LibreOffice developers have been working on bringing the open source office suite to Android for more than a year. But aside from a remote control app that lets you use your phone to control presentations running on a desktop, nothing has yet hit the Android app store.
That could change quickly—if only there were more developers working on the project. LibreOffice developer Michael Meeks of Attachmate's SUSE business unit says much of the work on an Android port is done. But with SUSE focusing on the desktop version of LibreOffice and its business customers, the company can't invest much in the way of time or resources in the mobile project. That leaves Meeks and developer Tor Lillqvist pecking away at the Android port in their limited free time, perhaps a few hours a week.
"There are lots of calls on our time. Sadly, that's not something SUSE can invest a lot of effort in at the moment," Meeks told Ars yesterday. "On the other hand, in the past lots of effort has been invested. So what's there is pretty encouraging."
Early versions of a LibreOffice document viewer and a full version with editing capabilities can be downloaded and then side-loaded onto Android devices, but they're in the "pre-alpha" stage. The document viewer is the one that's closest to being ready. There is also an iOS version in the works, but the Android one is further along.
"The sad thing is we're frustratingly close to having a viewer that is actually usable," Meeks said. "The problem is getting it to be packaged into the app store and then doing a bit of debugging on that." While most of the heavy lifting has been done, "in terms of a product that you can usefully file bugs against, it's clearly a prototype still."
One of the biggest problems to be solved is whittling the file size down below the Android store limit of 50MB. The files for the document viewer and full office suite today range from 54MB to 57MB. The way around this is to create a smaller Google Play store download that includes a full installer to grab the rest of the files from LibreOffice servers.
"One of the things we need to do is create a small Java wrapper to download the rest of the app from somewhere else and then run it," Meeks said. "It would be useful to get that done, because we could actually ship it."
Another challenge is stripping enough stuff out of the app to make it fit a mobile device, without limiting functionality so much that it becomes useless. Today, the viewer works well for word processing documents, OK for presentations, and "not terribly well for spreadsheets," Meeks said.
The full office suite including editing capabilities will take a few more months of work beyond what's required for the document viewer, Meeks said. "It can all run reasonably well," he said. "The problem is getting the input stuff working, the minimal gestural interface, integration done, so you can swipe pages and pinch to zoom and so on. That takes a little bit of effort. It's a bit further out I would say."
Meeks would welcome outside help from Android developers to bring the project closer to release. Those who are interested can contact the LibreOffice developer e-mail list (Libreoffice@lists.freedesktop.org). Bringing the LibreOffice Viewer to Android is also one of the potential projects for the next Google Summer of Code.
A Summer of Code proposal written by Meeks notes that "We currently have a LibreOffice document viewer for Android, however it is not going to fit inside the 50MB app-store limit, and retain its wealth of functionality. So we need to package and distribute it more cleverly—this is a matter of splitting the .apk into two downloads, one smaller wrapper, and one containing the bulk of the native code. Also the viewer needs more work to improve the tiled rendering, add spreadsheet-specific sheet/grid rendering ... and misc. bug fixing to get this to the point that it can be distributed."
Meeks said he hopes to get the LibreOffice Viewer for Android out this year, but "it really depends if we can get ... skilled Android people to help out there."
LibreOffice is produced by the Document Foundation, which is led by former members of the OpenOffice.org community. Meeks spends most of his time at SUSE working on the Linux and Windows versions of LibreOffice. Attachmate sells supported versions of LibreOffice to business customers under the Novell brand, and as part of the larger Novell Open Workgroup Suite.
LibreOffice ships updates faster than OpenOffice does, and is now the default office suite on most Linux distributions. Meeks said LibreOffice developers are happy with the project's progress, but acknowledged that overtaking OpenOffice won't happen overnight."They have a huge and valuable brand that we helped build for many years," Meeks said of OpenOffice. "It's an enduring sadness that they are not working with us. Clearly, they have more downloads, I think there's no doubt about that. But we're growing rather rapidly, and I think our users are happy with the extra functionality they get."