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Today's Top SOA Links 2.0 Ships - Exclusive Interview With Louis Suárez-Potts on
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SYS-CON Radio Interview Transcript From LinuxWorld Expo, Originally Published on October 2, 2003 in LinuxWorld

Without a full-featured office productivity suite, Linux on the desktop would be nothing but a dream. Fortunately, the project provides us with a fullfeatured office productivity suite that is solid and continuing to get better.

Few people have been as influential in the conception, creation, and development of as Louis Suárez-Potts. Louis has been with the project since the beginning and plays many roles, including initiating and leading a number of the primary subprojects and managing several public mailing lists. He holds a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley.

Louis will be writing a regular column for LinuxWorld Magazine to keep our readers up to date on current happenings with OpenOffice. org. We'd like to introduce you to him through this interview, which was recorded at the LinuxWorld Expo in San Francisco this past August. The original audio recording of the interview is available in mp3 format on the site.

LinuxWorld: We're very excited to be talking with Louis Suárez-Potts, the community manager for people are saying that OpenOffice is a big part of what's allowing Linux on the desktop to become so successful, so thanks for taking time to talk with us.

Louis Suárez-Potts: Thanks.

LinuxWorld: In case some of our readers are not familiar with, can you give us an idea of who is and what you're doing?

Louis Suárez-Potts: is both a community project and an open source project that's been around now for almost three years. We will be celebrating our third anniversary on October 13 ? not a terribly lucky day, but that's our destiny. And it's also an application ? or an office suite ? it's an office suite that's kind of unusual because it runs not only on Linux natively, and not just using Java; it also runs on Windows; it runs on Mac OS X, using X11 or X Windows. It runs on Free BSD; it runs on just about everything, including Solaris. It provides users with an environment that is very similar to one they're used to if they're currently using Microsoft Office. This means that you can come to without any real anxiety about transition. If you're used to using Microsoft Office you can go straight to on Linux, Solaris, Windows, Free BSD, Mac OS X, or X11, and learn how to use it in about five minutes. It reads Microsoft Office files, and it saves Microsoft Office files, with anywhere from 95 ? 100% compatibility.

LinuxWorld: That's great. I can really attest to a lot of that as well. I'm writing a book right now for a computer publisher and I've got a reasonably complex Word template that I have to use that has all different types of formatting.I was able to port it into OpenOffice and I was surprised at how well it picked the templates up. I've been able to share files with people that I'm working with who are using Word.

Louis Suárez-Potts: This is true, and what's more, we're getting better. We're coming up with a new release [version 1.1 ? ed.] which is actually a significant enhancement that's going to be released to the general public in a couple of weeks [around Sept. 1 ? ed.]. We have some release candidates out there. If you want to download those and test them and tell us how they can be improved, you're certainly welcome to, but our major final 1.1 will be out in a couple of weeks. It improves compatibility between Microsoft Office files and OpenOffice. This means that you can take a Microsoft Office PowerPoint slide and it'll pretty much translate it directly to our so-called Impress files ? that's our equivalent to PowerPoint ? without any real slippage. There might be a few places where it's not quite perfect, but for the most part it's going to be pretty good. The advantage to this isn't just to the individual user, it's actually to corporations. Here's a possible scenario ? a corporation is using PowerPoint or gets a lot of PowerPoint slides, and say it also has some Linux users and wants to give them those PowerPoint slides. Well, it can't because if it's using PowerPoint, it doesn't run on Linux. So what we offer is the possibility of a truly heterogeneous environment, where you have some people using Office on Windows, some people using OpenOffice on Linux, other people using OpenOffice on Mac OS X , and they're all able to communicate freely using native formats.

LinuxWorld: That's really pretty amazing.How has the community acceptance been of your product?

Louis Suárez-Potts: It's been incredible. When Sun first open sourced StarOffice in 2000, October 13, they were mainly doing it for the open source community. They were thinking they were getting a few developers to work on it, and it would be a good project and a good experiment. No one anticipated that it would be so immensely popular! In the two years since we have open sourced it, we've had 17 million downloads of the application itself. We've had over 10 million, more like 11 or so million, maybe 12, since May 1, 2002. Many of these might be repeat customers but a lot of them are unique. They've just been downloading it because they want it. What's more, and this is even more incredible, is that if you download it you can distribute it freely. That means you can give it out to anyone you want ? without any concern about licensing fees. You can share the application and people can start using it.

LinuxWorld: Have you done any studies or looked at all at how much money companies can save by making the transition to OpenOffice?

