High-class, low-bloat office suite goes open source

Cruft-free zone

"They just don't like to do the boring stuff for the stupid people!" said Bruce Sterling recently, satirising the reluctance of open source hackers to add the nice usability finishings non-hackers expect.

"That's just not in the job description! It's not even a job."
Well, here's some good news - we think. The powers behind the Gobe Productive office suite, which was much loved by old BeOS users, will open source the software under the GPL.

That's the plan anyway, we learn from OS News which got the scoop. FreeRadicalSoftware, a new company comprising some former Gobe employees, including Bruce Hammond, expect to acquire the code base, and release it under a dual license, one of which will be the GNU's GPL. It doesn't sound like a done deal yet, according to comments by Hammond and Gobe's Tom Hoke, but the plan is to allow a reconstituted Gobe to market Windows binaries, while FRS keeps the source.

But this is very good news, because Gobe Productive is a lean, nimble, and highly functional package that already has enough good taste built-in to survive even the most ideologically insane faction fighting. It's everything that OpenOffice isn't - and has matured without adding cruft. A while ago, it served as my main office suite for a time when Be was my primary platform. The only thing Be couldn't then do that I needed was read PowerPoint presentations - and it was with no small pleasure that I could tell PRs that I had to refuse them on "technical grounds". And the only thing I missed in Gobe was funky macros - which again, other parts of the OS compensated for. On the other hand, I had a unique UI in which the document remained central, while the 'parts' swapped in and out where appropriate, some unique features like multiple select and a nice redo/undo widget, and a blinding set of image filters.

Productive's weakness - although not one enough to cause much UnProductivity - was Word support. It was OK, but as an open source project, it should only improve.

Or should it? We wait with some trepidation for the first Gobe Productive schism round about 2004. There'll be a serious code fork over the issue of whether fold-down menus should unfurl to the left or the right. Tempers will rage, there'll be a long and acrimonious Slashdot discussion, and a fringe third force of hooligans will set about rewriting the whole thing in XUL.

We jest. Back here we called Gobe's software a "dark horse" in the Linux office sweeps, and it surely is poised for a very bright future. ®

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