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Video Meet LibreOffice Volunteer Robinson Tryon (Video) 26

When Slashdot's Tim Lord went to Texas Linux Fest, one of the people he met there was Robinson Tryon. He's a volunteer with LibreOffice, and in this conversation he gave us a nice look at what's going on these days with LibreOffice and its parent organization, The Document Foundation. (Alternate Video Link)

Robinson: I’m the LibreOffice community outreach herald and I also do some work with QA – we do some QA work on other projects as well.

Tim: Do you ever get together with other outreach heralds?

Robinson: As far as I know, I’m the only one with that title. It was kind of fun to get to make my own title to represent what I like doing for LibreOffice. And I am especially interested in going around to conferences in the United States and elsewhere and talking to people about using LibreOffice, both in their personal lives and also in their schools or government.

Tim: To be fair, is this a full-time job?

Robinson: No. I’m currently a volunteer. I do some consulting work involving LibreOffice. That’s how I got started with the project with that, I started doing some work, I needed to deal with a lot of files in various Microsoft formats, and LibreOffice was able to do bulk conversion of those. That’s what actually I am going to be partially talking about today—my talk is about some of the ways that LibreOffice has some tools that can help people who have to deal with large amounts of office documents.

Tim: It sounds like you essentially got started with QA.

Robinson: Yeah. A friend of mine named Joel, who was involved in QA, saw me being a little bit involved with the project and answering some questions and just sort of pulled me into the QA team. Before I could realize it, I was leading QA meetings and organizing bug hunting sessions and things like that.

Tim: Eventually during this talk, you were going to touch on the issue of mass document conversion. What is the significance of that?

Robinson: Right. Sure. The title of the talk is ‘LibreOffice: Tips and Tricks’ for something, but it is LibreOffice tips and tricks, to help someone really use all the features that are available on the suite. Since LibreOffice really got started in 2010, there’ve been a number of need editions and need improvements that have been integrated into the office suite. These allow people often to work sort of more quickly and more efficiently. One of them, for example, is this idea of command line conversion; we have improved the ability to convert between .docx or .doc files into some of the more open formats like ODF.

Tim: Is the target moving any faster than it used to be?

Robinson: Which kind of target?

Tim: When it comes to doing conversions with proprietary format.

Robinson: Right.

Tim: It seems like between versions is often even within Microsoft’s own products, sometimes there is some trouble opening newer versions

Robinson: Sure. Yeah, that can be an issue in terms of new features or new iterations instead of versions in different releases of Microsoft Office. But I think the one thing that we were realizing is that whereas we do have certain documents that are legacy and so in fact, the Document Foundation the parent organization of LibreOffice has a whole new project called Document Liberation Project and that’s really designed to give developers a set of libraries, common libraries, that can allow them to convert from a whole host of file formats including some really old ones like old Apple word processing formats and things like that and bring those into ODF. So that your documents can be in a single open standard and can move forward as the office software world moves forward.

Tim: Now one contract is going to make a lot of difference, is institutions like OLPC, you know, the way open software, open formats have to do with interactive education.

Robinson: Right. Sure. Yeah, so one of my – as you said, one of my big interests is how education interacts with technology—it’s a much bigger topic—about how much technology we should use in schools and to what extent technology should be used in different classrooms. But I think that a key part of that is making sure that the tools that students have at their disposal are open so that they can really experience the power and can really delve into whatever depth they want of that hardware and that software.

So the One Laptop Per Child folks have the Sugar software interface. One thing that’s really powerful about that interface is that you can just click on a button and see the source code that is being used to display what you are seeing on a screen at that time. And you may modify that source code. In addition, you can go beyond the software and you can actually modify the hardware—they teach kids often how to replace a broken laptop screen. So whether it’s hardware or software, the idea that you would provide the students with the means and the education to actually modify both the hardware and the software is sending a really powerful message that they can and they should be able to delve deep into what they are working on.

And I think that should extend beyond hardware and software to other aspects of their life whether that’s asking questions about why were decisions made etc.--it’s a sort of a lifelong lesson. But at least in the technology realm, it’s really important for kids, from an early age, to understand that modifying software, which can mean soldering connectors on a laptop isn’t actually that scary. It’s actually something that you can do and sometimes, because they have little fingers it is even easier for them to work with electronics than for people like me with big clumsy fingers.

Tim: I don’t see people very often associate that sort of tinkering with something as prosaic as an office suite to work on.

