus products. If that’s the case, Microsoft may move sluggishly once again, putting great numbers of XP users at risk.

This strategy is, of course, part of the stick. The carrot is Vista (formerly known as Longhorn, but changed after too many bull jokes), the new version of Windows, that will ship before this rumored SP3.

As Stewart Alsop pointed out in Fortune Magazine, “If you look at the history of Microsoft in the operating system business, you might conclude that the company doesn’t like its own products. It always seems to be saying it has some new operating system that will solve the problems of whatever it is selling at the time.”

Share

Ajax to Scrub Desktop Applications

Do you know about Ajax? (Not the detergent.) Ajax enables developers to put together Web applications that rival the best desktop applications.

An excerpt from a CNET report by Martin LaMonica, “AJAX gives software a fresh look“:

Over the years, desktop applications tied to a specific operating system have become entrenched as the main way to work on a computer. AJAX, a set of development techniques standardized over the past eight years, could change all that by bringing more sophisticated interfaces to Web applications. With that, backers are hoping it can open a crack in the dominance of desktop software like Microsoft’s Office, the undisputed market leader.

“This is a space that’s crying out for innovation,” said Scott Dietzen, president of messaging start-up Zimbra. “At this point, there isn’t a company that’s up to challenging Microsoft. But we’re out to change that.”

Why should you care about Ajax? You’ll have plenty more alternatives to desktop applications such as Outlook, and eventually migrate away from vulnerable (and costly) applications such as Microsoft Office. Ajax-developed applications work on the server side, with standard Web browsers and require little or no support and no installation of software or plug-ins on your computer. If you use Web applications like Webmail, or a blogging tool such as Blogger or WordPress, you already know the advantages of using a free Web application. Imagine these Web applications on steroids.

At some point in the future, due to Ajax, you will probably use more Web applications to get things done — such as retrieve and store email, collaborate with colleagues on documents, keep track of research, update databases, schedule your calendar, and so on — without the need for desktop (read: Microsoft) applications.

Others agree. Richard MacManus, in “The Web-based Office will have its day” in Web 2.0 Explorer, writes:

Once the current crop of alpha and beta web-based office products reach a level of maturity, they will be ready to challenge Microsoft for the minds and pockets of consumers.

One of the many examples of how Ajax Web applications can change everything is Writely, a free word processor (still in beta testing as of this writing) you can use from your browser without installing or downloading anything.

For the most succinct explanation of Ajax, here’s an excerpt of an essay titled “Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications” by Jesse James Garrett of Adaptive Path and the author of the widely-referenced book The Elements of User Experience.

Desktop applications have a richness and responsiveness that has seemed out of reach on the Web. The same simplicity that enabled the Web’s rapid proliferation also creates a gap between the experiences we can provide and the experiences users can get from a desktop application.

That gap is closing. Take a look at Google Suggest. Watch the way the suggested terms update as you type, almost instantly. Now look at Google Maps. Zoom in. Use your cursor to grab the map and scroll around a bit. Again, everything happens almost instantly, with no waiting for pages to reload.

Google Suggest and Google Maps are two examples of a new approach to web applications that we at Adaptive Path have been calling Ajax. The name is shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML, and it represents a fundamental shift in what’s possible on the Web.

Ajax is a combo of several standard technologies that work together in new ways. It combines the presentation of XHTML and CSS with data interchange and manipulation with XML and XLSLT, along with asynchronous data retrieval with XMLHttpRequest. It uses the Document Object Model for dynamic display and interaction, and JavaScript to bind everything together.

Enthusiasm is building for Ajax. Dan Grossman writes in his blog, A Venture Forth:

Ajax programming techniques have recently generated lots of buzz for good reason: they can be used to create interesting browser-based applications that do things many thought impossible with typical web browsers…”

Grossman describes three problems that Ajax developers need to overcome:

First, Ajax introduces potential user interface issues. In particular, poorly designed Ajax applications work in ways that aren’t intuitive for the average user… Second, Ajax requires JavaScript and, for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, ActiveX must be enabled… Third, Ajax developers need to be especially mindful of perceived application performance.

You can, however, get around the ActiveX requirement in IE by using this workaround, or use alternatives to Microsoft’s browser and platform.

Ajax development is an area to watch if you are interested in weaning your computer of software that depends on any particular operating system. I’ll be testing Writely over the next month or so and report back what I find.

Share

OpenOffice.org OK says Govt. User

The controversy surrounding the decision in Massachusetts to jettison Microsoft Office has government analysts speculating on how difficult it will be to make the transition from Office to, say, OpenOffice.org.

But at least one government customer of the free OpenOffice.org package thinks it’s OK, if not downright excellent. From Difficulties of OpenOffice are overblown by Ramon Padilla Jr., a State Government Consultant and IT veteran:

I have been using the new OpenOffice beta 2.0 (Windows Version) for about a week now. I downloaded it, ran the install, and began using it immediately. I did not peruse the help files, check out the read me, or anything of the sort. I just started working. Since then, I haven’t had one difficulty arise that prevented me from composing or editing a document in OpenOffice Writer or creating a spreadsheet.

I call this success…

So I am a little alarmed when I see articles or remarks espousing how costly and difficult it would be to switch to an open source office suite such as OpenOffice or a commercial package such as StarOffice, or even Corel Word Perfect Office, or Lotus SmartSuite.

I will be the first to admit that there will be some costs involved, particularly for the power users who actually use the more detailed features of Microsoft Office. And there will be some conversion headaches with some documents for sure, but as far as word processors and spreadsheets go, for the majority of users, the transition would be far less traumatic than many make it out to be.

To those who have never tried OpenOffice, I encourage you to download it and give it a whirl for a week. I think you will find that as a package it does some things better than MS Office and some things worse than MS Office and some things different than MS Office. But as a whole, does a more-than-adequate job–particularly when you compare the price.

I couldn’t agree more. I use OpenOffice.org on a Mac, and even with its X Window interface, it is more reliable than Word on the Mac. It has not crashed in over a year of use. I would love it more if it didn’t use the X Window interface and look like the Windows version of Office, but the price is certainly right.

Share