Image: Jack Wallen

Manjaro has had one heck of a ride lately. Recently, the Arch-based Linux distribution went from being just that (an Arch-based Linux distribution) to a full-blown company: Manjaro GmbH & Co. KG. The move was to shift the distribution from being a hobby project to something that should (and will) be taken seriously.

In fact, Philip Müller said he’d been researching “ways to secure the project in its current form and how to allow for activities which can’t be undertaken as a ‘hobby project.'” What this boils down to is that the Manjaro developers could now focus on the desktop Linux distribution full time, all the while getting paid for their efforts.

SEE: 10 free alternatives to Microsoft Word and Excel (TechRepublic download)

The first bold move

A bold move, but one every Linux distribution should pay close attention to. Why? Because the time for desktop Linux to be seen as more than a hobby desktop operating system is profoundly long past. I have believed for the longest time that one of the reasons Ubuntu has seen such success, is that it has the backing of a company behind it–Canonical.

Ubuntu being one of the most reliable and user-friendly operating systems aside, having a company standing behind the distribution carries serious weight. And with Canonical able to successfully navigate enterprise business, it has enabled itself to continue the steady work on a desktop operating system that might not otherwise have the funding it deserves.

And although any distribution based on Arch Linux is probably not best suited for new users, they do have a rabid following. With good reason. Arch is one of those distributions that allows users to hand-pick what they want in their operating system, and it does an outstanding job of it. Of course Manjaro does go out of its way to make Arch Linux user-friendly. And with the creation of the new company, I would expect that level of user-friendliness to rise exponentially.

But that’s not the bold move I really want to address.

The second bold move

With the release of Manjaro 18.1 (aka Juhraya), the team responsible has unleashed the desktop version (available with either Xfce, KDE, or GNOME) with two choices of office suite tools:

During installation, you only get the choice of one or the other, or neither (Figure A).

Figure A

At first blush, you might think, “What’s the big deal?” To a certain cross-section of the open source crowd, that is a big deal. Why? Because while LibreOffice is truly an open source application, FreeOffice is very much not. FreeOffice is a product made by SoftMaker and is often called the best option for anyone on Linux that has to collaborate with others who use MS Office.

I’ve used FreeOffice and will not hesitate to say the claim holds true. In many instances, I’ve received manuscripts from editors who use MS Office that tanked LibreOffice. Large amounts of comments in a 70K word document bring LibreOffice to a screeching, painful halt. No matter how you configure LibreOffice, it cannot handle that level of work. FreeOffice, on the other hand, doesn’t bat an eye.

But even that level of usability won’t stop the haters from hating. Why? Because they cannot access the source for FreeOffice.

It’s my turn to be bold.

Get over it.

It sounds harsh, I know. And I certainly don’t mean that as an insult or a demeaning comment. I understand where FOSS advocates are coming from and I respect their opinions. However, the last thing Linux needs is dissent from within its own community.

And yet, from the office of “Piling on,” here’s another statement that might not be terribly popular:

The majority of users who complain about not being able to access the source of a program, probably never would if they could. Imagine you’re a rabid proponent of open source and you use LibreOffice. You find that application doesn’t do one particular thing you need it to do, so you decide to download the source files for the application. The second you do, you realize the source code for LibreOffice is nearly 2GB in size. That, my friends, is a lot of code. Are you ready, as a single user/developer, to try and tackle such an endeavor?

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of having access to the source doesn’t actually mean you’ll make use of that freedom, it only means you hold it with great regard that the option is there. And I get that. But the truth of the matter is, most don’t take advantage of that.

But the idea of having yet another option on Linux, especially one that makes the seamless collaboration with MS Office more than a reality, should be seen as a massive win for the Linux desktop.

I’ve been there, for years, when Linux struggled mightily with collaboration. Back in the late nineties, when an MS Office user would send me a document, I’d have to cross my fingers that it would open properly or save in a format that the original user could then re-open. Many times that was not the case. I’d have to jump through some serious hoops to make that happen. Now? Not so much. I can either turn to Google Docs or the likes of FreeOffice to ensure those manuscripts or documents edited in MS Office wouldn’t turn into a festering pile of poorly formatted words.

And that’s not to say LibreOffice is unusable. Far from it. I work with LibreOffice every day, on shorter documents. But when it comes time to collaborate with an editor on a book, you can be sure that LibreOffice doesn’t come into play until all those comments and track changes are taken care of. I’ll format the heck out of a book in LibreOffice, I just won’t edit one.

And that’s what is so important about the Manjaro move. They get it. The developers of this desktop distribution understand that what truly matters is having the right tools available to get the job done, be they open or closed source.

If you’re not a fan of Linux using closed-source tools, there are plenty of distributions available for you. Or, you can simply opt to install LibreOffice on Manjaro and enjoy that totally free experience.

As for me? I’m going to use whatever tool I can to get the job done. Whether that tool is FreeOffice, Google Docs, or LibreOffice does not matter. What does matter is the tool works on Linux. And the more willing the Linux community is to accept alternative, closed-source tools, the more will be made available. And that is a win-win we can all stand to enjoy.