I've been hoping to see this headline for some time now. At the first LibreOffice Conference, the Document Foundation announced its plans to migrate LibreOffice to mobile devices. The plan didn't include a total rewrite of the code, but repurposing at least 90% of the current code base. That meant the majority of the work was already done. That last remaining 10%? The user interface. The 90% already compiles on Android -- so there is a working model. Of course, what good is a working model without an interface to go along with it?
But the single most important question to ask is "why"? Why is it so important for LibreOffice to make it to the mobile platform? I can answer that with three simple words:
Open Document Format
At the moment, getting odt or ods files open for editing on the Android platform is a nightmare. Honestly, this has confounded me. WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office) does not support ODF. Office Suite Pro does support ODF (however, it's not supported in the free version, which offers a subtle layer of irony), but you'll find the app crashes a lot (some devices, like the LG G3, can't even open Office Suite Pro). Google Docs doesn't offer native support for ODF (though you can import and export). AndrOpen is a ported version of OpenOffice for Android, but the interface is horrible (Figure A), and working larger files is cumbersome at best.
AndrOpen on a Huawei Ascend Mate 2.
With the addition of a free office suite that fully supports the ODF format, the Android platform extends its reach even farther. This is especially significant, given how widespread the adoption of the ODF format has become (Britain has mandated ODF as their official format for all government documents). Android needs this. Actually, the mobile sector needs this. Even with Android's seamless Google Docs integration, not everyone depends heavily on Google's go-to office suite. Anyone who depends on open-source software knows this element is sorely missing from the Android ecosystem. One would think a platform based on the Linux kernel would be overflowing with quality open-source apps. The problem with the office suite is the Google imposed file size limit of 50 MB.
But wait... I can already hear you shouting. You install apps over 50 MB all the time!
Google imposes this file size limit on main apk files, but it allows the inclusion of expansion packs. The Play Store will download the main file first (which is under the 50 MB limit, and then it downloads the expansions next. The problem with LibreOffice is that the smallest the developers have managed to shrink it to (up to this writing) is 54 MB. Once they trim that 4 MB of fat, the office suite will be very close to ready for prime time.
I happen to rely heavily on Google Docs. However, there is one issue I face. When I send a book to an editor, I have to send it in either .doc or .odt format. The editor will then make comments and use track changes to edit the manuscript. When I get that file back, I can no longer work with it in Google Docs -- this means I must open that file in LibreOffice. Since all of my laptops are now Chromebooks, this is a problem. To that end, I wind up tethered to my desktop for second drafts and working with editors. When LibreOffice arrives for the Android platform, this will all change. This also brings to light the possibility of running LibreOffice on a Chromebook. Professionally, that is very exciting.
There is no set release date at this point. Until the developers get the file size below the Google limit, they are unable to predict a release. Until then, however, we'll just have to sit back and wait -- and hope this happens across the Google landscape. Even though LibreOffice would be in direct competition with Google Docs, it's clear that there are some users who not only need native ODF support, but rely on a more traditional office suite to fulfill those needs.
Although I'll continue my dependence upon Google Docs, having the addition of LibreOffice on Android (and Chromebooks... fingers crossed) would make my life incredibly more efficient.
What do you think? Does having LibreOffice on the Android platform make sense? Would you use it? Let us know your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.