In version 2.04, OpenOffice.org have made the interesting move of stepping into the Firefox extension model. I’ve known office suites to use plugins in the past, but this looks like an attempt to duplicate one of Firefox’s most extensive and powerful features.
There are only a small number available so far, and they haven’t yet done a proper web site for them, but the programming model looks very powerful and flexible. For the moment, you can find a list of available extensions at their wiki.
The list includes a blogging extension that I’ll have to try out and on which I shall have to report back soon.
This seems like a very clever strategy to enable the community to add the small number of features that are available in Microsoft Office but which are still not in OpenOffice.org (of course, OO.o has some features that MS Office does not). However, what I would like to see is OO.o become trimmer (it’s just so big), and some of the more esoteric features moved into extensions.
If developers take to these extensions, it has great potential. Not only to make a more streamlined, feature complete replacement for Microsoft Office, but also to add the sort of innovative functionality that has become the trademark of Firefox extensions.
This demonstrates the power of "eating one’s own dog food" (a subject about which I shall blog more fully). I tell people that Free Software is so good because "it’s written by the people who use it":
- A programmer wants to do something, so he or she downloads a programme that covers that topic
- It’s missing a feature that he or she wants, so the programmer implements it. Of course, this person implements it in a way that works best for them, and flows in the way that feels most natural to them.
- The programmer sends their patch to the software maintainer and other people use that feature.
- They in turn refine it to make it more flexible and easier to use for them.
That’s how we get the interactivity with web sites that Firefox gives us today, and the elegance of other Free Software.
I hope that this is what we see with OpenOffice.org extensions. If so, it’s an exciting prospect.
It should be noted that OpenOffice.org is licensed under the LGPL, so the extensions can be proprietary. Check before you download.
Note: The term "OpenOffice" is trademarked by a company other than Sun. The correct name is "OpenOffice.org", but is often shortened to "OpenOffice". I shall try not to do this.
- OpenOffice.org 2.0.4 release notes
- OpenOffice.org extension repository
- OpenOffice.org at Wikipedia
- ZDNet article on OpenOffice.org extensions