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back to article LibreOffice debugs and buffs up to v.3.5

The Document Foundation (TDF) has announced the release of LibreOffice 3.5, which it modestly describes as “the best free office suite ever.” This latest 201MB build strips out a lot of redundant code from the OpenOffice base around which LibreOffice is built, a move which initially caused the software some stability problems. …

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Remarkable progress

Good thing the TDF came along when it did! What do we have - one release from OOo in the past year-and-a-half? And I think that was just a "code consolidation" release to meet the Apache requirements, with no notable new features.

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Great!

Got to say I've seen more progress in LibreOffice in the last year in the functions that I use, than in the previous 2-3 years of OpenOffice.

The word processor is pretty much good to go. Spreadsheet needs work, graphing and pivot tables aren't as stable or fast as they should be. Presentation needs much work, particularly a replica of Powerpoint's excellent "presenter view".

But basically I believe LibreOffice will cover the needs of 95% of computer users. Home users especially should have no need to buy MS Office as the file compatibility of LibreOffice has them covered. They just need to know about the alternative. For most people Word / Excel is it and it's guaranteed to do the job. And they get MS Office trials in their face with their desktops having been pre-loaded with Windows. Same story as the IE anti-trust really.

But what LibreOffice really needs is a proper auto-update system, think Firefox/Thunderbird. It's quite annoying having to download the whole shebang each time.

Great stuff though, hope it keeps getting better and better!

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Anonymous Coward

Home users

They don't buy MSOffice, they bring their work laptops home or "borrow" the CD from the office or they get the $15 home-use deal from their employee purchase programme.

*That* is why MSOffice continues to do well. Piracy keeps up the critical mass and prevents alternatives from obtaining a foothold.

Actually the latest Office versions are quite good in terms of integration with MSCommunicator etc, but it is still bad that people think an office suit is the software on which to run your business.

I'd love to see a NaCl version of LibreOffice, Hmmm, thin-client config, fat-client latency, good migration strategy from MS. Nice!

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Vic
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> And they get MS Office trials in their face

My next-door neighbour bought a laptop. It came with a copy of Office, with a sticker on the palmrest and everything.

Then, one night, I got a knock at the door. The Office licence had expired. And he had to get a document done by the following day.

On closer inspection, the palmrest sticker did actually say it was a trial version - in a very small font, in white text on a silver background (or maybe the other way round). Even if you were looking for it, you'd probably miss it.

I installed OpenOffice for him (LO wasn't around). He's never looked back.

Vic.

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Yeah but come on

pretty dumb if the thought he was getting full MS Office for free.

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Re Home Users

So every pirated copy _is_ a lost sale - a pirated copy of MS Office is a lost "sale" of Libre Office.

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Vic
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Re: Yeah but come on

> pretty dumb if the thought he was getting full MS Office for free.

He didn't. He thought he'd bought a bundle which included MS Office.

Given the way the "trial edition" markings were obfuscated, I can't blame him.

Vic.

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Unhappy

Re: Great!

So why when I try to import a 20 page Word 97 document does it turn into a 40 page document?

I've yet to see a single Word document turn into a ODF file without serious rework...

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@Stuart Halliday

Regrettably, I have to agree. Even getting a .doc variation to keep the same formatting in any of the open WPs is, at best, hit and miss. I need to keep an elderly version of Word on my machine for editing .docs sent to me, or which I need to send to an MS-only recipient (i.e. most of them).

The biggest problem I have is different word-counts in different programs - surely the definition of a word isn't that difficult to work out (especially since Word is the de facto standard - "1500 words" is "1500 MSWord words").

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Unhappy

The problem is.....

No one cares, unless you have a FOSS fan in the family or your company has taken the leap into the unknown world outside the Microsoft bubble then for most people productivity software = MS office.....

The other problem is that even if people have heard of it then most of them will not change out of inertia. The thought of learning the differences (perceived, I know from trying it out that the interface was perfectly usable with only a few small ones) means that most won't bother and will continue either pirating or buying the home office version of MS.

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JDX
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“We had two options: a conservative strategy, which would immediately please all users, leaving the code basically unchanged, and our more aggressive feature development and code renovation path, which has created some stability problems in the short term but is rapidly leading to a completely new and substantially improved free office suite: LibreOffice 3.5, the best free office suite ever."