Robinson: Right, right. Well, we do have hack fests in LibreOffice; we are going to hopefully have a couple, perhaps one in Austin here next year. We really see those as an opportunity for people to get involved with both the community and with the coding. There are lot of different possible roles that they can play whether that’s if they really want to hack on the source code of LibreOffice or if they’d like to do some technical writing, work on outreach, even internationalization. I met a couple of people today at the booth who speak Portuguese. We have a LibreOffice magazine that’s written entirely in Portuguese, and we really need someone who can help translate that into English, so that it can be accessible to a wider audience. So even someone who is young, who maybe is bilingual, could have a really drastic impact on a project like LibreOffice. And they don’t understand that they already have the skills themselves to have that big impact. And that’s what I think is so interesting—to show kids that even if they are really young, they might have something in their educational background that can have a really big impact in multiple countries.

Tim: Give us an insight as to how LibreOffice is being used right now in classrooms—is it widespread in the US or elsewhere in the world?

Robinson: Right. Right now, I have a friend who is a technological educator in Vermont, he is using LibreOffice in some of their classrooms, across platforms. One of the neat things is that they are not only able to teach the kids how to use the suite in school, but they are able to distribute it to them to take home and install it on their own computers. Some different districts have had problems where students will learn with one type of software and if they issue laptops or something, they can give students copies of software. But there is a really limit to how far they can take that software.

Tim: It is kind of a license code?

Robinson: Exactly, exactly. They are only allowed to use it in certain ways. And additionally, beyond that class, if they give them a license to make some type of 3D software, some type of mathematical software there are limitations on how far that software can be used. So they can maybe use it individually, but if they wanted to work on it with a parent and if the parent got interested in that software, they’d have to go and buy an expensive license. But what really excites me is the idea that a student can start with a piece of software like LibreOffice or Blender and they can learn some very small little tips and tricks. But then they can take that software with them as they grow up and even start their own business. And throughout there, we’re encouraging them to take that software and share it with others.

Tim: One thing like a lot of other open source projects, LibreOffice is quite specifically for a platform, only on a free operating system.

Robinson: That’s correct.

Tim: Sort of like a gateway drug.

Robinson: Yeah, I’ve heard it compared to a gateway drug before. I draw a lot of parallels, I think with some of the browsers wars that happened in the past. The fact that Microsoft was a little bit complacent in some ways with Internet Explorer and Mozilla came along and told them, “Hey, wait a second. The internet is not just for one browser—it should be using open standards.” Then Microsoft woke up a little bit and they said, “Hey, wait a second. We should invest some time and effort in implementing the standards as well, and becoming best of breed.” And I think they did. I think that no matter what your standpoint is on software licenses, or if you think that the Microsoft version of software development is better or worse, the fact that that type of competition really improved both browsers, and multiple browsers beyond Mozilla’s offering to Microsoft. So I think we’re seeing that in the office space as well that Microsoft Office recently has been implementing Open Document Format. I think that’s partially due to a number of people realizing that LibreOffice and other office suites that can run on ODF are viable competitors to Microsoft and can be used in lieu of those software. So I think that it’s really great in some ways to have multiple office suites that can give people a choice and can give people a demonstration of what is possible to be implemented.

Tim: One more question: Between LibreOffice and what has become of the former, is there a lot of idea flow that is talked about in those quarters?

Robinson: So, I have talked to some of the OpenOffice people, the Apache OpenOffice people at conferences before. We co-hosted a sort of Open Document Format sort of dev room or a talk room at FOSDEM this year. And so, I think that we collaborate a lot on a number of different issues relating to the file formats. Obviously, we look at some of the developments and some of the ideas that come out of Apache OpenOffice projects and consider those for LibreOffice. I think that is similar to what I was saying before—the idea that having multiple office suites can really lead us to new innovations. Because of the fact that it’s great to communicate with other people that might see things in a different way. For us to be able to integrate some of those ideas, some of those concepts so that we can provide not just high quality software for people but we can provide a file format that really can encapsulate what multiple people and multiple institutions want to be provided to them.

Tim: It’s a much easier to ferry it across to projects that have fairly open licenses would you say you want to keep your Microsoft office with that.

