Lack of developers delays OpenOffice.org

Open source productivity suite OpenOffice.org may be touted as a viable alternative to Microsoft Office, but there are claims its pace of development and adoption of new features is being stifled by a "monolithic" code base and a developer community still largely controlled by Sun Microsystems.

Project contributors speaking at the annual OpenOffice.org miniconference in Canberra this week raised numerous issues, including a lack of independent contributors.

OpenOffice.org developer Ken Foskey said the biggest problem with the project is a lack of developers and a code base that is "just too big".

"It's 10 million lines of code and takes serious commitment just to compile the thing," Foskey said. "I'm interested in [having] more community developers [involved]," he said, adding they shouldn't "just say 'I want to work on OpenOffice' but focus on a particular part of the project."

Sun is still the largest contributor to the project with some 50 developers in Germany, followed by Novell with about 10 contributors, and only four active community developers.

Foskey recommends developers start with the Ximian OpenOffice.org distribution which is more "opensource-ish" than the original code base.

"The code base ranges from good to code that is 20 years old," he said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work on OpenOffice, but it bloody well helps."

OpenOffice.org's marketing project lead Jacqueline McNally said the release of version 2.0 was scheduled for "about this time", but it will be delayed until at least June or July.

"We've had unprecedented feedback from beta testers and downloads for the developers releases are higher than the stable release," McNally said. "We are now encouraging contributions from other open source projects and organizations."

McNally is also seeking developers from within government who may be already supporting OpenOffice.org to contribute to the project.

"The June-July release will be better and have better features, for example, people are keen about OOBase so we want that to be included," she said.

McNally also hinted at the prospect of the project moving to a shorter release cycle with fewer feature enhancements to stimulate developer activity.

Sun Microsystems' chief technology evangelist Simon Phipps acknowledged the challenges OpenOffice.org faces and put it down to its monolithic code base rather than Sun's contribution governance.

"For something that was originally written for Windows 3.1 and OS/2, the fact that it now runs on Linux and Solaris is a significant achievement," Phipps said.

Phipps said Sun welcomes contributions from both individuals and organizations that use the productivity suite, including big names Like IBM.

"Ask IBM why it uses OpenOffice but doesn't contribute to it," he said.

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Rodney Gedda

Computerworld
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