Paraphrase: we had two options. Either do it the proper way, through unit testing and refactoring, which takes time but is how software engineering works. Or make some big hacks and release it without proper testing so we could claim progress.

Sounds like every other corporate IT project to me.

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Big old codebases like this, its not always possible (in fact, its quite rare) to even be able to unit test significant portions without altering the code first.

Code has to be testable before it can be auto tested.

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@JDX

Did you actually read TFA? They added a lot of unit test framework code as well as individual unit tests, in order to make it possible to refactor untested and brittle legacy code.

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Good stuff

Let just say that while MS Office 2007 is installed on my workstation at work, I USE LibreOffice and get more done.

Why?? Cuz the UI is decent and usable, not rearranged by some adolescent designer who likes shiny crap at every release, like MS Orifice.

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Designers just carry out orders ("make it so that people have to learn from scratch, and never can go back to the old version"). It's the sales team you need to blame: pleeeeeeeease create a version that allows us to claim "innovation" and "time savings" so that clueless managers can buy this.

What amuses me most is the argument not to use OpenOffice: "because people would have to retrain". Yeah, right. That transition the ribbon went smooth then, yes?

What annoys me, however, is the apparent attraction that ribbon abomination appears to have on OOO developers. If they ever decide to implement that I hope they have for once the decency to leave an option in place so you can undo that crap. Forcing a new UI on people who are perfectly happy with the existing one (or which they have learned through time) is IMHO a flat-out crime in UI design. It's the path through which Ubuntu has lost a LOT of its users.

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Facepalm

God love 'em...

My fellow FOSS developers, that is. But the fact is that whether you call it StarOffice, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, it's still a functional copy of one of the most ill-conceived pieces of crap ever to be inflicted on a naive business community -- it's generally agreed that you couldn't make many worse usability choices than MS Word if you set out to do so.

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Boffin

Re: generally agreed

"it's generally agreed that you couldn't make many worse usability choices than MS Word if you set out to do so."

Umm, generally agreed by whom, and (given Office's ubiquity amongst non-geek users) what was their point of comparison?

Not disagreeing, just saying this is a rather bold claim for which, it seems to me, not only have you not cited any evidence, but the current state of the market rather precludes you from having any evidence to cite.

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Generally agreed yes

by MS haters. Everyone else seems to use it in their hundreds of millions. If only they knew!

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Anonymous Coward

Fascinating

Why someone would write with a speech impediment, Umm, Err.. Like, you know...

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Yes, but

The ability of users to express a preference on the individual products was skewed by the suite. Just for my own personal taste, Excel is great, never found anything better, Powerpoint is pretty good and Word is so bad I would rather create text documents with Powerpoint in portrait mode. However, if I'm going to buy Excel and Powerpoint, it's cheaper to buy the whole suite. So I have Word, but never use it. This doesn't show up in market share statistics.

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Re: Fascinating

"Umm" is not a symptom of a speech impediment, and it's used in writing to indicate conversational style and reflective tone.

As for why anyone would do that: there's a little discipline called "rhetoric" that has been asking and answering such questions for a few thousand years. It's a bit much to summarize in 2000 characters.

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Re: Yes, but

> The ability of users to express a preference on the individual products was skewed by the suite.

More generally, the typical computer user isn't qualified to evaluate the usability of a UI. They often don't have much else to compare it to, their exposure tends to be quite limited (since most users only use a software package for a relatively small subset of its capabilities), they generally don't have any training in usability research methods, their perceptions are strongly influenced by various psychological factors (random reinforcement is a big one), various societal pressures apply, and so forth.

And in any case, popularity is never a proxy for quality. Never has been, never will be. (I remember a review of a Fiat model in a car magazine many years ago that was simply "As it turns out, millions of Italians *can* be wrong".)

Microsoft actually does employ a lot of UI designers, UI/UX/HCI researchers, etc. But they're constrained by some degree of backward compatibility, pressure from Marketing, the inherently inefficient WIMP model, their very large and diverse user base, and so on. The result is that for many users the Office UI *is* terrible.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: Fascinating

In speech, people sometimes use fillers such as umm, like, I mean, or you know, to fill in what would otherwise be pauses while they are thinking what to say, but it doesn't carry well into the written word where there is plenty of time to think and formulate what you want to say before writing it, instead of dribbling it out in a verbally incontinent way.

