back to article 'It's where the industry is heading': LibreOffice team working on WebAssembly port

The LibreOffice team has been working on a port to browser-hosted WebAssembly, and hopes for a working demo by summer 2021. "It's the way the industry is heading," said Document Foundation board member Thorsten Behrens. Browser-based versions of the open-source office productivity suite already exist in the form of Collabora …

          1. 45RPM Silver badge

            Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

            I had a Silverreed EX44 typewriter with serial interface to turn it into a printer, all hooked up to my Newbrain computer with CP/M. Sigh. Happy days.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

        32K? You were lucky...

      2. fidodogbreath Silver badge

        Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

        "32K?!? We used to dream about having 32K! We barely had 8K in our MITS Altair. And every time it got unplugged we had to toggle in BASIC from a fuzzy 7th-generation Xerox copy of a mimeograph. But it was a computer to us!"

        Sadly, the above is actually true. And I'm not even at retirement age yet...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

          We had 16K. But as it was core memory you could trip over the power cable and just plug it back in again. The boot loader was only about 10 lines though. In octal. For the paper-tape boot-loader.

          Altair Basic...wasnt that about 3.5K? Ouch. So you could not afford the 4K EPROM then. I think they were about $60 S-100 cards.

          1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

            Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

            Altair Basic...wasnt that about 3.5K? Ouch. So you could not afford the 4K EPROM then. I think they were about $60 S-100 cards.

            It was an academic lab project: build the computer, make it do something. The EPROM was for wimps, we were told; toggling in BASIC would toughen us up.

      3. yetanotheraoc

        Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

        The bloatware brigade has always been well ahead in the race against Moore's law.

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

      Once upon a time Mozilla Firefox used to ship as a smallish executable with 50 or 60 DLLs. But then somebody said this is stupid because we need to load most of those DLLs anyway so let's just statically link them into the executable and they did. Startup times improved because the OS didn't have to resolve, and dynamically load all those DLLs. But it's still modules & components under the covers.

      The same has happened with LibreOffice. The DLLs are consolidated so it looks monolithic but under the covers it's a bunch of modules linked together. So I imagine if there were a WebAssembly version they could pick and choose how modules loaded up. It probably makes more sense to be more granular in that situation and it does not follow that everything has to be loaded for anything at all to happen.

      In fact from a development perspective it probably makes sense to break it down into small pieces with well defined dependencies since they can play around with stuff and see how it works.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So instead of 125Meg to run a basic wordprocessor it will now be 500Meg plus..

        Which just goes to prove that the codebases are spaghetti. Neither properly partitioned or layered. Horizontally or vertically. If you need to muck around with DLLLoad issues on startup then the core code / common code is neither. And if so many functions in a module are exported symbols then that is another red flag that the modules are not actually that modular. The only symbols that should be exported are external service call entry points. And the only symbols that should be imported are core / common / platform services.

        But there again just how many of the people making those decisions actually traced through a full DLL resolve / execute call chain. ASM Instruction by instruction. Based on personal experience almost none. Everything like this is just a zero cost black box function to most people. Not the couple of dozen / couple of hundred instructions it actually is. Same with platform API calls.

        Or a bit like when people mix exceptions and template in C++ methods with multiple exit points. You should see all the machine code that generates for even a small expression line count method. The worst example I've seen was about 25 line of simple C++ code using exceptions, templates, RTTI etc that generated a 44 page final pre-processor stage output listing. That was not even the ASM disassembly. That code was very easy to optimize. It was thrown and and rewritten in straightforward C++ which was about 5% the exe size. And unlike the original code, did not crash the shipped product.

        First rule of this sort of software development. If you dont know exactly what is going on under the hood then always assume it is actually very computationally expensive. You will almost never be wrong.

  1. phogan99

    "Where the industry is headed"

    Where those in the industry that want to sell software as a service and cloud storage are headed.

    Web Assembly can f*ck off. First, thing I do on a fresh browser install is hobble webasm as much as possible, if not disable it. Same for Javascript, install NoScript on Firefox.

    I'll stick to old versions or goto Open Office before I use this.

    1. sgp

      As long as the desktop versions remain available, you don't have to worry. Wasteful given their limited resources though.

  2. 45RPM Silver badge

    I don’t need everything to run in the web. In fact, where possible, I’d rather that it didn’t. I like being able to work offline. What I would like to see is seriously lightweight software. Seriously, who needs Excel most of the time? Or Word? And no one needs to be subjected to PowerPoint or Access! I’d like something else, please.

