When I first joined the KDE party, I was using Blackbox (and eventually due to my KDE involvement got to meet Brad Hughes, author of Blackbox :) and the only KDE app I used was KMail. KDE hacking was at first just a fun way to pass the time during some lull moments in my life. That seems like .. quite a while ago now. :) Even back then, KOffice was around.
When it started there was no other F/OSS office suite. Today, there is OpenOffice which "rules the roost" and then some office document apps like AbiWord (which is doing some rather cool things on the collaboration front). KOffice is the only other "suite", however, by which I mean it is a collection of applications that shares a strong identity through shared technology and design.
Even though KOffice 2 was recently released and has some really great ideas at its heart, it still plays to a bit role part in things. This is pretty unusual for a set of KDE applications that has been around as long as KOffice has been. Usually KDE applications post really good to very strong showings among F/OSS users. What has held it back? A few things, prime amongst them high fidelity support for Microsoft Office formats and a lack of effective promotion.
KOffice has always had a relatively small team, but it's been a gutsy and productive one. The team has been growing lately, though. There is a consulting company doing KOffice work now and they are slowly building up paid developers. Nokia has been working with pieces of KOffice for a document viewer for Maemo, which is great news for the MS Office compatibility front. KOffice people recently had a successful developer sprint and have moved to a use case centric development strategy. Even the icons are turning all Oxygen glory thanks to Pinheiro and the Oxygen Icon Cohortory. (yes, I just made that word up. ;) So things are growing and KOffice is on its best footing since I've been around.
I also think that the promotion of KOffice is getting aligned nicely. First off, KOffice is more than just a set of word, presentation and spreadsheet apps. It's also Krita, which is turning into one of the best image editors in the F/OSS market, and Kexi, a great database application creator. Both are very solid tools, and Kexi helped blaze trails for KDE on MS Windows. Other apps like KPlato for project management also exist. The promotion of KOffice as a development library for these kinds of applications plus a nice set of "not just office docs" apps is starting to come around.
Ok, fair enough. So why did KOffice make my list of Key Quests for 2010? I think 2010 is going to be a pivotal year, one way or the other, for KOffice and if it goes well it can rise the tide for all of KDE.
If KOffice can plant a flag on Maemo and other similar platforms, even if it is "just" the document display parts (and not the full word processing or other apps in all their UI splendor), this will be an important step forward for KDE in the device spectrum effort.
If KOffice can stabilize the key apps and continue to grow the contribution community around it, the lightweight, integrated, featurful and "good times UI" feel they have developed could propel them into a contender alongside OpenOffice. This is so critical because OpenOffice is not the most healthy of projects, and hasn't been for some time. It's not dead nor is it dieing (nor do I want it to), but it isn't exactly springing forth with life and the code base isn't exactly the most manageable thing in the world either. F/OSS would be much better off with a nimble, highly useful set of Office apps that can play back-up to (or even first fiddle eventually with) OpenOffice. It gives us more eggs in our basket and fewer single points of failure.
For KDE, it would give us a very compelling increase in our proposal to the world if we have a good office suite (and all those other crunchy happy apps, too) that (eventually could) have hooks into things like Nepomuk and Akonadi (share-what?), that start up quickly and which get the job done.
By the end of this year, I think we'll have a very clear indication of whether KOffice will be on its way to that summit or whether it will be another 10 years like the last 10. I like the energy in the project right now and the way they are going about things, and given what's at stake here, it easily made my list this year.
(This article is part of the "Key Quests for KDE in 2010" series)