At best it sounds pretentious or implies a self perceived superiority and attempted theatrical authority.

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Re: Re: Re: Fascinating

"At best it sounds pretentious or implies a self perceived superiority and attempted theatrical authority."

Guilty as charged. I was responding to claims about the unusability of Office that I found not only untrue in my own experience, but also utterly unsupportable *even in principle*. I have nothing but contempt for the original author (Hi, I spit on your grave, btw.) and do indeed perceive myself to be superior and perfectly entitled to claim the authority vested by natural law in all those who have a clue.

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Finally some good progress

Now, even though I 'ditched' when OpenOffice went kablam I still like to keep an eye open for OSS developments and quite frankly I think this is a very good step in the right direction!

IMO the main problem with OpenOffice vs. MS Office (2010) has always been lack of progress on the part of OO. If you look at MS Office 2003 and compare that to the 2010 version its quite a difference (and I'm not referring to the GUI). If you do the same with OO you'll also pick up several differences, sure, but hardly as extensive.

I'm curious to see if (when?) LibreOffice will get "import pasting" on their Sheet application. Its one of those options which are hard to spot, but once you do its hard to miss out on.. Basically it allows you to import data from the clipboard and set it up. So say you have some CSV data in the clipboard you can add these into the sheet and have all values immediately separated.

A very handy option if you deal with some data which you picked up on a website or out of PuTTY.

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I'm not a 2010 user, but isn't that just the old Text-to-Columns feature, but on the paste? I'm not saying that it's useless, but it really can only be saving 1 second of your time (Alt+A+E). Probably not even that, if you have to move the mouse to click on the icon to achieve it.

I disagree that MS really add that much at each release. The core functionality that people need 90% of the time hasn't changed since Office 97. If you're using over 65k rows, a spreadsheet is the wrong tool for you.

The UI improvements (especially around Paste Special feature being more prominent) are normally welcome, but I'd never spend the $500 per person that they're asking for in license to upgrade.

If it wasn't for the fact that we use a lot of VBA automated sheets, I'd push us to LO, but I can't bring myself to test and convert them all. (Yes, definitely the wrong tool for the job)

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@ShelLuser

"I'm curious to see if (when?) LibreOffice will get "import pasting" on their Sheet application. Its one of those options which are hard to spot, but once you do its hard to miss out on.. Basically it allows you to import data from the clipboard and set it up. So say you have some CSV data in the clipboard you can add these into the sheet and have all values immediately separated."

Are you looking for something more than the text import options under Edit/Paste Special ? In the rare occasions I find myself in a spreadsheet, and need to paste from the clipboard, that's what I use.. but in my case that is generally only simple usage when there are text fields separated by white-space, tabs, commas etc.

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Re: @ShelLuser

I am a reluctant 2010 user (have to use it for work) and I hate it. In the haste to add the latest interface bling and move familiar things I use everyday to where I now need several mouse clicks and a couple of menus instead of click, they broke really basic things like search. I'd forgive the former (a bit) if they didn't break the bread and butter basic stuff. It is soooooo inconvenient when you can't rely on search results and have to keep manually checking. This stuff was old hat 20 years ago but it doesn't work now.

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@Ian Yates

I'd suggest you actually try LibreOffice 3.5 on some of your VBA-heavy documents. They've done a lot of work on VBA compatibility recently and even have specialised unit tests for it. And they will be a lot more receptive that OO.o (or MS for that matter) when you file a bug.

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Having used

Wordstar, Wordperfect, Word, Staroffice and Open office I must say it is a matter of absolute hate falling off to minor annoyances; I would guess that it is just what you can actually stand out of a word processor* that makes it your favorite.

I might as well try LibreOffice next.

*Wordstar and early Wordperfect; know those ctr cokebottle shift combos yet?

Word; kerning? who in the hell kerns a space?

Staroffice; No, dammit, that is the persons name you autocorrecting POS.

(I just haven't used Oo enough to find the pointy bits.)

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Trollface

WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS remains the all-time champion

For heavy-duty 10,000-words-by-morning stuff, nothing beats WP5.1 for DOS. A learning curve steeper than doing vi in sign language, but once you learnt the basics, boy could you crank out the words in that puppy.

