Grunt Work Brings Early Version of KOffice to Mac OS X

The new open-source office contender doesn't require X11, said developer Benjamin Reed. Instead, it's ready to run directly within Apple's Unix-based OS.

Even as the Mac community speculates about an impending beta version of Microsoft Office for Mac OS X, a new—and free—productivity suite has found a toehold on Apple Computer Inc.s operating system.

Developers Benjamin Reed and Benjamin Meyer this week announced the first running version of a Mac OS X port of KOffice, a comprehensive suite of applications originally created for Unixs KDE graphical desktop.

Reed, a system administrator for the Oculan Corp., a network appliance and security company, spoke with about his role in the project, the overlap between Mac OS X and other Unix development, and the state of cross-platform tools.

In late December Reed announced on his personal blog that hed achieved a first running Mac OS X version of Konqueror, the KDE-based Web browser. Days later, on Jan. 1, Reed posted that he and Meyer had also launched KOffice on Mac OS X.

Reed said KOffice is distinct from other open-source office packages such as OpenOffice and NeoOffice because it requires no installation and configuration of the X11 windowing environment. Instead, the software runs "natively" on Mac OS X. Reed said he and Meyer had accomplished this feat thanks to KDEs use of Trolltechs Qt cross-platform GUI toolkit for Unix. Although Trolltech charges a licensing fee for Qt when used for proprietary commercial applications, the same code base is also available for free, subject to the GNU General Public License (GPL) restrictions.

Reed said the Mac OS components of Qt were only recently opened up under the GPL: "Thats whats making this possible."

"Possible" does not equal "done," Reed was quick to point out; Qt does not yet provide accurate Mac OS X-native screen widgets, making applications built with Qt look out of place within Mac OS Xs Aqua environment. However, its "getting there," Reed said.

Reed said he never was a KDE developer, although he was a longtime user of it on Linux—that is, until he purchased a Mac on which to run Linux.

"In six months, I got rid of Linux" on his Apple laptop and started contributing to the Think Project, a Linux distribution for Mac OS X, and "worked my way up the ranks." He added that he originally ported KDE to the Mac using X11 for Fink.

Now, KOffices independence from X11 has earned the project more attention in the Mac world. Its also gotten Reed attention: "Im generally the Mac KDE guy now," he said. But he plays down his role, saying that "a lot of the groundwork was done with the X11 port," leaving Reed just to fix a lot of "ground-level" stuff.

Most of that work "hasnt even been that technical," Reed said—mostly "commenting out X11 stuff" in the source code. "I dont really know how to code C or C++ very well," he added.

Once the X11-specific calls were kept out of the way, Reed said, left KOffice to call Mac OS Xs Quartz rendering engine via Qt. "KDE was surprisingly portable," Reed said.

What does KOffice mean for KDE, Apple and the open-source community? Reed declined to speculate. "I was just tinkering," he said, "it was cool to see it all working." Reed said hes glad to see how his and Meyers work has sparked potential involvement from other enthusiasts—taking on Microsoft wasnt one of his goals.

Still, Reed said, this shows that his longtime favorite, KDE, has a good development environment; he also is enthusiastic that some of the large pool of educational software currently for KDE could easily be brought to Mac OS X.