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Killing the NPAPI plugin

“Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei.”
— horrible 1980ies german folk song lyrics

So, three month ago, the ESC discussed if we would still support the NPAPI plugin to show documents in the browser. The discussion was ignited over an mostly innocent bug: fdo#45071, but the discussion soon dived into long-term viability of this technology and with Chrome “phasing out NPAPI support over the coming year” and as Mozilla Firefox “will no longer activate most plugins by default” it became quickly clear that trying to keep the plugin alive would be throwing good developer time after bad. So in LibreOffice 4.4.x there will not be a NPAPI plugin anymore, as the patch that was waiting on gerrit for a month is now pushed to the master branch. As by the time of release plugins will not be enabled anymore on the most common browsers using it, this likely will not make much of a difference to most users anyway.

Luckily, LibreOffice is not only deprecating old technologies when they become more and more irrelevant — it is also moving towards new technologies when they gain relevance.

Free Four

The memories of a man in his old age

are the deeds of a man in his prime

– Free Four, Obscured by Clouds, Pink Floyd

I just donated to:

  • the Wikimedia Foundation
  • the OpenBSD project

and became:

Being involved in a project that is heavily driven by donations, I keep remembering myself of the importance of putting my money were my mouth is.

Some of these donations were triggered by recent events and initiatives in these projects. GNOME’s outreach for women program for example. Or OpenBSDs bold initiative in starting LibreSSL, which is doing what needed to be done and vitalizing an overlooked area of open source development. Watching them explain the status quo and how they are attacking it remembers me of LibreOffice — beyond the name. Plus, I dont want to be compared with a My little Pony character again.

goals of LibreSSL -- they remind me of something

goals of LibreSSL — they remind me of something

Others are already working examples of the long tail, crowd funding and the meshed society (Wikipedia) or tailblazing to be one (Krautreporter) beyond the world of software. The latter might also have been influenced by one of the last wishes of a man that unexpectedly died way to early. May he rest in peace.

Train Stops

And the sons of pullman porters and the sons of engineers
Ride their father’s magic carpets made of steel
Mothers with their babes asleep are rockin’ to the gentle beat
And the rhythm of the rails is all they feel

– The City of New Orleans, Willie Nelson interpreting Steve Goodman

So, LibreOffice does its releases on a train release schedule and since we recently modified the schedule a bit (by putting out the alpha1 release earlier), I took the opportunity to take a closer look and explain a bit on what we are doing. With this every 6 months of LibreOffice development currently roughly look like this:
week after x.y.0 development release candidates finalized releases
fresh stable fresh stable
0 x.y.0
1 x.y.1~rc1 x.(y-1).4~rc1
2
3 x.y.1~rc2 x.(y-1).4~rc2
4 x.y.1 x.(y-1).4
5
6 x.y.2~rc1
7
8 x.y.2~rc2 x.(y-1).5~rc1
9 x.y.2
10 x.(y-1).5~rc2
11 x.y.3~rc1 x.(y-1).5
12
13 x.(y+1)~alpha1 x.y.3~rc2
14 x.y.3
15
16
17
18 x.(y+1)~beta1
19
20 x.(y+1)~beta2 x.(y-1).6~rc1
21
22 x.(y+1)~rc1 x.(y-1).6~rc2
23 x.(y-1).6
24 x.(y+1)~rc2
25 x.(y+1)~rc3

The last two columns are most visible to most visitors of the LibreOffice website. Those are the versions found on the LibreOffice Fresh and LibreOffice Stable download pages. We are in roughly at week 18 after 4.2.0 release now, and the versions available are 4.2.4 fresh and 4.1.6 stable. A careful reader will note that according to that schedule we should be at 4.2.3 and 4.1.5 — that is true, but the 4.2 series still had an extra 4.2.1 intermediate release to adjust the schedule of 4.2 in direction of the current plan. This is not expected for future releases (also note that there is always some flexibility in the plan to allow for holidays etc.)