By contrast, doing any kind of long document in Word is excruciating.

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Nah. In those days, real men used "copy con myfile.txt". Real hardcore programmers did "copy con mybinary.com" too. Actually, this may be how Word was originally written (or with EDLIN :-), but I digress.

Curiously, in those days I did not have the "teh" problem - that's one of those dirty tricks that auto-correction forces upon you: by correcting it for you, you end up storing and re-enforcing the wrong word in muscle memory.

Word is actually quite OK provided you stick to style-based formatting like Clinton produce to intern's dresses. Any, and I mean ANY deviation from that gold standard and you've created a time bomb that will explode in the near vicinity of any deadline.

The most ironic twist of all is that there is only one tool to rescue a document that has been so badly screwed up by Word that it won't even load..

It's OpenOffice..

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plus WordPerfect was multi platform.

I remember using it in the 80's on VMS with just dumb terminals. On the VT420 terminals you could even get a "print preview" display by using the downloaded character/bit-maps.

The idea of having 20-30 users all working on documents, software development and such on a single machine about as powerful as a 20MHz 80386 with 20MB memory is something people today cannot even comprehend.

The fact that actual productivity was about the same as today without everyone having multi-GHz PC's with x1000 times the RAM (and power use) is ridiculous.

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I picked up my 14 year-old daughters laptop the other day to check that she'd got the OS updates installed (win-7) and found that she's dumped Office entirely and installed LibreOffice - damn I'm proud of her!

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So she hasn't

discovered "boys" yet then?

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Re: So she hasn't discovered "boys" yet then?

Don't rush her. Really. There's *plenty* of time. I'm sure her parents can wait.

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Pint

Java

Now, when they have finally killed the Java dependencies (particularly for Base) it will be almost perfect...

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Thanks for all the hard work but

It does seem to be in vain. Not only are people not aware of all this free stuff that is available but it has been my experience that people prefer what they know. I've tried installing OpenOffice and suggesting people try it and it just gets left unused and they will revert back to MS Office.

I, too, run MS Office because everyone else at work does. I do not have to pay for it, my employer is happy to. So why would I want to take that leap into the unknown?

The very fact that this article is talking about libreoffice and not open office is another reason people do not want to go free! If I look back I cannot remember a time when MS Office did not exist (and I am no youngster) and yet already we are talking about changing from one piece of free software to another and another as the different projects become trendy and then fade into obscurity with in the FOSS community.

If the developers are not motivated to keep competing with MS, Lotus, or whatever other commercial project then the message that is sent to the users is that open source projects are relatively short lived and before long you will have to switch again. That's not only bad for the user's who have to learn new UI's (although heaven help us with that ribbon in MS office) but also for the admin guys who have to roll out new software and explain it all and make sure all the old documents still work.

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Anonymous Coward

Now if only...

... They would throw away that 15 year old GUI, and just spend a year or two focusing on making something as beautiful and easy to use as iWork. The Windows 95 look and feel us bordering on the offensive at this stage.

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"The Windows 95 look and feel us bordering on the offensive at this stage."

You are either showing your age (since I don't think pre-95 Macs or OS/2 were significantly different and *they* were both derivative of other systems that I didn't personally use but which other commentards almost certainly did) or you are one of those age-ist "designers" who believe that a good UI *should* be hard to use and so any UI design becomes bad once everyone learns how it works.

I hope it is the former, since otherwise I will have to kill you.

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Happy

Let's here it for history ...

I have pretty much shifted over to Kubuntu but have to run some ancient legacy Windows apps. Wine doesn't cut it so I use a Win2k VM. Mainly because its leaner than XP and I can swop it around between machines without having to worry about activation issues despite being fully licensed for XP.

And I'm loving Win2k. The GUI is just cleaner and neater than XP. None of the candy of Vista/7. Sure it is lacking in some of the later userability features but as a simple legacy app runner it really stonks. The Bauhaus of GUIs.

Its also nice that should the unsupported Win2k VM ever get corrupted/hacked - I can have a clean copy running again within 10 minutes ...

Bottom line is LibreOffice looks even better on Win2k

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Anonymous Coward

"people prefer what they know."

Still using Office 4, then?

"heaven help us with that ribbon in MS office"

Apparently *not* using Office 4 then :)

"I do not have to pay for it, my employer is happy to."

