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Join KDE and Open-Source Software In the Fight For the Desktop

Feb 29, 2000, 02:40 (45 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Paul Oswald)

By Paul Oswald

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

It seems that whenever I suggest a Linux word processor to a coworker or friend, they wait until I am finished describing all of the features and then ask, "Can it import a Word document?"

Like it or not, you are eventually going to receive an email attachment with the dreaded .doc extension. Unfortunately, much of personal and business communication is currently conducted on Windows machines through Excel spreadsheets, Word documents and other proprietary file formats.

We all know closed standards are unreliable, and inherently wrong. We know it causes bloated packets flying about like cholesterol in the bloodstream of the collective Internet and clogging the file systems on which they reside. Proprietary file formats eradicate what we try to create: interoperability.

What we perceive as wrong, are the tactics that companies and individuals have employed to keep users dependent on their software long after their applications have stopped proving useful. For the end user, the migration to a new application is painful. Many will not use Linux because they are dependent on Microsoft Word.

As *nix enthusiasts, we often work in heterogeneous environments and must be able to cope with other people's software choices. This is more than a matter of courtesy, it is a matter of survival as well. The selection and quality of office suites available for any OS is one of the most critical aspects for adoption of that platform on the desktop.

Currently Linux has StarOffice, Applixware, and KOffice as well as a fleet of stand alone word processors such as AbiWord, Maxwell, and WordPerfect 8.

While StarOffice is all but it's own desktop, and Applixware is striving to integrate itself with the Linux desktop, none have made as much progress as KOffice in the area of desktop integration. KDE and KOffice have built up an enormous head of steam and development is continuing at a very rapid pace.

I use the KDE desktop and am anxiously awaiting the KDE team's next release, KDE2. KOffice will be included in KDE2 and will contain a full office suite including Kword, Kspread, KChart, KImageShop and many others.

KOffice will be able to do things never before seen in a Linux environment thanks to things like the KParts component embedding model and dcopserver which enables communication between programs. Members of the KDE team are working on making filters for CSV, RTF, Ms WinWord 97 and Ms Excel97 at this time. One metric for judging the maturity of an office application is it's ability to deal with non-native file formats. An application lacking this ability will be hindered in an office or home environment.

This is where you, as an experienced programmer, come in. We can use your help in expanding this effort if you want to become involved. This is an extremely important phase and critical to the adoption of Linux on the desktop.

Recently, Werner Trobin compiled a KOffice filter HOWTO which explains exactly what is involved in creating these necessary components. It is very easy to create the framework which KOffice will use to tie in a document filter.

If you would like to write a filter or have knowledge of file formats used by other programs, simply email koffice@kde.org to let them know what you would like to work on. They can help you get started and will tell you if anyone else is attempting a particular filter. The programming is not very hard and only requires learning to use a couple of Qt classes from Troll Tech. With a little bit of work, your code will be tied in with KOffice and KDE2. You can then sit back and know that you've helped do the Right Thing (Tm).

- Paul Oswald

Resources:

KWord and Applixware reviewed
KDE
Troll Tech
Filter Tutorial
Filter information


Feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments at: poswald@crosswinds.net

Paul Oswald is a founding member of Spyre Group LLC as well as a full time linux advocate. He is experienced with programming and information technologies, and has been involved with Linux for five years.