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Interview: Jos van den Oever

Jos van den Oever will give a talk about "WebODF: an office suite built on browser technology" at FOSDEM 2011.

Could you briefly introduce yourself?

My background is in molecular sciences and bioinformatics, however I've been a long time proponent of open standards and a Linux and Free Software user. Since 2006 I've also become a contributor in the KDE community, where I am the founder and maintainer of Strigi, which is a library and program for indexing and searching files. I have given a couple of Strigi talks at previous editions of FOSDEM.

Since one and a half years I am a dedicated FOSS developer working for KO GmbH. This company with the tagline "The Open Document Company" specializes in consulting about and programming for open standards for documents, mainly the Open Document Format. Initially, I worked on improving Calligra (then KOffice) for mobile devices, import document importing and helped on adding RDF support to it. At the moment I do ODF consulting for the Dutch government and work on WebODF. I am a member of the ODF Technical Committee.

What will your talk be about, exactly?

The talk will explain what the WebODF project is about and how it can be used to add ODF support to your website or desktop application. There are several good Free Software solutions for working with ODF on the desktop and on mobile devices, notably LibreOffice and Calligra. These are written in C++, are compiled natively, and need to be installed on each machine on which they are used. Cloud solutions can be run in the browser, but there was no Free Software ODF software for the browser.

The goal of WebODF is to make a JavaScript library that works in modern browsers. It should be as easy as copying a few JavaScript and HTML files onto your web page or application bundle. ODF is based on XML and the DOM model of web browsers can be used to view and edit ODF documents. The amount of JavaScript needed to achieve decent functionality is surprisingly small.

What do you hope to accomplish by giving this talk? What do you expect?

I hope that developers of CMS packages will be interested in the project. Content Managment Systems could really improve the value of the software by supporting ODF out of the box. Besides that I hope that people will learn that ODF is a nice file format for writing documents and see that, by using browser technology, it is easy to write software for it. Growing the amount of contributors to the project is also a goal.

Is the performance of processing ODF in a web browser with JavaScript sufficient to load and edit big ODF documents with WebODF?

Yes, WebODF can load documents consisting of hundreds of pages which contain many images. The performance of WebODF in a modern browser is comparable to that of the desktop applications for most actions. The speed competition between the web browsers really pays off.

At the end of 2010, the WebODF project has received funding from NLnet to let you work on WebODF. What results have come out of this?

The funding period has not ended yet. We are developing from this funding until the end of April 2011. At that point we will have a version of WebODF that is easy to deploy, well documented and can load and save at least on Apache and perhaps also add hooks for particular CMS packages. Full editing functionality cannot be attained in this funding round, but editing the text of documents and saving the documents while maintaining all other features of the document will be possible.

Which features are planned in the near term and the longer term? Will WebODF ever be comparable to proprietary solutions like Microsoft Live Office, Google Docs, or Zoho?

In principle, it will be possible to have feature compatibility with the proprietary cloud solutions. What we can actually implement is a matter of customer demand and contributions from other developers. In contrast to the proprietary solutions, we use ODF as the in-memory representation of the documents. As such, WebODF is very careful with your document. There are scary dialogs that warn you that you might lose features of your document and there is no need for them.

How simple is it to install WebODF on your own server?

For simple viewing, all you need to do is to copy your ODF documents to your HTTP server along with the JavaScript files of WebODF. If you want to edit and save the documents from the browser, you need to activate WebDAV on the server. Integration with CMS packages will require WebODF to be adapted to the way the CMS stores documents.

Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

This will be my fourth FOSDEM. I always enjoy FOSDEM a lot. It it brimming with activity and figuring out the optimal set of presentations to attend is an interesting puzzle each time. I am looking forward to talk with attendees about ODF, desktop search, the semantic web and open data.

Creative Commons License
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Belgium License.