Louis Suárez-Potts: Indeed we have. StarOffice, which is a proprietary implementation of OpenOffice that uses exactly the same code base and only adds some things, has all these excellent charts that point out the ROI of just buying a StarOffice license, which is a very small flat fee. There's no escalating licensing cost, there's no transition cost to speak of, and there's no major support issue. For corporations or enterprises using StarOffice, the savings are astronomical. They're even greater for someone using OpenOffice because they don't have to purchase that license. For example, I don't know what the license per seat would be for Microsoft Office...

LinuxWorld: It's a few hundred dollars...

Louis Suárez-Potts: A few hundred dollars...say $300 for, say, 10,000 seats. They would be saving that.

LinuxWorld: That's pretty amazing,and I know that for a lot of companies what's even more expensive than the actual license is the time spent negotiating contracts, the time system administrators spend tracking license usage and trying to make sure they keep everybody in compliance.That in itself is a major job.

Louis Suárez-Potts: Absolutely. And those are all eliminated using open source technology.

LinuxWorld: There's another thing I'd like to ask you about ? a lot has been made of the proprietary file systems or file formats that Microsoft uses. And I've heard that OpenOffice uses an open format to store their information in,but what value is that to just an average user or to a corporation?

Louis Suárez-Potts: That's both a practical and philosophical question. I'll deal with the practical issue first because the immediate value to a regular user will be fairly invisible since the user will just be using something that's very familiar and won't really be conscious of the actual file format. We use XML, which is being standardized, and OpenOffice is leading the charge in standardizing XML for office suites. XML is ?extensible markup language,? which is a form of coding that allows other people to work with your applications very freely and easily. Now, for someone who wants to work with the file formats, the fact that XML has been standardized according to certain internationally agreed-upon standards means that they can create and then deploy various implementations without really having too much anxiety thinking about how this is going to be working ? they can just start doing it....Essentially the key part that we're trying to emphasize here is what XML really allows. Because it's being standardized, and because of the way we're standardizing it, it allows users to essentially own their intellectual property, without really thinking about the vendor.

LinuxWorld: So,for example,if it's in the standard format, does that mean that I could theoretically use the same files with a different application that could read and write the same formats?

Louis Suárez-Potts: Absolutely. That is the essential goal for a lot of our efforts here ? to standardize it so that you don't have to worry about the specific vendor. So if you have your property ? which is what you've done, your intellectual property is your documents ? that means you can save it as an XML file format and you can open it with say John's Widget, or John's Office. And that would be perfectly okay. Now a proprietary effort is totally opposed to this because a proprietary effort is trying to actually make it so that it's difficult for other people to open your document.

LinuxWorld: That's really interesting. I know there's a new version coming out pretty soon.Can you give us some ideas as to what that might hold for us?

Louis Suárez-Potts: Sure. Version 1.1, which is coming out in a couple of weeks and which I'm urging everyone to download once it's out, has some very interesting features. First of all, my favorites are that you can save to PDF, Portable Document Format, which is the accepted standard in many corporations. Second, you can also export to Shockwave Flash. The first thing, say it's a PDF, is really great because you can send your documents to other people without really worrying about compatibility. For example, if I am in a document and I save it to PDF and send it off, then everyone can read it. I don't have to worry about whether they're using Microsoft Office.

Second is saving to Shockwave Flash. This is particularly great. For example, say you create an Impress slide show (which is our PowerPoint), you can export that to Shockwave Flash and then open it with your browser. Almost everyone now has the Flash Shockwave plug-in. You can then present it anywhere using your browser as the medium for presentation.

LinuxWorld: That's exciting. I know that Flash has great support for animation. A lot of people who have the skills to make PowerPoint presentations can now just save their presentations in Flash format and this will all work?

Louis Suárez-Potts: The Flash player will present it all as you wish. It will basically be a static thing where you're showing it from Flash ? you can even edit if you have Flash Editor. You can create it in Impress and then import it into the Flash Editor. Flash can then send it to anyone in your corporation or your workplace environment, without worrying about the images getting messed up, without worrying about the graphics getting all over the place. It's exactly the way you created it. This is extremely important because you can then have a library of such files. People can then use them and send them on, but they don't have to worry about the actual compatibility.

LinuxWorld: That's all great. Can you remind us again where we can get the OpenOffice product?

Louis Suárez-Potts: OpenOffice can be downloaded from the Web site,

About Kevin Bedell
Kevin Bedell, one of the founding editors of, writes and speaks frequently on Linux and open source. He is the director of consulting and training for Black Duck Software.

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