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StarOffice creator on the GNOME pact

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LinuxWorld Seeing as how we'd scooped the news of the creation of the Gnome Foundation without the benefit of embargoed press releases, Sun Microsystems was kind enough to let its kimono drop earlier than it had planned yesterday... and brought forth Marco Boerries, creator of StarOffice.

Boerries says he's been working on StarOffice since he was fifteen in 1986 - which sounds like cruel and unusual punishment in anyone's book. How he must wish he'd have kept his bedroom tidy...

But he's at Sun now of course, and sporting an unfeasibly long job description that includes the words "VP", "WebTop", "General anager", "Applications", "Division" and "Portal"... and he did try and fill in the gaps following the creation of the Gnome Foundation, and the claim that Gnome will base its GnomeOffice applications suite on StarOffice, when it's finally released as free software.

The most obvious question, is why go with GNOME when KDE and KOffice have both a considerable development lead and the lion's share of the current distros?

"Sun has chosen to support Gnome only," he says. "We will work together with the KDE community but we have made our pick. KOffice we don't consider as competition." Boerries pointed out there was ongoing interoperability work to bridge the Bonobo and KParts object models that feature in Gnome 2.0 and KDE 2.0. He also said that his team would publish XML-based file formats for the office applications, giving anyone the chance to preserve their data and still have a choice of applications.

The first of these specifications will be published either at the end of this week, or the beginning of next week he said.

"We will be happy to invite KDE to work through openoffice.org; even if they have their own source code, and invite them to adopt the XML based file formats and APIs. That would still make a lot of sense," he said.

APIs are still needed says Boerries for the bits of StarOffice that won't be open sourced - such as the spell checker and conversion filters for legacy formats such as WordStar. Those APIs will be language neutral, so bindings should be available for [insert your scripting language of choice here].

But he was on shakier ground when he denied that KDE had an advantage amongst the current distributions. He cited RedHat, TurboLinux (which actually ships KDE), VA Linux (which ships whatever you want on demand) and LinuxPPC as being Gnome standard bearers right-now. Yes, he did say LinuxPPC.

Compaq, HP and IBM have signed up to the Gnome Foundation, lessening the perception that it was only a Sun ruse all along. But Sun is donating "hundreds" of developers at the project. He sees Sun's major contribution as being internationalisation and adding accessibility features. Eazel, the UI created by former Macintosh luminaries Andy Hertzfeld and others, and Helix Code will fill in much of the rest. And Sun will officially adopt Gnome 2.0 for Solaris when it's eventually released.

IDC pointed out that StarOffice will still have some way to topple Microsoft Office in the larger enterprise accounts, where macros are relied on. "The free software could be much more expensive if someone had to spend time figuring out why a document won't work as expected," says Dan Kusnetzky. "When the whole equation is considered, it may be less expensive to by more expensive software."

Sun has no plans to change ape Office macros, says Boerries, in part because Microsoft itstelf can't guarantee compatiblity between Office 95, Office 97 and Office 2000. But StarOffice does preserve macros so they're not lost when a document is edited in the suite, he said. And in any case, it'll be pitching it at education, small businesses and so on who are less likely to mandate company wide macros. And then there's the macro virus issue.

For the record, we got a note from GNU pointing out that StarOffice won't be er, free software until October, and that's it's released under the LGPL (Lesser General Public License) not GPL. ®

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