History Lesson: Open Source Office Software

There are many open source office productivity suites to choose from, though several of these options are actually forks of one another.  To add to the confusion, the crowd favorite suite was recently deposed and a number of projects were discontinued and re-merged.  Untangle the mess with a bit of history!
  1. OpenOffice is (was, briefly, maybe?) dead; long live LibreOffice
  2. If you use Linux, install LibreOffice
  3. If you use Windows, install LibreOffice
  4. If you use MacOS, try LibreOffice and NeoOffice
LibreOffice recently released v4 - even if your Linux distribution shipped with v3, check it out at libreoffice.org!


Official Site: http://www.openoffice.org/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenOffice.org
License: Apache License 2.0 (open source)
Development: Active
Compatibility: Linux, OSX, Windows

OpenOffice was born in 2000, when Sun Microsystems released the source code of their proprietary StarOffice suite (1).  Future versions of StarOffice were based off of the open source OpenOffice core plus proprietary add-ons.  Oracle, a corporation extremely hostile to the open source community, acquired Sun in 2009.  Oracle rebranded StarOffice as Oracle Open Office - which was misleading, since it was still proprietary software - before cancelling the project and ending corporate support for OpenOffice in 2011.  This was not the end of the story for the OpenOffice.org brand.

Go-oo (Go-Open Office)

Official Site: http://go-oo.mirrorbrain.org/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go-oo
License: GNU LGPL (open source)
Development: Merged into LibreOffice
Compatibility: Linux, OSX, Windows

In 2007, a set of patches to OpenOffice were forked into a separate project.  The developers of Go-Open Office focused on adding several new features, including native support for Microsoft's Office Open XML file formats (the misleadingly-named .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx; OpenOffice could open these formats but couldn't save to them), VBA macro support, a presentation compressor, a PDF importer, and spreadsheet password protection.


Official Site: http://www.neooffice.org/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NeoOffice
License: GNU GPL (open source)
Development: Active
Compatibility: OSX

In 2003, developers forked the open source OpenOffice.org project to create NeoOffice.  It is based on nearly identical code as OpenOffice, with improved functional and visual integration into MacOS.  NeoOffice 3.0 has integrated code from Go-OO to enable it to save documents in Microsoft's .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx formats.  NeoOffice was initially ported to MacOS using Java, but as of v3.3 the developers have been replacing Java with Apple's Cocoa API (2,3).


Official Site: http://www.libreoffice.org/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LibreOffice
License: GNU LGPL (open source)
Development: Active
Compatibility: Linux, OSX, Windows, BSD

In 2000, Sun promised that OpenOffice development would be stewarded by a neutral foundation; such a foundation never came to be.  In 2010, members of the OpenOffice open source project formed a non-profit called The Document Foundation and created a separate fork of the OpenOffice open source code, naming it LibreOffice.  Improvements developed in Go-oo were merged into LibreOffice, and the Go-oo developers joined The Document Foundation.

Oracle was invited to join The Document Foundation and asked to donate the OpenOffice.org brand.  Oracle responded by demanding that all Document Foundation members immediately resign from the OpenOffice project, leaving a leadership council composed only of Oracle employees.  The vast majority of OpenOffice developers jumped ship, and all of the major Linux distributions promptly replaced OpenOffice with LibreOffice.  Defeated, Oracle donated the OpenOffice source code and brand to The Apache Sofware Foundation (4,5), another open-source development house.  The project has attracted new developers and has continued on.  Not surprisingly, animosity exists between many OpenOffice and LibreOffice developers.

IBM Lotus Symphony

Official Site: http://www.ibm.com/software/lotus/symphony/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Lotus_Symphony
License: Proprietary (closed source)
Development: Halted (source donated)
Compatibility: Linux, OSX, Windows

Development on this proprietary office suite for Windows, Linux, and MacOS started in 2007.  The project was cancelled and IBM committed to releasing the source code to The Apache Software Foundation for inclusion in OpenOffice.  The source as provided contains ambiguous licenses.  LibreOffice developers are frustrated that, over 14 months later, the Apache Software Foundation has yet to update the licenses and re-release the source to the world; LibreOffice developers have charged that OpenOffice developers are delaying release of the source to maintain a competitive advantage (6).

Calligra Suite

Official Site: http://www.calligra-suite.org/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calligra_Suite
License: GNU GPL/LGPL (open source)
Development: Active
Compatibility: Linux, Windows (OSX in progress)

The Calligra Suite was forked from the KOffice project in 2010; development on KOffice itself, which had proceeded continuously since 1997, appears to have stalled shortly after.

