Why we shouldn’t make a LibreOffice for iOS

The Document Foundation is currently planning to port LibreOffice to two mobile operating systems: Android and iOS.

Being an advocate for open-source software, for privacy and free speech and against monopoly and lock-in, I’m not too thrilled with the planned iOS version. An operating system is only as good as it’s software, and as long as Apple has developers treating it as the premiere platform to develop for (along with Android), it will maintain a sizeable userbase, much like Windows has managed to do.

That’s too bad, though, as Apple’s turning out to be a lot more monopolistic than Microsoft. It strictly filters its app selection and allows users to install apps only from its own marketplace. Its App Store policy prohibits (L)GPL-licensed software. It actively fights against jailbreaking, in case users doesn’t want to play by Apple’s rules. If one wants anonymity, he has to jailbreak the device in order to use Tor. It attacks the rest of the industry with (mostly bogus) hardware and software patents. Its iBooks textbook platform locks students into Apple’s proprietary software, especially as all paid textbooks made with Apple’s iBooks Author can only be sold through the iBookstore. Apple was also a backer of SOPA/PIPA and refuses to support WebM for HTML5 video on iOS, rather backing its proprietary counterpart H.264. The list goes on and on.

So how about instead of targeting iOS as a second platform for LibreOffice, what about WebOS? Or Plasma Active? Or Tizen? These platforms need LibreOffice way more than iOS. Let’s stop fueling Apple and target the platforms that should succeed, platforms giving you some freedom, platforms that don’t tie you to a filtered list of applications, platforms that allow (L)GPL licenses, platforms that you can trust because you can read the source code.

Incidentally, Karen Sandler, GNOME’s Executive Director, gave an excellent speech on the importance of free software on devices. Go check it out.

6 thoughts on “Why we shouldn’t make a LibreOffice for iOS

  1. Apple being monopolistic is no surprise to me. That’s the nature of all companies in that they want to make a profit and if keeping standards closed (and therefore under their control) benefits their bottom line, then they’ll do it. You make some good points, but I think LibreOffice is going to be on iOS not necessarily because of the approval of Apple’s business practices, but because it has the largest user base. That would mean a larger potential audience for Libreoffice. I think if there were more open standards for hardware, then various open source projects could avoid having to put their software on proprietary hardware. That way you can build a user base which can grow and survive without having to deal with the likes of Apple. What do you think?

    1. Right now, picking platforms is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, making your app available for a restrictive platform means that more people will use that application. On the other hand, it means that it will be much easier for that platform to retain its monopoly — users will choose it because it has the best and most apps, developers will develop for it because it has the most users. It’s an enchanted circle. It’s the main reason why Linux distros (except Android) haven’t caught on — no Creative Suite, no Office, no games, …

      I still believe developers should put open-source platforms like Android and the upcoming WebOS and B2G first, breathing life into those platforms instead of helping maintain restrictive monopolies.

      As for hardware, it’s basically impossible to compete in this sector without using underpaid Chinese workers, unfortunately, and I’m not sure if open standards for hardware would change much. I don’t think Apple has a monopoly on hardware, despite trying to enforce it using its bogus patents.

  2. The App Store does NOT prohibit (L)GPL F/OSS, it just won’t let you host the source code beside the Binary, it will let you put a link up to the source code, which is what most desktop app websites do too, so how is it any different? Most people only heard bits and pieces of the VLC/iOS fight, please do more research before bashing an OS that does have plenty of merits (and shortcomings)…

    1. The App Store does not explicitly state that it prohibits the (L)GPL, but, by limiting what you can do with the software, it effectively prohibits the license. It’s not just about linking the source. For a more in-depth analysis, see http://www.fsf.org/blogs/licensing/more-about-the-app-store-gpl-enforcement .
      Desktop app websites are different, because they don’t usually have a terms of service that would put restrictions on how you can use the software.

      Also, this license problem isn’t the only problem. There are plenty of other problems with iOS — I’ve listed some above.

  3. Wouldn’t working on web-based editing solve this problem? But open the next problem: where to store documents. Considering Dropbox “not safe”.

    To judge this, I think development for different platforms has to be compared to work that’d go into web-based mode.

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