OpenOffice.Org 2.4 to be released today

OpenOffice will see a new release today: version 2.4. Among the new features are improved multi language management and 3D eyecandy for Impress.

OpenOffice.Org 2.4 will be the last version before the new and shiny 3.0 will hit the streets in September/October 2008. While it is only a minor release it does come along with some nice additions:

  • Impressive Eye Candy: 3D OpenGL Transitions – Eyecandy! Because it would be nuts to release a piece of software in these days without it!
  • Improved multi language support – This is important for all people who are not English natives. And while the current OOo implementation for switching languages just sucks, the new options might help a lot here.
  • Exporting PDF/A for long-term archiving – Not much to add to the title: With OOo 2.4 you can finally export to ISO’s PDF/A.
  • Backreferences in replacements – I like that one a lot: it is a search and replace mechanism where the replace can be constructed out of the bits found by search. Anyone knows how to do that for example in KDE’s kate?
  • Block selection mode – Funny thing, might come in hadny if you get a screwed up file where blocks were created using white spaces.
  • Display equations for regression lines – Don’t mix it up: OOo was already able to do regressions. But now you can also see the equation 🙂
  • Convert Text to Columns in Calc – If you often have to deal with txt or cvs files you will love that feature. Basically it is a way to re-import txt-Data and separate them even if they are already in your Calc file.
  • Relative Links in PDFs – A handy feature in case you use multiple PDFs which have references to each other.
  • Export Page names as PDF bookmarks – One of these small but quite useful features: It will allow you to export slides in Impress (or pages in Draw) and link them by name. These will be shown in every recent PDF viewer and will ease navigation.
  • Show bars side by side – Combining two data into one bar graph now looks better because the bars are not at the same position but a little bit distinct.

All in all it just looks like a polished minor release. And exactly that was expected. Major improvements will come up with 3.0 – I hope the presenter view will be part then.

Besides these improvements OpenOffice.Org also got a new webpage for the release. Be sure to check it once or twice today because the official announcement and download links will appear there. In case you are a Fedora user: Fedora 9 will ship with OpenOffice.Org 2.4.

On a personal note: I’m still alive. But I have to hand in my final thesis these days, so I’m quite busy. Also, the entire thesis thing didn’t went like I expected it, so I am not only busy but also stressed out and quite frustrated. Shit happens…


Short Tip: Create a “bash alias” with an argument

I always check for changes in rpm files. Unfortunately, the command to do so needs some typing:

rpm -q --changelog PACKAGENAME|most

(Btw., most is a replacement for less). The best idea would be to have a bash/zsh/whatever alias with an argument. This is unfortunately difficult or even impossible, but it is quite easy to define a simple function:

rpmch () { rpm -q --changelog "$1"|most;}

Copy that string to your .zshrc or .bashrc and you can easily query the changelog of rpm packages with the command


This of course works for other commands as well. – a digg-like portal for Free and Open Source Software

VirtualBox for OpenSolaris hosts available - FreeBSD soon?
Recently I stumpled on the project It is a but is focused on Free and Open Source Software. While the community seems to be rather small yet it might be an interesting news source in the future.

When I came across I noticed an interesting piece of news about future EU plans to buy more Open Source software. It caught my eye because I hadn’t read that anywhere else at that time. Therefore I had a deeper look at, and must say that it looks rather nice.

The more important question however is if it will suffer the same problems as While I loved when I first discovered it I dropped it some months later due to quite some disappointments: digg is, after all, just a place for the masses. So the relevance is also defined by the masses. And well, the masses love sport, glittering things and naked skin. The equivalent in the software world might be iPods, themes and desktop screenshots. That’s ok for the masses, but as a result is just not the place if you want to get decent information or want to follow technological development.

That however might be the case with – although I must admit that even the FLOSS world might have it’s equivalent for sport, glittering and naked skin in the form of a dozen hot flame wars. But at the moment the situation looks rather calm, and due to the specialized focus I think the topics will stay more technique related and really interesting than just glittering.

Also since it is still a quite small project, you can still influence it quite a lot with just a couple of people. So where is the next Commit Digest? In the end it’s the community which decides which news are interesting.

Howto: Test the WebKit engine in Fedora

The Fedora repository contains a set of WebKit packages. Once installed they can give a first impression of WebKit’s abilities.

WebKit is a browser engine which was once forked from KHTML by Apple. Nowadays it is developed by the WebKit project where Apple still has quite some weight, but others are in the boat as well: Trolltech, Nokia, Adobe, some KDE developers, some GNOME developers, etc. Besides, WebKit will be part of the upcoming Qt 4.4, will play an important role in KDE’s Plasma and can also be used as a backend in GNOME’s Epiphany browser.

However, at the moment most of these developments are not here yet. But Fedora’s WebKit packages come along with basic WebKit browsers which can be used to test some websites against WebKit:

# rpm -qa|grep -i webkit

# rpm -ql WebKit-qt

# ls /usr/libexec/WebKit/
DumpRenderTree  GtkLauncher  QtLauncher

The two executables QtLauncher and GtkLauncher are a simple browser based on Qt or Gtk, respectively. Since the path is usually not part of PATH the browsers must be started from the command line with the full path, /usr/libexec/WebKit/QtLauncher for example. After you’ve called that line via ALT+F2 the browser comes up.

But don’t expect too much: these are just basic browsers to show off the capabilities of the WebKit engine – nothing more. They are definitely not ready for production use – or any real use at all. The Qt version does not know how to handle addresses without the http://, usual shortcuts like Ctrl+L are not working, and plugins are not embedded at all. However, the Qt launcher has a nice effect of showing a link address when you hover over a link. The Gtk launcher is in a bit better shape: it does at least understand addresses, but than again it does not fill in the http:// after loading the page.