For most employees, their employers outgoings, to MS and elsewhere, are paid for out of the work which the employees do. If the employer has smaller outgoings, this could be reflected in take home pay (I know it never works like that, but it's supposed to).

@different:

"people will continue either pirating or buying the home office version of MS."

Or just paying up for the blackmailware trial versions which MS pay the PC builders to put on, so that you get them when you buy a consumer PC from the likes of Dell and HP.

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Angel

Still waiting

I'm still waiting for a replacement for Outlook - sure there are other mail clients out there but nothing that I've seen so far that supports all the non-mailing features of Outlook, tasks, contacts, notes and calendar in an office/exchange way.

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Re: Still waiting

Without disputing your own requirements, I have to say that I've never used *any* of these other features, but I *have* wanted a news reader, which meant that Outlook Express was (in my book) actually a superior replacement (a decade or so ago).

Actually, I *will* dispute your requirements, at least to suggest that the reason you are still stuck with Outlook is that you've got it into your head that a single program must fulfil all these roles and therefore you are locked in with the only vendor who agrees with this approach. Expect to wait for a long time yet.

I'm a hypocrite, of course, since I'm now using Opera and I'm conscious that at least part of the reason for that is that it offered browser, mail and news in a single package.

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Well clearly Google mail also thinks mail and task are part of the same package. I used to be an Outlook user and then found that getting Google to host my mail mean it integrated nicely with my phone and any desktop with a browser. Of course offline work is impossible but I really cannot remember when I last wanted to compose an mail while the internet was down, or for that matter remember when the internet was down.

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FAIL

Outlook

POS! I had religiously clicked on the "Do you want to archive your stuff?" button when it appeared.

Then one day I tried to restore an email. I then found out that the "archive" function only saved your appointments, which I had never used. The only way to archive your emails was to create a new mail, attach all your old messages and then drag it onto your desktop.

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Just one teeny weeny problem..

You haven't just exposed your own underpants to Google, but also the contact details of everyone you know. I am actually in agreement with the poster: Outlook is annoyingly alone in its ability to integrate various aspects of office life. I've tried Evolution, but that is so sluggish I started looking in my process list to see where my CPU cycles had gone...

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WTF?

Re: Still waiting

I never saw why a mail client should integrate tasks and calendars, or for that matter contacts...

Contacts at the very least should be in their own program, with an easily called API that allows other programs to make use of them. The idea of having an integrated contact list in the email client dates from the days when email was pretty much the only communication medium used on computers... These days we have IM, VoIP and various other services so it makes a lot of sense to have a centralised contact list.

A calendar is also not related to email, and should not be in the mail client... I prefer the Apple approach where separate applications are provided and you can use whichever you want.

As for your statement "in an office/exchange way", this is down to exchange using proprietary protocols to make it difficult for third party clients to communicate with them. Outlook also doesn't support any standard calendaring protocol, and only has very crude support for IMAP mail.

If you have a standard (CalDAV) calendar server, combined with a standard (CardDAV) contacts server and LDAP for directory lookups, plus standard IMAP mail there is a lot more you can do...

You could use the Mozilla suite (thunderbird, lightning), the Apple suite (iCal, Mail.app, Addressbook) etc.. You can even use Outlook, but you'd need a third party plugin.

Because the protocols are standard, writing your own tools to interface with the system is much easier, for instance you might have a job or bug tracking system that automatically populates your calendar with time allocated to work on particular tasks, and you can use other metadata (eg presence of your user on the vpn, presence of your assigned laptop/phone in the office network) to work out where you are.

Also because the interfaces are standard, you can switch implementation of the backend server as it suits you without breaking your custom apps.

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Re: Still waiting

Well I'm using Thunderbird with the Lightning plug in, so I get email, calendar and notes in one package.

And it also picks up on meting requests and automatically ads them to the calendar when you accept the meeting.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re: Still waiting

With convoluted suggestions like that being touted as a credible alternative, you can quite easily see why Exchange/Outlook is so prevalent and unlikely to change any time soon.

"Yes, I really do think replacing a functioning system that everyone is familiar with what I've been knocking up in between coffee runs for everyone else really is going to solve all of our problems. I promise."

Stick to changing keyboards and mice for people mate.

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