If you count all the prereleases, release candidates and releases, you will find that we do 25 of those in 26 weeks. Beside the fact that this is a lot of work for release engineers, one might wonder if anyone can keep up with that, and if so — how? The answer to that depends on how you are using LibreOffice.

self deployment on LibreOffice fresh

If you are an user or a small business installing LibreOffice yourself, you will probably run LibreOffice fresh and the table above simplifies for you as follows:

week after x.y.0 development release candidates finalized releases
0 x.y.0
1 x.y.1~rc1
4 x.y.1
6 x.y.2~rc1
9 x.y.2
11 x.y.3~rc1
14 x.y.3
18 x.(y+1)~beta1
20 x.(y+1)~beta2
22 x.(y+1)~rc1
24 x.(y+1)~rc2
25 x.(y+1)~rc3

The last column shows the releases you are running. If you are a member of the LibreOffice community it would be very helpful if you also spend some time of this 6 months period for three actions:

  • running at least one of the release candidates in the table (available for download here) before the final is released.
  • running at least one beta releases in the table. Note that there will be a bug hunting session on the 4.3.0 beta release this week, that will help you get started.
  • running a nightly build once anywhere in the weeks 1-18. Note that if you are getting excited about seeing the latest and greatest builds while they are still steaming, there are tools that can help you with this on Linux and Windows.

If you do these each of these three things once in the timeframe of six months and report any issues you find, you are helping LibreOffice already a lot — and you are making sure that the finalized releases of the fresh series are not only containing all the latest features, but also free of severe regressions.

bigger deployments on LibreOffice stable

If you are not installing LibreOffice yourself, but instead have a major deployment administrated centrally, things are a bit different. You might be more conservative and interested in the releases from LibreOffice stable. And you probably have professional support from a certified developer or a company employing certified developers.

week after x.y.0 development release candidates finalized releases
1 x.(y-1).4~rc1
4 x.(y-1).4
8 x.(y-1).5~rc1
11 x.(y-1).5
13 x.(y+1)~alpha1
18 x.(y+1)~beta1
20 x.(y-1).6~rc1
23 x.(y-1).6

If you intend to deploy one series of LibreOffice (e.g. 4.3), there are two things that are highly recommended to be done:

  • make the alpha or beta releases available quickly to interested volunteers in your deployment early. They might find bugs or regressions that are specific to your use of the software.
  • make the release candidates of versions that you intent to deploy available early to your users.

Of these two actions, the first is by far the most important: It identifies issues early on in the life cycle and gives both your support provider and the LibreOffice developer community at large time to resolve the issue. In fact, I would argue that if you have a major deployment, the only excuse for not making available prereleases, is that you made available nightly builds.

Ubuntu

So, Ubuntu qualifies as a “bigger deployment” and I have to take care of LibreOffice on it. Also people want to be able to run the latest and greatest LibreOffice releases from the LibreOffice fresh series. Do I follow my recommendations here? Yes, mostly I do:

  • both LibreOffice fresh and LibreOffice stable series are available from PPAs for Ubuntu and are updated regularly and quickly when an rc2 is available.
  • prereleases are made available as bibisect repositories rather quick (build on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS). In addition, fully packaged versions of LibreOffice are build in the prereleases PPA as early as starting with beta1.

So, you are invited to run or test builds from these PPAs — or download the bibisect repositories — to keep LibreOffice releases coming in the steady and stable fashion they do. Finally, there is a bug hunting session for LibreOffice this week and as said above, no matter if you are running a huge deployment or installing on your own, you are helping LibreOffice — and yourself, as a user of LibreOffice — a lot by testing the prereleases:

MessageBox API change

I hope that someone gets my message in a bottle

– Message in a Bottle, the Police

So, there was some minor confusion about the wording in the LibreOffice 4.2.4 release notes.

This needs some background first: LibreOffice 4.2 modified the UNO API to pop up a message box in a slight way against LibreOffice 4.1. This was properly announced in our LibreOffice 4.2 release notes many moons ago:

The following UNO interfaces and services were changed [...] com.sun.star.awt.XMessageBox, com.sun.star.awt.XMessageBoxFactory

Luckily, LibreOffice extensions can specify a minimal version, so extensions using the new MessageBox-API can explicitly request a version of LibreOffice 4.2 or newer. This change in our sdk-examples shows how an extension can be updated to use the new API and explicitly require a version of LibreOffice 4.2 and higher. All this happened already with LibreOffice 4.2.0 being released and has nothing yet to do with the change in LibreOffice 4.2.4.