But nevertheless these two launchers can give you a first impression how this web engine works on a web page – in case you are a web developer this might come in handy. Also, if you are up for tests, you can check the current state of WebKit in regards to the Acid3-Test. Also, the first impression of the engine is rather nice: it seems to be rather quick and layouts web pages just nice. I’m looking forward to see new browsers based on WebKit.

An incomplete list of high quality Open Source games

It is often mentioned that many games are not available on Linux. While several big titles are indeed missing such Linux ports, the Open Source community itself produced some impressive titles. Here is a short list together with some promo videos.

Most of the Linux Distributions out there are shipped with the set of games included in GNOME or KDE. These games are nice for short breaks, but not comparable with big, hour consuming games sold by the big publishers. However, the Open Source community stepped up there to deliver its own products, and many of them are not only interesting, but simply impressive. Also, there is a game for almost every taste available.

First of all the games where I also found a promo video:
The first person shooter Nexuiz speaks for itself:

The same is true for the first person shooter Tremulous:

In case you loved the UFO-XCOM series, you will find yourself at home at UFO: Alien Invasion:

Glest, a real time strategy game with wizards, trolls and the like:

In case you love classical Jump’n’Run games, Secret Maryo Chronicles is the way to go:

Next a set of games which might be a bit calmer (and don’t have a promo video), but are nevertheless exciting:

  • Freeciv is the game of choice for everyone who loves to crush and rebuild entire civilizations.
  • Wormux is – as the name suggests – a Worms clone.
  • FlightGear gives you a fuzzy feeling if you love to fly from one airport to another with different types of machines.

All of these entries above have three things in common: they are all actively developed by a healthy community, they are all very appealing and have high quality graphics, and they are all comparable to the proprietary competitors of the corresponding game type. Some of them are better, some of them are as good as, some of them fall a bit behind – but not much. And they definitely meet the requirements of the occasional player and are a way to spend hours and hours.

Of course I’m well aware that there are many more Free Software games – but I’ve kept my focus on the games which at least released one full working (feature complete, playable) version and are in active development. And of course I only listed games I know of. Although I think I covered all the shooting stars of the Free Software games genre I am open to any other suggestion!

But while these games are great, the Open Source community sometimes fails to advertise them. For example, many of these games are included in the distributions – but did you ever see a Linux distribution review featuring the included games? It should be included in the release notes and reviews that a Linux distribution most often is not only a nice set of Office software but also comes along with a rich set of high quality games.

Fedora for example has a dedicated project for games, the Fedora Special Interest Group Games which helped to bring many games to Fedora. Except Secret Maryo Chronicles all games above are available on Fedora and just a click away. It takes more than 1 GB to install all these games – but that is definitely worth the space. And if you like them: promote them!

There is btw. only one genre which I personally miss badly: MMORPG. Of course there are projects dealing with it, but none of them has released a full, stable version yet. But that might be not too bad for my person because I still have to finish and hand in my final thesis these days, and a free MMORPG would give me quite some time problems.

Graphics and Free Software: a great 2007, but where is OpenGL?

2007 was probably The Year Of Free Graphics: AMD/ATI’s specs, a totally new Mesa, output hotplugging via XRandR and the announcement of new shiny OpenGL specs. While this all was truly great, the OpenGL releases never happened, and there are no updates on the topic.

Graphics in Free Software were always a difficult topic in former years: specs for many hardware bits were missing, proprietary drivers often didn’t support new hardware for several months, the graphics API (OpenGL) was seriously falling behind Microsoft’s competing API (DirectX) in terms of features and hardware support and last but not least the main free implementation of the API, Mesa, was hopelessly outdated.

But this all changed, and many important changes were in 2007:

While this list is indeed impressive, there is one big gap: the announcement of the new OpenGL specs. These never happened. Not even a cleaned-up version of the current OpenGL API ever came up anywhere. And, although it was said that the communication with the community would be improved there aren’t any information available about the current state. In fact, all possible channels are deserted. The only bit of information available is a post by Barthold Lichtenbelt (OpenGL ARB Working Group chair) in the OpenGL forum dated end of October 2007 stating that the development of the next spec faced difficulties and that the release will be delayed:

The OpenGL ARB found, after careful review, some unresolved issues that we want addressed before we feel comfortable releasing a specification. […] None of these issues we found are of earth-shocking nature, but we did want them discussed and resolved to make absolutely sure we are on the right path, and we are. […] The ARB meets 5 times a week, and has done so for the last two months, to get this out to you as soon as possible.[…] We don’t want to spend time fixing mistakes made in haste.
More details will follow soon in an upcoming OpenGL Pipeline newsletter.

Of course unresolved issues can turn up. But in such cases a vital part of maintaining a community – and also a stable customer base – is to deliver more information from time to time. And it is important to state schedules as soon as it is possible. If something is difficult, than that must be stated. Communication also means to say something from time to time just to show: we are alive, we care.
But the OpenGL team has failed in that regard: the mentioned OpenGL Pipeline newsletter is totally outdated and therefore a joke, and the forums don’t contain any other official post explaining the situation.

I’m pretty sure that there is work going on behind the scenes – there are many different parties with a vital interest to ship a next generation OpenGL. But the total lack of communication, the inability to handle basic communication principles in the right way is depressing. OpenGL is not only a technology, but also a product, and if the product is managed that bad it can’t be good for the technology.
Also it leaves the sad feeling that, in respect of the API, the free graphics ecosystem is still back in the old days.