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a blog by ken pardue

Archive for August, 2008

Centralized Data Services in Linux

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Mozilla Gecko Office – Why Not?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

So I’ve been using the OpenOffice 3.0 betas on my Mac and I just can’t get past the feeling that the folks at Sun are just trying to keep up with the 1990’s.  While it is nice that the latest version runs under OS X without using X11, it must also be realized that it remains slow and cludgey to the point of frustration.  There weren’t enough features added to justify a major version jump, although somehow OpenOffice has taken a major jump down with performance.  Grant it that these are betas and somewhat better performance is to be expected from the final release, but NeoOffice compares only slightly better.  Scroll speed is very jerky (sometimes freezing between page switches), text appears poorly antialiased and poorly kerned on Windows and Mac (and downright abominable on Linux), images appear jagged and seem to move around the page inexplicably, manually positioning images and text frames within a page of text is guesswork at best, and the interface… well let’s just not start on that.  

And yet, is the poster child for open source office suites.  It’s included by default in nearly every single Linux distribution and is proclaimed as the Microsoft Office alternative on Windows.  It, and derivatives of it, remain the only viable implementations of the OpenDocument format.

Certainly there must be a better way to do this.  Certainly there is a way to get consistent cross-platform performance with high quality text and image rendering and support for networking and the impending eventual move to cloud-based applications?  I think there is, and the answer lies with Mozilla.  Mozilla stormed onto the scene several years ago and today has become the cornerstone for BOTH open standards advocation on the web AND for intuitive, navigable, and ultimately usable user interfaces.  Why not make a Mozilla Office Suite?  There are many arguments in favor of this:

  • Gecko is a mature platform that claims 140 million Firefox users as of February 2008 (probably many more now that Firefox 3 has been released) and 48 million Thunderbird downloads, versus 98 million downloads.
  • The ethos surrounding Mozilla is one of providing the end user the best experience, not necessarily the most options.  This has led them to develop a platform that is extremely light weight and focused on performance.
  • Much of Mozilla’s products are written in JavaScript, which would seem to be a hindrance on a large scale office suite, but the most recent builds of an optimized JavaScript interpreter approaches native code speeds, with even more improvements on the way.
  • All of the networking components, text rendering/kerning components, and image rendering and scaling components  are already in place and are well tested across all major platforms.
  • There is a proven extension system with automatic checking for updates polished and in place.
  • A lot of the basic composition functionality is already contained in the Thunderbird project.
  • Mozilla is now working to support open and platform specific multimedia frameworks more tightly into their products, with the inclusion of Ogg Theora native support in the browser right alongside support for the video framework for whatever platform it’s running on (Quicktime for OS X, DirectShow for Windows, GStreamer, etc., for Linux).  This would be a boon to those using embedded video in documents, or more practically, in presentations.
  • Since OpenDocument is DOM based, it would be an easy transition to make native rendering of OpenDocument files available for viewing and collaboration on the web.  Imagine the maturity of Google Documents if you could leverage Mozilla Office’s capabilities?  It would be the single best way to turn XUL-runner into the ultimate stand-alone platform like some have recently talked about doing.
  • Not anything specific to Mozilla here, but the user interface could be optimized with tabs for different documents, a platform-specific look and feel that feels at home regardless of what platform you’re on, smooth scrolling through documents (I pasted 150+ pages into Thunderbird, albeit without images, and it scrolled through it satisfyingly smoothly), and much, much more.
So, in short, Mozilla Office for President 2008!  Now, who wants to code it?