Making it official

LibreOffice devs seek Android help

Elliot Bentley

A mobile port of LibreOffice is “frustratingly close” to completion, but needs additional support to make it onto Android.

It’s been almost two years since The Document Foundation, the organisation behind OpenOffice fork LibreOffice, discussed their plans for an Android port. However, development hasn’t been as smooth as hoped, and those spearheading initial efforts are now reaching out to the community for help.

In an interview with Ars Technica, LibreOffice developer Michael Meeks said that while the Android version is already in a “pre-alpha” form, a lot of work is needed before release.

“What’s there is pretty encouraging,” said Meeks. “The sad thing is we’re frustratingly close to having a viewer that is actually usable. The problem is getting it to be packaged into the app store and then doing a bit of debugging on that.”

Linux distributor SUSE sponsors Meeks to work on LibreOffice full-time, but only covers the costs of developing the desktop version. This leaves Meeks and fellow SUSE employee Tor Lillqvist to work on the project in their free time.

In a presentation given at Berlin Conference last October, Lillqvist said that time had been lost fighting “broken OS runtimes or tool-chains”, warning: “the Android kernel might be Linux, but nothing else in Android is”. While progress has been slow, daily builds are stable enough to be side-loaded.

One of the biggest problems, Meeks told Ars Technica, is the large size of LibreOffice. He suggests that “a small Java wrapper to download the rest of the app from somewhere else and then run it” is needed to overcome the Android Market’s 50MB limit, presumably referring to restrictions on the size of the APK file (rather than the app overall, which was lifted to 4GB last year).

Another issue is UI. While Meeks says that “input stuff” such as pinch-to-zoom are definitely on the to-do list, the pre-alpha screenshot betrays a very un-Android-like desktop interface clearly far from optimised for touchscreens. “That takes a little bit of effort,” he said.

Those interested in helping out should contact the LibreOffice developer mailing list, or take a look at the relevant wiki page.

While LibreOffice may have reduced its reliance on Java, it still retains a strong connection with Java, as OpenOffice was also developed by Sun Microsystems.

Photo by Andreas Klinke Johannsen.

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