Robinson: Sure. And I can’t speak for the LibreOffice project myself, but I would really relish the opportunity to interoperate more with Microsoft office and talk with them more. Because I think there is this opportunity for everyone to benefit when we can have increased interoperability and increased compatibility between the way we implement the file formats. No file format spec is ever going to be perfect. Microsoft sits on the ODF TC (technical committee) along with people from Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice and others. So I really would love to see more cooperation there so that if we run into some file format compatibility issues, it would be great for us to have further contacts so that we can contact them and they can contact us. Because in the end, I think we all want the same thing. Which is we all want people to be able to use our products and often to even forget that they’re using them because it becomes so easy for them. People only realize what they’re using when they start to run into a bug or problems. We’d love for people at the end of the day, if we said, “How are you using, how are you enjoying LibreOffice?” then they are going to say, “Oh is that what I was doing? I was just building a spreadsheet, I was just designing this book” and it should hopefully be effortless for them to do that. And so I think that interoperability between some of the major players in the game would really help to ease any types of transition concerns, for any types of interoperability between different offices that might use different software implementations.

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Meet LibreOffice Volunteer Robinson Tryon (Video)

Comments Filter:
  • If you can't figure out your web site's font issue, how do you expect us to believe you can code a full-blown word processor?

    (This: "For everyone experiencing weird font issues on our website please know we are investigating the issue since several weeks")

    • by halivar ( 535827 ) <> on Thursday July 17, 2014 @04:32PM (#47477903)

      Does your webmaster do all your coding, as well?

    • Beta has them too. Instead of symols for the buttons I get hex codes, the default replacement in firefox when the font has no symbol for that char.

    • If you can't figure out your web site's font issue, how do you expect us to believe you can code a full-blown word processor?

      If you ask me, this problem is a political problem, not just a technical one. At some point, you just have to be willing to let go of some of your Firefox users with weird fonts installed []. It's not like LibreOffice can afford to rewrite Firefox from scratch.

    • The site is almost unreadable in some cases (Win7/FF which is what I have to use at work): letters missing, big gaps, and a complete mess. It's obviously some horrid incompatibility with something, but the lack of QA is simply embarrassing. This has been going on for months, but as much as I've been wanting to report it, all I found is file a bug report against LO, which doesn't seem right.

    • The website looks decently fine. Plus, other open-source projects are also amazing but have shitty crappy looking websites.
      Even Microsoft's operating system Metro interface doesn't look all that good, yet the proprietary MSOffice is still pretty decent.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is there a place where I can view this without installing spyware?

  • But in addition to word-processing, spreadsheets and presentations, my office also requires email.

    It's long overdue somebody steps up to this challenge.
  • Given the lack of a single dominant mobile office suite, there are potentially more users out there for a LibreOffice version for Android than for users of the Windows, Mac and Linux versions combined. So why's the Android version forever stuck in demoware limbo?

    • by rewarp ( 1736742 )

      I have AndrOpen Office installed instead. []

      They can take their sweet time to get there, because I am pretty okay with the Open Office port to Android.

    • by Qubit ( 100461 )

      There are potentially more users out there for a LibreOffice version for Android than for users of the Windows, Mac and Linux versions combined. So why's the Android version forever stuck in demoware limbo?

      Tomaz shares the following on his blog... []

      Thanks to Smoose [], we are now able to do some real progress with the Android version of LibreOffice. The idea is to first build a LibreOffice document viewer, which is able to display any type of document that is supported by LibreOffice. Afterwards build on that and provide more features and eventually editing. ...
      I am really excited with what we have achieved and really looking forward to see where we go from here. By the time of LibreOffice 4.4 we should have a working and polished document viewer application ready. Thanks again to Smoose for funding for the work on this important step!

      Per the release plan [], LibreOffice 4.4 will arrive early in 2015.


  • Robinson here... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Qubit ( 100461 ) on Thursday July 17, 2014 @09:46PM (#47479605) Homepage Journal

    Woo hoo! I finally made it to the front page of Slashdot! I am feeling a bit petrified :-)

    A couple of quick announcements:

    • LibreOffice has a booth at OSCON (Portland, OR) next week, so if you're around, please stop by and say hi!
    • If you'll be in Boston, MA next week, we're having a Summer Hackfest [] during the July 26-27 weekend. We'd love to have you join us for two days of coding, triaging, and FREE food and T-shirts. (Here's the T-shirt design [])


    Robinson Tryon
    LibreOffice Community Outreach Herald
    Senior QA Bug Wrangler
    The Document Foundation

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.