So what was changed in LibreOffice 4.2.4? Well, in addition to the LibreOffice version, old extensions sometimes just ask for an “OpenOffice.org version”. Most LibreOffice versions answered its version was “3.4”, so this old backwards compatible check was not very helpful anyway. So in LibreOffice 4.2.4 this value was changed to  “4.1”, which might make some old extensions aware of the incompatible API change. That’s all.

Note that:

So, the short answer to the question to “what changed in LibreOffice 4.2.4?” is: Nothing, if your extension uses LibreOffice-minimal-version as recommended.

LibreOffice Las Palmas Hackfest 2014

Sie singt Tag und Nacht neue Lieder,
von den Palmen am blauen Meer

– Kein Bier auf Hawaii, originally by Paul Kuhn

So, the LibreOffice Las Palmas Hackfest 2014 is over and it was awesome. I have to thank Alberto Ruiz and University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for their excellent hosting and support. We had the opportunity to present the LibreOffice project to the students of the university, and we did so with a set of short talks to cover a lot of ground without too much boring details. Here is the hand of my slides:

You can find a video of all the talks in the session on youtube. My talk starts around minute 35 and is followed by Kendys nice intro on improving the LibreOffice UI. In addition to the video, I also made a few pictures on the event, you can find them in this album.

Hacking

Hacking

The achievements section of this Hackfest is still being populated, but despite being a smaller Hackfest, there seems to have been quite some productive work done in total. It was also very encouraging to see curious students from the university drop by, we tried to give them a gentle introduction on ways to contribute and learn more.

Our next LibreOffice Hackfest will be on June, 27-28 in Paris as has just been announced.

Announcing BundesGit for LibreOffice

“I fought the law and the law won”

– Sonny Curtis and the Crickets — prominently covered by the Clash

So in a few minutes, I will be leaving for the meeting at Open Knowledge Lab in Hamburg for Code for Germany in Hamburg — but I dont want to show up empty-handed. Earlier I learned about BundesGit which is a project to put all federal german laws in a git repository in easily parsable markdown language. This project was featured prominently e.g. on Wired, Heise and got me wondering that having all those laws available at the tip of your hand would be quite useful for lawyers. So here I went and quickly wrote an extension to do just that. When you install the extension:

  • it downloads all the german federal laws from github and indexes them on the next restart of LibreOffice (completely in the background without annoying the user)
  • that takes about ~5 minutes (and it only checks for updates on the next start, so no redownload)
  • once indexed you can insert a part of a law easily in any text in Writer using the common abbreviations that lawyers use for these:
  • Type the abbreviation of the paragraph on an otherwise empty line, e.g. “gg 1″ for the first Artikel of the Grundgesetz
  • press Ctrl-Shift-G (G for Git, Gesetz or whatever you intend it to mean)
  • LibreOffice will replace the abbreviation with the part of that law
BundesGit for LibreOffice

BundesGit for LibreOffice

Now this is still a proof-of-concept:

  • It requires a recent version (1.9 or higher) of git in the path. While that is for example true in the upcoming version of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, other distributions might still have older versions of git, or — on Windows — none at all: Packing a git binary into the extension is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • I have not checked it to parse all the different laws and find all the paragraphs. It also ignores some non-text content in the repository for now. Patches welcome!
  • While it stays in the background most of the time intentionally to not get into the way of the user, it could use some error reporting or logging, so users are not left in the dark if it fails to work.

On the other hand, the extension is a good example what you can do with less than 300 lines of Python3 (including tests) in LibreOffice extensions. Thus the code was hopefully verbosely enough commented and was uploaded to sdk-examples repository, where it lives alongside this LibreOffice does print on Tuesdays extension that also serves as an example. Of course, if there other useful repositories of texts online, it can be quickly adapted to provide those too.

So download BundesGit for LibreOffice and test it on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS (trusty).

 

addendum: This has been featured on golem.de and linux-magazin.de (both german).

 

Document Liberation announced

Document Liberation has been announced today, but a picture says more than a thousand words, so I created one based on the beautiful work of Paulo José. Enjoy!

Document Liberation

Document Liberation (CC-by-sa 3.0 Paulo Jose, Bjoern Michaelsen)

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