The version of Calligra in the Ubuntu repositories (release 2.4.0) suffers from stability issues and doesn't seem quite ready for general use.  This is one to watch - release 2.6.2 is available on the main site and may be more stable.

Kingsoft Office (WPS Office)

Official Site: http://www.wps.cn/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingsoft_Office
License: Proprietary (closed source)
Development: Active
Compatibility: Linux, Windows (OSX in progress)

Some Linux websites have erroneously reported (7,8) that the WPS Office beta for Linux is open source software - WPS Office is currently gratis (free to use) but not libre (open source) (9,10,11).  WPS Office is currently the most popular office suite in China and will be included in Ubuntu Kylin (12,13), a Linux-based operating system designed specifically for Chinese users, so the licensing situation may change.

Kingsoft Office (aka WPS [Writer, Presentation, Spreadsheet] Office) is China's answer to Microsoft Office.  MS Office '97 all but wiped it out, but the developers have now made a significant comeback by copying the MS Office interface almost exactly, taking significant numbers of orders from the Chinese government, and distributing a basic version of their office suite for free (14).

The WPS Office Beta for Linux is shockingly similar to Microsoft Office.  MS Office 2007 Powerpoint documents in .pptx format display nearly flawlessly in the WPS Office Presentation editor, which makes me question if there is some proprietary Microsoft code in there that allows it to read the format so natively.  To my surprise - especially since it's slated for incorporation into a Linux distribution - the WPS Office beta for Linux is completely unable to open or save in the OpenDocument formats (.odt, .ods, .odp) used by OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and their derivatives.

WPS Office gives you the choice between an MS Office 2007-style ribbon interface:
and more traditional MS Office 2003-style text menus:
I have no idea how this doesn't infringe Microsoft's intellectual property.  Perhaps it does, but Microsoft has no way to sue a Chinese company whose biggest customer is the Chinese government?

If you'd like to try out the WPS Office beta for Linux, the .deb is available here: http://community.wps.cn/download/.  If you don't know Chinese, the Google Chrome Translate extension will help you navigate the site (15).  To convert WPS Office into English, open the program, enter your name on the first line of the registration form, close the program, then execute the following in the Terminal (16):

cd /opt/kingsoft/wps-office/office6/2052
sudo rm qt.qm wps.qm wpp.qm et.qm

(if installing on a 64bit operating system, it may also help to install ia32-libs, libc6-i386, and the restricted msttcorefonts)

I'm not a fan of proprietary software and I'm not enamored of shameless rip-offs, but even in its uncertain licensing state I do acknowledge that WPS Office could be a useful tool for converting more people from Windows to Linux.  Here's hoping WPS Office goes open source soon, so we can get on with solving Ubuntu Bug #1 (17).

(1) StarOffice (aka Oracle Open Office): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StarOffice
(2) Apple Cocoa API, Official: https://developer.apple.com/technologies/mac/cocoa.html
(3) Apple Cocoa API, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cocoa_(API)
(4) Apache Software Foundation, Official: http://www.apache.org/
(5) Apache Software Foundation, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apache_Software_Foundation
(6) "A discordant symphony" (LibreOffice vs OpenOffice): https://lwn.net/Articles/532665/
(7) WPS Office Beta for Linux, review: http://nodiceatall.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/why-pay-something-4-office/
(8) WPS Office Beta for Linux on ItsFOSS: http://itsfoss.com/wps-office-microsoft-office-clone-for-ubuntu/
(9) WPS Office is not open source: http://bbs.wps.cn/thread-22363629-1-1.html
(10) WPS Office is not open source: http://bbs.wps.cn/thread-22366359-1-1.html
(11) WPS Office is not open source: http://www.omgubuntu.co.uk/2013/03/wps-office-for-linux-looks-like-microsoft-office-but-isnt
(12) Ubuntu Kylin: http://www.canonical.com/content/canonical-and-chinese-standards-body-announce-ubuntu-collaboration
(13) Ubuntu Kylin, Wiki: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/UbuntuKylin
(14) Kingsoft Office Free: http://www.kingsoftstore.com/
(15) Translate for Chrome:  https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-translate/aapbdbdomjkkjkaonfhkkikfgjllcleb?hl=en
(16) WPS Office to English: http://mosayanvala.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/wps-for-linux-first-impressions/
(17) Ubuntu Bug #1 - Microsoft has a majority market share: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+bug/1