An interview with Petr Mladek – Libre Office Developer

Recently I had an interview with Petr Mladek, long standing Libre Office and openSUSE Packager who gave me a lot of insights about Libre Office and the ongoing development process along with the Libre Office’s collaboration with openSUSE
Me: Hi Petr, Please tell us a bit about yourself
Petr: I have been a package maintainer in SUSE for since March 2001. In the beginning, I started to take care of some easy editors, e.g. joe and pico. After an year, I started to maintain java packages. In 2004, they told me: “Hey Petr, would you be interested into packaging OpenOffice.org? It is yet another editor, uses java, so it would nicely fit your area of interest.” I answered: “Yup, I could try it” and the game started. As time passed, SUSE has been acquired by Novell, I started to closely cooperate with enthusiastic Michael Meeks. OOo become more important. We hired more people on OOo development. I started working on it full time. We did many OOo releases and recently joined the initiative around LibreOffice. I am proud to be member of the Novell LO team and work closely with all the great and inspiring people. In my spare, I do some usual things, like watching films or reading books. I prefer comedy, psychology, adventure, romance, and action. Also I do some activities, like cycling, hiking, skying, or swimming. During swimming, I often dive under the water to enjoy the silence and free movement. Last but not least, I enjoy many kind of music, especially, folk, rock, and pop. When the sound or words hit your heart, it is one of the best feelings in life. Unfortunately, I can’t distinguish between the tones, so I can’t sing myself. I tried to play guitar and got able to play many simple folk songs. Well, it would need much more effort to more enjoy it or be able to play for others. Finally, I started Salsa dancing two years ago. In the beginning, I danced as if I had two left feet. I think that it is much better now. I have found it an excellent combination of music and “sport”.
Me:  What are some of the unique benefits you can expect to see in Libre Office that aren’t in open office?
Petr: The alternative online help might significantly reduce download time and disk usage. LO supports 3 different formula syntaxes: Calc A1, Excel A1 and Excel R1C1. It has a possibility to use English formula names. The inline forms editing is much easier to use. Again, best to check the LibreOffice features page [1], you will see all the nice additions.
Me : What can users expect to get with libreOffice when they move to 11.4?
Petr: LibreOffice-3.3 includes some nice features compared to OpenOffice.org-3.2.1. I like the new search toolbar, “Title Page”, and “Print” dialogs. I think that users will appreciate the new hierarchical axis labels for charts, RTF export, easier slide layout handling, and all other features[1].
Me:  How much work was involved in getting Libre Office to a stable point ready for the masses?
Petr: A challenge was to integrate all the nice stuff that people provided after the creation of LibreOffice. We also needed to rename the packages, make them backward compatible with the OpenOffice_org packages. Otherwise, it was comparable with stabilizing any other OOo version.
Me: What’s the development environment like?  is it better than what it was before under open office or go-oo?
Petr: The advantage over OpenOffice.org is a faster development model, and that the project does not need copyright assignment any more. The advantage over Go-oo is that it is not necessary to maintain changes as patches.
Me: Are there any migration concerns about data from old open office to new LibreOffice?
Petr: The update is pretty smooth. LibreOffice is continuation of the OpenOffice.org project and is based on the OOo sources. The compatibility of import and export filters is our high priority. We kept the oo* wrappers for backward compatibility for people used to start the office suite from the command line. Only one potential problem comes to my mind. The migration from the old configuration stored in ~/.ooo3 can fail in corner cases, and few of the settings are not migrated.
Me: LibreOffice has seen a tremendous growth in contributors since its inception,  To what do you attribute this growth to?
Petr: I think that people always wanted to work on OpenOffice.org. It was popular project, used by many people every day. The work really makes sense. I think that many people join LibreOffice because they could execute their ideas more easily. We also lowered the entry point to the project. There is a set of Easy Hacks [6] that cover tasks from the most easy that need nearly no programming experience, to very advanced ones. You can pick any of those, and can be sure that you’ll get help on the development mailing list [7] or on IRC [8].
Me:What are some of the coolest features that are most overlooked by users of LibreOffice?
Petr : I have found pretty useful a possibility to split view on a sheet. It is done by a tiny black box next to the roll-bar. It helps to assign values between different columns and rows.  Another interesting thing is the possibility to set another language for a particular sentence.  It helps to do the spellchecking correctly. I like the 3D slide transitions. Of course, such transitions are good only for some types of presentations.
Me: Being an openSUSE user, how excited are are you about LibreOffice being featured as default on your favourite OS?
Petr : I am very happy. I believe that LibreOffice has a great future, and that it will gain many satisfied users.
Me : Can users install LibreOffice on pre openSUSE 11.4 versions?
Petr : Yes, the latest stable version can be found in the BS project “LibreOffice:Stable”[2]. It is available for all supported openSUSE distributions. Enthusiasts could try alpha, beta, rc versions from “LibreOffice:Unstable”[3] project. We also think about to provide official maintenance updates for the older openSUSE distributions. I would like to thank all people for trying the unstable builds and reporting bugs. It helps us to catch problems in time. Note that I announce new builds at lizards.opensuse.org[4] and planet.opensuse.org[5].
Me: Are there any unique advantages of having LibreOffice on openSUSE versus other distributions?
Petr: openSUSE has a group of excellent LO developers inside, so it is easier to get bugs fixed. Of course, there are always more bugs than we are able to fix but we do our best. Another advantage is the Build Service. It helps to keep the packages up-to-date and compatible for older distributions. Finally, we are the only distro using the split build, so it is easier to hack on LO and distribute smaller fixes.
But the overall goal is to keep all the distros in sync, and not to fragment – so we hope that for example the split build is going to be used by others too.
Me: What is your philosophy on Libre Office?
Petr: It must be free and easy to access and use for users and developers.
Me: What do you see as the future of open document formats?  Are we gaining ground?
Petr: Yes, it seems that more and more users understand the importance of open document formats and it is pushing companies to use them.
Me: What are some of the challenges we see still?  (Technical and perceptual)
Petr: There always will be challenges because everything can be done better and better. An interesting problem might be compatibility of extensions between OOo and LO. We also need to teach people about the time-based schedule and more frequent bugfix releases. Of course, I am primary interested into the build framework where we are going to optimize build using .po files and GNU make. Also I hope that we will continue with the split build.
Me: What accomplishments are you most proud of since LibreOffice was launched?
Petr: I am very proud of all the people who joined the project so far. They do great job. We would not be possible to do all the things without them. Also it is very promising for the future of the project.
Me:  What’s next for LibreOffice?
Petr: We are going to switch to a time based schedule and more frequent bug fix releases. We want to keep quality and avoid infinite RC phase at the same time. The idea is that all serious blocker bugs can be found and fixed within few weeks. Then the application is ready for masses who want to enjoy new features and more complicated fixes. The history says that bugs in less typical scenarios are found weeks after the release. Such bugs will be fixed in pure bug fix releases and released few weeks after each other. It means that more conservative people should rather wait for the 3.x.1, 3.x.2, 3.x.3 releases. We hope that it will help all people to get faster what they want.
Reference:
[7] libreoffice@lists.freedesktop.org
[8] channel #libreoffice on irc.freenode.net
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