    Instead of frigging around with Office Clones, on the web of all places, can we have some lightweight integrated packages again? Microsoft Works, for example, or Claris Works - I loved them, and I’d choose them again in a heartbeat (Claris in particular, which let you draw any of its supported document types into any document).

    Perhaps less sensibly, and proving that I might be a smidge old-fashioned, I’d also like to see some big-hitter choice again. I’d like to see the return of WordPerfect as a cross platform leviathan and alternative to Word. I’d like to see Resolve and Lotus 123 again. Okay, perhaps I am just being silly and unnecessarily nostalgic.

    1. WallMeerkat

      > ClarisWorks

      Nostalgic fondness of this as it was used for IT lessons in secondary school. Back when DTP was the big thing, it was relatively easy to drag and drop items from drawing, embed spreadsheets and the likes.

      Sometimes I'll fire it up on DosBox or my old Mac Mini G4.

      Would love something like this as part of an OS base install. Perhaps we should start a project OpenClaris? :D

      I felt Lotus Symphony, based on OpenOffice, was slightly similar in that it felt like one application as you could have tabs for different documents.

      1. Steve K Silver badge

        Symphony

        Unless I am missing something, Lotus Symphony was around (certainly on DOS) years before OpenOffice.....

        1. 45RPM Silver badge

          Re: Symphony

          You’re missing nothing. Quite right. But the name got recycled a few times. I had a friend with Symphony on his Amstrad PC1512. When he upgraded to a mighty 12MHz Goldstar 286 he got Symphony for Windows 3.

          By that point I’d graduated to ClarisWorks on my SE/30.

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Your closest option to Works these days is Google Docs which is in the cloud.

    3. Just an old bloke

      Nothing wrong with old software.

      No, your're not being silly. It's what many users want. I'd be happy with Wordstar, dBase II and Supercalc, the memory limitations would be a problem though. I still use photo imaging software for web stuff thats 25 years old, U-Lead Photoimpact because it's very quick, everything can be done with keystrokes and it's great at creating lightweight decent resolution graphics.

      Have you ever loaded an old Netscape browser? Jeez they are fast, dangerously insecure but quick.

      Anyone got a copy of Sidekick?

  3. I code for the bacon
    Facepalm

    Deja Vu...

    ...Behrens said LOOL is based on the HTML5 Canvas element that displays the document, but that "all the rendering, all the interaction with the document, all the editing" happens on the server...

    So, we're returning to the old and not-so-good days of the X terminal then... Oh my...

    1. wegie

      Re: Deja Vu...

      "...So, we're returning to the old and not-so-good days of the X terminal then... Oh my..."

      : NFS Server Thor not responding

      : NFS Server Odin not responding

      Gaze blankly at screen

      Go away and make a mug of coffee

      : NFS server Thor not responding

      Go and have lunch

      : NFS server Odin not responding

      Start writing report in longhand in the lab book.

      Do we really want to go back to this? Really?

      1. gerdesj Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: Deja Vu...

        The times they are achanging. I have an NFS mount on my laptop over wifi and twenty yards of ethernet for my music collection. I can shutdown without using the power button even if I lose comms with the server. It even reconnects after wake up from suspend.

        Now that's progress!

        (I have plenty of other ways of making data go poo poo than NFS.)

      2. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: Deja Vu...

        Seems most people forgot WHY a PC was so amazing and sought after in the first place: freedom.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Deja Vu...

          Yeah, but money...

          Ownership of tools and resources by the Great Unwashed has been slowly phased out so you can sell them the same thing over and over again. It started with music and movies, and goes on with software.

          Ideally you will rent your computer terminal, and rent the software running on it by the use. Think of the freedom and the savings, especially when your software service provider closes shop and your files disappear with him because CRMed to his solution...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Deja Vu...

        An urgent call from one of our offices. Their X terminals were crawling on rendering any screen. It had been ok the day before - so they declared it must be a local network fault.

        Took a network capture. The lan was running ok - but the volume of traffic to the terminal was enormous. The acid question "what did you change?". The answer eventually was an official updated X library was doing the rendering with many, many repetitive primitive commands. Reverted to previous library - all worked ok hardly exercising the lan.

    2. MarkSitkowski

      Re: Deja Vu...

      "So, we're returning to the old and not-so-good days of the X terminal then... Oh my..."

