Lodahl's blog: 02/01/2015 - 03/01/2015

16 February 2015

Spelling in Malawi

This weekend I was contacted by my good friend Ove Larsen, from the organization FAIR, that are currently working in Malawi to prepare computers for use in high schools. Computers that are disposed in Denmark, but which can easily be used by students in the third world. The message was about compiling a spellchecker in LibreOffice for the language Chichewa, which is the main language in Malawi. Malawi is on the UN top-10 list of least developed countries, and there exists no official dictionary.

The starting point was an old American priest who many years ago manually typed 50,000 words into an RTF-file.

Benjamin Bach, who is also in Malawi on behalf of FAIR, first made a prototype, as Esben Aaberg quickly formed into a useful dictionary.

Dictionaries are parts of the efforts to make information technology more relevant and accessible. Open source is absolutely fundamental, and schools in the projects enjoying the results and expressed great enthusiasm for, among many others; Ubuntu, Wikipedia and LibreOffice. The latter is now officially supported in the examination at secondary schools.

The inquiry from Malawi was passed to our local expert, Esben Aaberg, who after a few hours of work got the dictionary to work. Unfortunately dictionaries can not be registered without the language been known by LibreOffice. Instead, Esben "cheated" by using a language code from another language. Of course we need the language Chichewa registered, but here and now, it works after all.

About FAIR

Every year hundreds of thousands of computers are discarded here in Denmark. Computers that are discarded because they are not fast enough, don't have enough capacity etc. We buy new computers because we want something that is faster and more modern, with new features and functions. And they are rarely broken ... In the third world such a computer is as good as a new one!

Schools, educational institutions, health care, etc. in developing countries have a great need for this technology to become part of the information society globally. Information technology is an important prerequisite for development within democracy, education and health.

About FAIR: http://www.fairdanmark.dk/en/
About Malawi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malawi
About Chichewa (Nyanja): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chewa_language

09 February 2015

Is LibreOffice better than the competitor?

One of the most common objections to open source applications such as LibreOffice is that there may not be quite the same features in open source programs. They are simply not good enough - it is said.

Let's have a look at some of the areas where LibreOffice is actually BETTER than the competitor Microsoft Office.


PDF is one of LibreOffice's very strong areas. Here are a few examples:
  • With LibreOffice you can create PDF-files of very high quality. In fact, such high quality that they live up to most government requirements for PDF files for document exchange. It's the special document format called PDF/A-1a. PDF/A-1a has two particular advantages: they can be read by machines, so for example a screen reader (used primarily by blind people) and that they are self-explanatory, making them completely independent of software from one vendor. The latter is important for documents that are to be long time archived. In a 100 years from now, it is not certain that [insert a product name here] exists.
  • With LibreOffice you can (with the drawing application Draw) make corrections to existing PDF files. For instance you can do what is normally called merge-and-split (e.g., you can pick a single page from one PDF file and paste thar page into another PDF). You can actually do minor changes to the content itself.
  • It is possible to export to PDF with comments (comments are converted to PDF comments).
  • With LibreOffice, you can save the editable ODF file as part of the PDF file. The result is a rather large PDF file, but you can open it with LibreOffice and edit the content. This also applies if it is a spreadsheet.
  • With LibreOffice, you can create PDF forms with input fields.
  • With LibreOffice you can sign PDF files digitally if you have a digital signature.

Import filters

Another of LibreOffice's very powerful features is all import filters. LibreOffice can open virtually all relevant file types, including old Microsoft file types, that even Microsoft Office can't open.
Here are some examples:
  • LibreOffice supports the SVG-formatet. Inserted SVG-images can be ediited directly from e.g., Incskape through the contect emnu "edit with external tools...". After editing the image with Inkscape you can save the changes back directly to the LibreOffice document.
  • Import of graphic formats: DXF, MET, PBM, PCD, PCX, PGM, PPM, PPM, RAS, SGF, SVM, TGA, XBM, XPM.
  • Import of MacOS older vector and bitmap graphics formats: Beagle Works, ClarisWorks, Great Works, MacPaint, MacWorks, Super Paint, MacDraw, MacDraw II, ragtime for Mac 2-3.
  • Importing video and audio formats FLAC Audio flac, Flash Video (flv), Matroska Media (MKV), OGG Audio, Ogg Video, Quicktime Video, WebM Video, Real Audio (.ra), RealMedia (.rm), Digital video (.dv) Audio Codec (.ac3) and Ogg Opus (.opus).
  • Older Mac OS word processing documents: MS Word for Mac (1 to 5.1), MS Works for Mac (1-4), ClarisWorks / AppleWorks, Write Now, MacWriteII / MacWritePro, DOCMaker 4 FullWrite Professional, HanMac Word-K / J, LightWayText for Mac 4.5, Mariner Write Mac Classic 1.6 to 3.5, MindWrite Document, Nisus Writer Classic Mac 3.4 to 6.5, TeachText / SimpleText 1, Tex-Edit 2 Writer Plus, Z-Write 1.3, eDOC 2 Acta Mac Classic, Beagle Works / WordPerfect Works 1, Great Works, MacDoc 1 MoreMac 2-3, ragtime for Mac 2-3
  • Older DOS / Windows word processing documents: Microsoft WinWord 5, Microsoft Word 6.0 / 95, Hangul WP97 and Text 602 (T602), Lotus WordPro.
  • Import of e-book formats: Fiction Book 2.0, Broadband, Plucker (Palm) eReader (Palm), zTXT (Palm), TealDoc (Palm), PalmDOC (Palm), AbiWord files.
  • DocBook import and export.
  • Import of MS Visio files.
  • Import and export AportisDoc (Palm), Pocket Word documents.

