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Toys and tools

August 17, 2014

LibreOffice plans to come out with an Android version in their efforts to bring their great office suite to the mobile realm, hopefully aimed at Android-based tablets and nothing smaller than that.

No one else has asked yet, so I guess I’ll have to.


LJ-Extremist-red-stampDon’t get me wrong. I love LibreOffice and use it extensively. The progress that LibreOffice has made in bringing a viable replacement for what passes as office software out of Redmond is nothing short of remarkable. But I think that moving LibreOffice toward mobile is a burdensome load placed on improving development on more useable form factors — form factors like laptops or desktops, which were designed specifically for programs like LibreOffice.

Allow me to tip my hand and point out that you really can’t get much work done on an Android tablet or a Android smartphone, or any other tablet or smartphone for that matter. The form factor wasn’t really designed for it. For all intents and purposes — and marketing types will back me up on this — a tremendous majority of tablets and smartphones are used primariy for very basic digital functions like Web surfing, e-mail, texting, and watching your favorite movies thanks to Netflix. In other words, tablets and smartphones are toys, and LibreOffice wants folks to use them as a tool.

Aye, there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say, using the LibreOffice word processor on a laptop.

Sure, it can be done: You can use a tablet for word processing or presentation-making, if necessary. But that begs this comparison — you wouldn’t try to cut down a redwood with a pocket knife. With enough effort you can do it, of course, but why would you when you should probably use a tool more appropriate for the job?

It is akin to using Vim or Emacs on Android — it exists and when I had an Android phone, I tried downloading both and using them. Bear in mind that although the phone had a keyboard — a HTC G2 that I passed down to my daughter after getting a ZTE Open with Firefox OS — both Vim and Emacs were hilariously unworkable on such a small form factor. Again, they may work on a tablet, hopefully, but the point remains that if you are doing something important, use the right tools.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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  1. Colonel Panik
    August 19, 2014 at 6:04 am

    Dear Mr. Free Software Guy, You have missed this one completely.

    My daughter is writing her PhD dissertation on an HP tablet. My wife edits
    the daughters papers on her Android phone. It not only “can” be done it is
    done often, by everyone everywhere. Just not done by us old guys.

    If you hit the coffee shops in any university town you will see more tablets being
    used than laptops. Those MaxiPads from Apple are the tool of choice in most
    art or graphics classrooms.

    You asked why. If I have the choice I would prefer to use one office program
    across all my devices than trying to kluge different apps into working.

    You should check out the new Nvidia Shield tablet, it has more horsepower
    than any computer you have. The screen resolution is more than our old
    eyes can handle. It is not the future, just the trailer to the future.

    Choice is good, you have said that, often. Hardware is a choice, use what
    what works for you and allow others the same privilege. Now if you will
    excuse me I have to walk over to Amazon and order a new tablet.

    • August 19, 2014 at 7:27 am

      We’re going to have to agree to disagree here, Colonel.

      It’s nice that your daughter is using a tablet for her dissertation. It’s nice that Mrs. Panik is editing it on her phone. I think they’re in the infintesimal minority. My point, lost or not, is that of course it can be done, but you can also cook a hot dog with a series of matches if you have enough of them and enough time to spare. I would argue that striking a match, then striking another until your food is cooked is not the best way to cook a hot dog.

      I live in a university town and I see tablets being used, mostly usurping bandwith in any of the coffee shops I’m in by selfish or clueless students streaming video with their lattes. I stand by the statement that most marketing studies show that tablets are used mostly by people for entertainment purposes (video, e-mail, Web surfing). While tablets may have uses in the workplace (e.g., doctors in hospitals using them for calling up patient records), overall I don’t see them being of any use other than for digital recreation, to say nothing of being a catalyst to push the hilariously and tragically myopic fallacy that they are somehow a replacement for laptops or desktops in what is ludicrously called “the post-PC era.”

      True, hardware is a choice, and anyone is certainly welcome to choose not to have the best proverbial tool for the rhetorical job. While I will defend to the death your right to choose, I also think it’s my responsibility to present alternative viewpoints.

  2. September 11, 2014 at 4:18 am

    Perhaps you are not representing all users then.

    As an IT professional I speak with users and potential users every day. LibreOffice is – and will always be – compared with another office suite and one of the most common questions (or counter arguments if you wish) I hear is the lack of mobility. Everybody is talking about mobility these day.

    I my self are working from the train to and from work every day. i work with mail of cause but also with rather complicated documents, presentations and sheets.

    Perhaps you dont have the need for it but please respect that there might be othe users that are actually lacking this opportunity to work from the train or what ever. The comment from Colonel Panik illustrates this very well. We are no longer bound to a destop computer or a laptop.

    • September 13, 2014 at 7:23 pm

      Perhaps I’m not. Let me check: Did I say I was? Um, no. But clearly there are tools for the job your doing — whether it’s just wasting time with Netflix and the web, which is what tablets are absolutely great for, or whether your doing something relevant, where something larger would suffice. Your mileage may vary.

  3. dan
    September 14, 2014 at 4:17 am

    any way to get libre software into mobile platforms is welcome; if the desktop version doesn’t suffer from that.
    no, i wouldn’t write (lots of) text on a pad/tablet either.
    – there are external keyboards/docking stations available, which make a tablet more into a “real computer”. a nice solution actually.
    – females and kids have smaller fingers (don’t laugh, i think this is actually an important aspect for mobile devices and their target groups).

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