      What's wrong with that? I only use my PC as an X-terminal, so I can connect to OpenOffice-2.2 (among other things), which does everything I need.

  4. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I see I'm not alone

    One of the few times I wish that wasn't true. Webassembly isn't a disaster waiting to happen. It's a slow-motion train wreck with an equally inevitable result.

  5. Howard Sway

    I remember a browser that ran in office software

    Lotus Notes had an embedded browser in the late 90s (think it was probably IE embedded as an ActiveX).

    Now they're trying the opposite way around. It's ridiculous to download 30MB just for a quick bit of text editing and formatting, which is the limit of what most people want from browser based editors. And rather a futile effort anyway, when most LibreOffice users run Linux and have it available on their desktops.

    Whatever's next for wasm? A browser that runs in a browser?

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: I remember a browser that ran in office software

      Whatever's next for wasm? A browser that runs in a browser?

      LibreOffice implemented in wasm, implemented in a browser, implemented in a VM, implemented in Systemd.

      You’re welcome. Sleep well and don’t have nightmares :)

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Re: I remember a browser that ran in office software

        You joke but it will happen.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I remember a browser that ran in office software

        It has always seemed rather aesthetically satisfying to be able to run an OS in a VM in an OS in a VM....

        Basically Creator Recursion - with Occam's Razor deciding that only the first layer was necessary - and no Creator.

  6. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
    Mushroom

    They can rewrite it is WASM..

    .... when they've darned well finished the native version!

    Charting on Calc is a maze of twisty passages, all alike.

    Mailmerge is still a geek poke-fest, without the simple ability to transfer a template document and it's matching database to another computer.

    1. MarkSitkowski

      Re: They can rewrite it is WASM..

      "Charting on Calc is a maze of twisty passages, all alike."

      I believe you need to make your way to the Bird Chamber, having thrown the axe at the Dwarf.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: They can rewrite it is WASM..

        Every time I try to insert a chart in Calc, I get eaten by a grue. It's an odd bug, but a longstanding one.

  7. Blackjack Silver badge

    Computers and laptops have powerful enough hardware. Smartphones are either too crappy to run webapps or powerful enough is better to install the App version because the Internet will go down.

  8. Tail Up
    Happy

    Fancy one still does care

    As long as even the apps for trading are server-based, why still worrying for 3-letter agencies patriotting out one's lab data with its browser-based addons?

    I see. Must be not a trader. That explains why one's brain muscle is not being under anaesthesia, and one's neck joint is radarring the changes going on around, in a proper manner.

    TY somebody for the on-the-fly downvoting. I didn't even finished the post, but thumb up was already mine bgg

  9. Matt Black

    Basic compatibility with Office (my reality)

    Until I can generate/read basic Word and Excel using Libre Office without significant format errors... I am locked to MS. I don't like that but it's true... This is therefore mainly irrelevant to me.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Matt Black - Re: Basic compatibility with Office (my reality)

      YMMV

      In LO I can open documents written in old unsupported versions of MS Office without signifficant format errors. To me that is mainly relevant but the discussion here has nothing to do with Microsoft Office. We were talking about online versus offline LO. Please stay with us here.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "a smartphone today is more powerful than a typical PC back in the '90s"

    Undoubtedly.

    It's limited to a pathetic screen size though, so the PC still wins in functionality and ease of use.

    Besides, do you really think people are going to be typing 150-page documents on a smartphone ?

    1. quxinot Silver badge

      Re: "a smartphone today is more powerful than a typical PC back in the '90s"

      More importantly, smartphones today are rather pathetically slow for having as much computing power as they do.

      The software is craaaaaap. Sadly, that's where the industry has been going.... and going... and..

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: "a smartphone today is more powerful than a typical PC back in the '90s"

        Crap... That's very very polite. The folk developing it need to make themselves known as i have some bon medical implants for them

    2. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: "a smartphone today is more powerful than a typical PC back in the '90s"

      Well don't try a Nokia with Android one that may have specs beyond a 90s pc but it is so full of problems it would take a week to type even on a keyboard that works (following the latest update the keyboard on the Nokia is good for about 5 chars between lockups, down from the 8 to 10 before. And it has yet to receive a phone call where both sides can hear each other.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Then we're doomed

    Nothing that relies on firefox works longer than a few weeks because they can't stop tinkering.

    Excel was successful because it had continuity and, apart from the usual Microsoft bugs could always be relied on to work. Libreoffice were supposed to be providing office apps for businesses - like Firefox they obviously have a death wish.