Specific features

You can use color palettes from GIMP as palettes in LibreOffice.

Writer works almost as a DTP-program with frames, styles and conditional formatting.

In Calc you can format celles with styres and conditional formatting.

With Draw you can edit and manage your diagrams, show them in Writer, Calc or Impress; Draw is a small «Corel Draw» with underestimated power; use it to annotate bitmaps too, bitmaps that can be enhanced with filters directly in Draw.

Impress has a built in "Presentation console", that gives the presenter access to his notes, the outline of the presentation and a preview of the next slide. All at the same time as the current slide is on the main monitor or projector.

The Navigator

The so called Navigator in LibreOffice is a unique feature that is not available in MS Word. With the Navigator you can always get an overview of your document, and everything the document contains.
The Navigator shows among other things an overview of all the headings, and you can click on the headings and jump directly to that location in the document. You can also move around the headings and change heading level. The text in that section follows the heading. You can thus move around the chapters and sections in one simple process.
At the same time, you have an overview of all your tables, text frames, pictures, bookmarks, etc.

Frequent updates

LibreOffice is released with new versions every six months. Between versions, is published on a monthly basis bug-fixing versions for the last two or three main versions. The frequent updates may seem like an inconvenience to end users, but you don't necessarily have to upgrade every time. It is perfectly possible to upgrade once or twice per year.
The advantage of the frequent updates is that the development of e.g., the user interface is ongoing, and you will experience only small improvements in each version. Often brand new features are not mandatory to use in the first few versions. This is unlike proprietary products, which often takes several years between updates, and you will therefore experience major changes every time. The advantage for users is that you, the user does not experience going through a period of learning each time the application is upgraded.
One can explain it in the way that LibreOffice is evolutionary, whereas MS Office develops revolutionary.

Free support

Most home users and small business users can easily use the free support that can be found on the Internet. There are user forums in many native languages, and on the international level, there are a number of places where users help users – this applies to both beginners and advanced users.
If you use LibreOffice professionally, you may need professional support through a consultancy company that offers such support.
Similarly, you have the opportunity to submit bug reports and ideas for new features. If you are not qualified for this, you can get help from local companies or consultants who are better qualified. I have reported a number of major and minor bugs and got most of them corrected in subsequent versions.

Working across computer types

You can run LibreOffice on Windows, Mac, Linux and BSD and Documents can move freely between these environments without any problems.
LibreOffice can both open and save OOXML and Microsoft XML formats. The opposite is unfortunately not the case to the same extent. LibreOffice even supports the "clean" OOXML format, namely OOXML Strict, which Microsoft Office do not. LibreOffice is also found in a "portable" version, which you can run from a Windows computer without first installing the program.

Enhancing with plug-ins

LibreOffice can be enhanced with extensions e.g., containing images, templates, special settings or code. The code can be Basic, Python, Java, JavaScript, or C ++. Such extensions are normally also usable across computer systems.

Other functions

Writer supports complex spreadsheet calculations in text tables.
Writer supports master documents.

Open source

You get a wide range of advantages as a result of the open source license.


With LibreOffice, you are not bound by specific, often quite expensive, cloud solutions, that a particular supplier has chosen for you. You are not bound by anything, simply because you have the right to change the program's source code. LibreOffice already supports a variety of standards and protocols, including CMIS and WebDAW, which makes it possible to work directly from document management systems, such as Alfresco, Google Drive, Nuxeo, MS SharePoint, MS OneDrive, IBM FileNet LotusLive Files, Lotus Quickr Domino, Open Data Space or OpenText ELS.
LibreOffice uses a file format which is an open standard - not only by name. In fact it has been instrumental, so that other office applications use the same file format. For example, WebODF an editor for websites, where you can edit text files and get the result as odt-files. And it means that the application Calibre can convert ODF-files to a wide range of e-book formats.


Although only very few people care about it, you have as user the opportunity to look the project over the shoulder. You can improving the code, and even that fewest people have resources to proofread the source code, the possibility is there. You can see both the source code, but also follow the bug list and the internal mailing lists. There are professional consultants who specialize in this kind of work like the company Coverty who have machine analyzed the source code in LibreOffice, and reported a number of potential errors. Most of these errors has subsequently been corrected by the community. The latest statistics from Coverty suggests an error density of 0.02 defects per thousand lines of code. Commercial software vendors probably implement similar analysis, but the results will not be published.

Free as in free speech

One of the basic advantages of open source is the right and the opportunity to develop new features or fix bugs in the program. This is a possibility which is certainly not found in Microsoft Office. It may well be that you don't have such skills to hack the code you self, but you might find a freelance consultant or a local company who can do it for a fee. And maybe there are others who have the same needs as you have, and so you can team up to pay the consultant. A good example of this, is a group of German and Swiss authorities who together made a public tender to improved implementation of OOXML in LibreOffice.
It is also the same "freedom to improve the program" that enables us to translate LibreOffice into Danish and many other languages. LibreOffice comes in more than 100 different languages, including some of the "narrow" language that Microsoft Office doesn't support. If you need additional languages, you can download them for free.

Free as in free beer

LibreOffice is free and you are under no obligation to buy expensive subscriptions from a particular supplier. You are welcome to make a donation, but it is optional whether to pay or perhaps help us translate the next version. At the same time you risk nor the supplier suddenly change the license terms.
Free applies as mentioned before, if you need additional language packs or dictionaries. You can get lots of dictionaries for spell checking, but also grammar of English – and its all for free.