Brussels / 1 & 2 February 2020


Interview with Michael Meeks
LibreOffice turns ten and what's next. Lots to learn, and get excited about

Photo of Michael Meeks

Michael Meeks will give a talk about LibreOffice turns ten and what's next. Lots to learn, and get excited about at FOSDEM 2020.

Q: Could you briefly introduce yourself?

With pleasure. I’m Michael Meeks: Christian, Hacker, Husband and more. I work for Collabora on our fifteen year old mission: To make Open Source ubiquitous. For me that means working to make LibreOffice better, helping others to work on and invest in improving the code, and supporting / delighting our customers in suitable ways. In recent years, much of that work has been around helping to create and architect Collabora Online based on LibreOffice. In the deeper past I’ve enjoyed spending big chunks of my time working with other great Free Software hackers from other companies and projects — mostly around GNOME, and openSUSE.

Q: What will your talk be about, exactly? Why this topic?

The story of how we got to the LibreOffice we have today, and where we’re going next: that is a journey with many interesting twists, turns and under-sung heros. To some degree LibreOffice has succeeded beyond our dreams — there were some rather nervous times in 2010 — yet in other ways there is still room for improvement. There should be some useful insights and borrowable tips for others there.

We’ll look at the code, and metrics on its progress — as well as the tools and techniques we built to safely bring hundreds of new developers into a gigantic, tightly coupled, “legacy rich” code-base.

We’ll also look at the future too, with the latest features coming as we move towards a LibreOffice 7, as well as an update on the Online and Mobile goodness.

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

Clearly I’d love to encourage people to get involved with LibreOffice and to work on improving desktop productivity for our rather large user-base - there are still lots of places to make your mark with easy hacks to get involved with. Once you have learned the disciplines necessary to work effectively on LibreOffice, there is no software engineering project you need fear contributing to.

There are probably a number of interesting problems and solutions around shaping a community and ecosystem successfully around such a large codebase — still not fully solved — but our story may help others in the FLOSS world.

Also — its just great to meet the FOSDEM crowd, field their questions and participate in the wider collective journey of FLOSS.

Q: What has changed over the last 10 years for LibreOffice? How has the initial vision panned out? What’s your vision for the next 10 years?

Interestingly, LibreOffice, perhaps by necessity, has brought an increasing degree of excellence to the process by which we build the software — from unit testing, to good revision control, better development process, CI, systematic crash-testing, linting, fuzzing, code translation and cleaning, extensive compiler verification plugins and much more. We have substantially paid down the vast technical debt that we inherited from OpenOffice — which went even deeper into poor fundamental architectural choices. We have also (somehow) brought our shared, rich, interoperable code-base to Android, iOS and the web.

My main technical pre-occupations for the future are user-experience, online/collaboration and mobile. From a community perspective — in my view solving the paradoxes of building a thriving ecosystem around a vendor neutral non-profit will make or break the next decade.

Q: 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of (F)OSDEM. What contributions has FOSDEM made to the advancement of FOSS, or how did LibreOffice in particular benefit from FOSDEM?

LibreOffice will be 10 years old this year, after twenty years of the code-base, just as FOSDEM is 20: a happy co-incidence, we’ve grown together. For one reason and/or another our release schedule is also synchronized with FOSDEM so we typically announce at or close to the conference which has been an annual excitement.

I think the effect that FOSDEM has had on accelerating development is amazing. Good ideas get submitted as talks, only to discover that the deadline to present this to your sharpest peers is approaching, so the code really needs to exist as well as the idea. I fondly recall very late nights in Brussels hotels making demos work for the very first time, leaving space in the early morning for the slideware creation before presenting things so up-to-date that they’re almost the future.

And of course the amazing networking, in-person code design agreement and the friendships nurtured across many projects. FOSDEM is an institution that has connected and enabled so many FLOSS developers to be more effective, and encouraged them by letting them experience in person how much they and their work is valued.

It is an amazing heritage and I’m most grateful to all the many volunteers who created FOSDEM and have served us, working so hard to make it possible over many years — as well as ULB for hosting us of course. Thank you!

Q: Have you enjoyed previous FOSDEM editions?

Since my first FOSDEM in 2002 (somehow I missed the OSDEMs), it has been clear that it would be a big mistake to miss any of these wonderful conferences that are so important for FLOSS projects and their development. Having seen eighteen years worth — I can confidently say that FOSDEM is the best annual meeting place for the leading European Free Software developers to meet and freely discuss everything and anything. It is the one un-missable Free Software conference for me — and it continues to get better each year.

I love to meet old friends, make new ones, and talk until late in the morning. It is hard to appreciate the richness and depth of the characters of those we work with via E-mail and IRC. Free Software is built out of real people and one of the best places to meet and appreciate them, as well as discussing the latest ideas and perspectives from other projects is FOSDEM.

It’s also a great place for people to learn about the importance of Free Software. I love to see newbies meeting and getting plugged into the teams I care about most. Please come, learn, and find your place to be most effective, as we change the world together. See you there.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License

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