    They obviously want to follow our favourite open source software provide - Adobe - and will shortly be moving to a subscription cloud-based model soon.

  12. bazza Silver badge

    The nuts thing about WebASM becoming something of a defacto standard is that, eventually, someone will do a CPU that uses WebASM for its instruction set, or as an extension of it. And then where will we be?

    This has happened before with Java (Sun, ARM both did chips that understood Java byte code).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      WASM already is a web standard.

      https://www.w3.org/2019/12/pressrelease-wasm-rec.html.en

      Best example I have seen of WASM is autocad running in a browser.

  13. bazza Silver badge

    WebASM Bomb?

    So, has anyone done a web browser that is itself compiled to WebASM? If that browser had itself as its default home page, that could make for a very recursive loading experience...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ...all this technology discussion misses the point......

    ......namely......the quality of the WRITTEN PRODUCT hasn't changed since the quill pen and inkpot!!!!!

    Oh yes.....it might be PRETTIER.....fancy fonts, footnotes, bullets, indents, page numbers......etc.........etc.....................

    ............but the CONTENT still no better than what I wrote with Wordstar on my Osborne and CP/M-80 running in 64K of 8-bit memory...........

    Progress? Well.............progress for anoraks, but no progress for anyone else!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Elledan Silver badge
    Meh

    This is where the industry is heading, just like in the 90s

    Anyone remember Java? Software would no longer be bound to the shackles of a singular OS, but could run freely within the alternative reality of the Java Runtime Environment. Java would run on desktops, on servers, mobile devices (J2EE, anyone?) and in browsers (Java Applets).

    Of course, Applets got universally canned as an inefficient use of resources and a blatant security risk. Now, with WASM it's easy to say that 'but it runs inside a sandbox', which is true, and yes, it is more efficient than JavaScript. Unfortunately, WASM's sandbox has a big missing side wall in the form of the JavaScript runtime, which has been blasted open over the years in the form of JIT performance enhancements and APIs like Canvas and WebGL.

    So basically WASM and as a corollary LibreOffice-In-The-Browser is basically the whole Java Applets debacle, rehashed. I guess learning from history still isn't a popular pastime.

    1. dajames Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: This is where the industry is heading, just like in the 90s

      ... mobile devices (J2EE, anyone?) ...

      Mobile devices? That'd be J2ME, then?

      Brilliant Idea that was ... Hey let's make a cut-down version of Java whose runtime will fit on a mobile phone ... in, say, 32k! We'll leave out floating point, because that's always the first thing people leave out, and ... I know, security, that's a big chunk of stuff.

      Yeah, good idea ... nobody could ever need security on a mobile device!

      1. Elledan Silver badge

        Re: This is where the industry is heading, just like in the 90s

        Ah yes, all those years of server-side Java development must have affected my faculties :)

        I have never had the pleasure of developing with J2ME, but I heard some stories of all the fun one could have with it. Presumably it ended up being mostly used to implement some basic games and utilities with on feature phones and that was about it.

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: This is where the industry is heading, just like in the 90s

      Java may have been an early attempt to solve the same issues but it didn't have the built-in browser support or standards to pull it off seamlessly. e,g, a Java Applet was basically responsible for rendering its allocated box of space in the browser making it look ugly and out of place since it didn't share styles, the rendering context or stuff like Z-order, transparency etc.

      WebAssembly use the DOM for stuff like rendering and is implemented in the browser. It means the user has NO IDEA that the website is using wasm or js or a combination of both. For developers it means they can use any language or technology that can emit wasm bytecode which opens up a ton of possibilities. You'd think people would rejoice given how much of a problem JavaScript has become but apparently not.

      1. Elledan Silver badge

        Re: This is where the industry is heading, just like in the 90s

        WASM at this point is basically a way to speed up JavaScript, as all contact with the outside world for a WASM application goes via the JS runtime.

        It's really more of an admission that JavaScript is too slow to be usable rather than a way to run arbitrary code written in any language in a browser. The latter is more a consequence of the former.

        It's also really questionable whether the HTML DOM is at all a good framework to build a UI in. Many voices say it is not, and we may end up with UIs being rendered in WebGL inside a Canvas at some point. At which point I'm not sure why one didn't just use C++ with GTK+ or Qt and compile it for a few different platforms.

  16. St33v
    Megaphone

    vim ftw

    and R for 'calc's.

    :wq

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021