Sun lends hand on Mac OpenOffice project

An alpha preview version could be out this month

Sun Microsystems has assigned company developers to work on a Mac OS X version of the open-source OpenOffice.org productivity suite.

"As of now, Sun engineering will add its support to the ongoing Mac/Aqua porting effort," Sun engineer Philipp Lohman said in a blog late last week. Lohman and another Sun developer will work full-time on the project.

In 2003, OpenOffice.org put aside development of a native Mac version -- one that would use Mac OS X's "Aqua" interface -- but reopened the project in February. Currently, Mac users must install X11, a Unix windowing environment, to run a non-Mac edition of OpenOffice.org on their machines.

Lohman cited the Mac's growth and its vocal user community as reasons for Sun's decision. "We are supporting this port because of the interest and activity of the community," said Lohman. "Add in the growing Mac community as a whole and suddenly from Sun's point of view, Mac has a higher value since our strategy is to be multi-platform capable."

Sun, which bought the forerunner of OpenOffice.org in 1999, sells a commercial version dubbed StarOffice. In 2000, it ceded the source code to the all-volunteer OpenOffice.org group, which has developed Linux and Windows editions. The former is bundled with most Linux operating system distributions, and the latter is the only free alternative to Microsoft Corp.'s Microsoft Office.

OpenOffice.org applauded Sun's move. "With Sun's contributions, we expect to reach Aqua that much sooner," the group said on its Web site.

A Mac port timeline decided by OpenOffice.org in March pegged a release of an alpha preview this month, with a full beta expected by the end of the year. The aggressive schedule also set Apple Inc.'s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) next month as the debut date of the Mac OS X look-and-feel.

Sun's help will involve more than two of its engineers, said Lohman. "There certainly will be other Sun developers involved in their areas of expertise when the need arises," he said.

And he admitted he'll be asking for help himself. "Mac OS X and Aqua are quite new to me, so please bear with me as I learn about this (for me) exciting new platform. Certainly I will have many questions for my fellow Mac porters."

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