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Mac OpenOffice ‘delay’ debunked

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Repeat anything for long enough in the echo chamber, and people start to believe it. A fortnight after Sun published a community roadmap for OpenOffice it has been widely reported that the Mac version will be delayed, even though the 'delay' no longer than it is for version 1.x.

However the project could really use some help.

Dan Williams, one of only two volunteer developers working on the Mac OS X development team has been in touch after our story last week and explains the situation in some detail. We also checked in with Sun.

Williams says that the Mac version is in a Catch-22: with only two developers, it desperately needs man power. But no one will join the porting effort until they see momentum behind the Aqua port.

Two points to start with - says Dan. First, the reason for the delay is that talks with the Sun engineers in Hamburg have been somewhat less than productive. They are projecting no major releases after OpenOffice.org 1.1, instead opting only for bug fixes and minor features. What we want to do for the Aqua port is fairly major. We've said point-blank to them that we _cannot_ wait until 2.0 (projected to be late 2004/early 2005 at the earliest) to commit our Aqua changes. Hence the impasse.

Our changes would benefit all platforms as well, including Linux and Win32, allowing the use of native widgets like buttons and other controls. OOo would look more like a real Aqua or GTK or Windows program instead of the current ugly Win95 look.

Second point is that we may be able to wrangle a 1.5 release with our required changes or something. Others, like Ximian, want to add stuff to. So the long and short of it may be that there isn't an "official" Aquafied OpenOffice.org release until 2005 and OOo 2.0, but there could be an interim release. In any case, our Aqua work will still be going on with NeoOffice, and when it works there would bemoved into OpenOffice.org CVS. So Neo is kind of the cutting edge.

Third, anyone who's pissed about this could have been helping out. Over the past two years, there have been a total of TWO half-time developers on this port, and for both of us that half-time is completely volunteer outside of full-time jobs. That's simply not enough man-hours. We've always needed more people, but nobody wants to work on something that's not Aquafied yet. But we need people to help us do exactly that. Chicken and the egg almost. Its sad.

And you don't need to program to help us out. Answering questions on our support forums helps out a lot, since we then don't need to take time away from coding to do it (not that we don't like answering questions, but its an issue of time).

Compared to the number of developers fiddling with their wikis or devising Google-choking innovations such as "Trackbacks", it's a shame that such an important Macintosh project can't find more resources. (Not that the team would want the 'help' of HTML coders of dubious quality, we guess, but that's not the point). Contributing to a major product that will be widely used in corporate environments must have some downstream benefits for coders involved?

We checked with Sun's Irwin Tenhumberg, product marketing manager for Sun who confirmed that the community has stuck to an eighteen-month cycle for OpenOffice - so much for the "delay" to version 2.0.

Tenhumberg confirmed that Sun doesn't provide internal coding manpower to the Mac community, as it packages versions for Windows, Linux and Solaris as StarOffice.

"It's more in Apple interests than ours to provide more than backline support for OpenOffice," he told us.

Quite.®

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