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Linux for Lawyers, Part 2
Friday, July 08 2005 @ 09:33 PM EDT

I mentioned to you earlier that I have in my heart the dream to do a Knoppix CD just for lawyers, to show them how GNU/Linux can work for them, and I told you that there were some important missing pieces. Marbux has been busy compiling a list of what would be needed, which we'll share with you when it's done. As I told you, the biggest missing piece is WordPerfect®, because it does things law firms need.

Today, I heard the exciting news from Marbux, who noticed it on the dev@wp.openoffice.org list, that OpenOffice 2.0 now can be used to open and read WordPerfect files. You can see the WordPerfect filter listed as a feature on OOo's website. Another new feature is the support of digital signatures, which is something else of interest to lawyers. And OpenOffice.org now supports the same number of rows in spreadsheet documents as Microsoft Excel, so that should solve interoperability issues. "The new version now takes OpenOffice.org to the same level as Microsoft Excel."

When I first heard the news about WordPerfect, I wrote to Daniel Carrera to ask him if it was true, and he replied:

Yes :-)

Truth in advertising:

- This is 2.0 (betas available), not 1.x.
- This is import only, not export.

For 1.x users we have a command-line program 'wpd2sxw' and a plugin (which apparently is hard to install).

http://wp.openoffice.org/filter.html
http://libwpd.sourceforge.net/

So one missing piece is now only half missing. By the way, if you are a lawyer who is not familiar yet with the command line in GNU/Linux, here's a how to from LinuxCommand.org to get you off the ground. It also explains very nicely why sometimes you need more than just your mouse.

The missing half, then, is that you can't export Word Perfect documents. Of course, lawyers will want or need to be able to write WP documents, too, not just read them. For example, if another law firm sends them a contract in WP, they read it, yes, but they also want to write any changes in the document and send it back. I so hope someone can make that happen.

Here's the OOo page on the project, and here's a bit of the information there:

What's been done so far?

A library, libwpd, has been written that maps WordPerfect's stream-based file format to a structured document representation (such as OpenOffice.org's XML file format).

Two WordPerfect import filters for OpenOffice.org have been written on top of this library: a standalone filter (which may be run from the command line) called wpd2sxw and an integrated filter component for OpenOffice.org (using the XFilter framework) called writerfilter. Only writerfilter really has any future: wpd2sxw exists more as a temporary solution for people who have some technical knowledge and have an immediate need to have their WordPerfect files converted (or simply want to aid in the development process). Unfortunately, writerfilter is quite difficult to install and is only recommended for the particularly technically adept and/or adventurous. More information on these projects is available on the libwpd website.

What's next?

The short-term goal is to finish the stand-alone WordPerfect import filter (writerfilter) and create packages so it can be easily installed on Windows, Linux, and Solaris.

Long-term, we want to develop a WordPerfect export filter. And, of course, we want our work to be integrated with the overall OpenOffice.org product. . . .

Participation For the time being, development of libwpd, wpd2sxw, and writerfilter is being conducted externally on SourceForge. This may change as work there matures and we start considering the possibility of proper integration with OpenOffice.org. For the time being, please direct all technical discussion (bug reports, compilation problems, offers of development assistance, etc.) to the libwpd-devel mailing list.

I believe that the more lawyers learn about GNU/Linux and learn to love it, the better they will fight for it, when the time comes. You thought SCO was the only vexatious litigant on planet Earth? I don't think so. Daniel Carrera adds:

This would be a great project to contribute to. This library is also used by KOffice and Abiword to open WP files. So, working there benefits everyone. Boy oh boy I wish someone tell the world how great it'd be to contribute to this project... hint hint .

He didn't need to twist my arm, because I'd so love to have this. But if any of you feel you'd rather work on it in connection with another project you know about and I don't, that's fine too. I just know being able to read and write WP files would draw law firms to GNU/Linux. The OOo to-do list also includes the need for features like encryption, or signing, for PDFs, something else lawyers want. The libwpd page tells us: "Note that libwpd is not manufactured, approved, or supported by Corel Corporation or Corel Corporation Limited." I have no idea what that means, but I'm sure the project can inform you of any issues. The page also says this:

libwpd-based import filters have been written for AbiWord (available in AbiWord CVS) and OpenOffice.org Writer (available for download at this site); libwpd forms the basis of KWord's WordPerfect support starting with KOffice 1.4.

Some stand-alone utilities are also available to demonstrate the use of libwpd. There are the conversion utilities wpd2html, wpd2text(included with the main libwpd distribution), and wpd2sxw (available in a seperate package) which convert WordPerfect Documents to html, text, and ooWriter documents respectively.

The OpenPower Project

Speaking of projects, I happened to notice a final paragraph in a press release IBM just put out about their new dual-core version of PowerPC 970FX, PowerPC 970MP "targeted for clients who desire a low-cost, high performance, 64-bit, symmetric multiprocessing (SMP)-capable system in a small package with ranges from 1.4 to 2.5 GHz. The microprocessor also provides power-saving features that system architects can use to dynamically control the system power." I gather the last part means you can turn off power when you are just reading Groklaw:

The frequency and voltage of both cores can be scaled downward to reduce the power during periods of reduced workload. For further power savings, each core can be independently placed in a power-saving state called doze, while the other core continues operation. Finally, one of the cores can be completely de-powered during periods of less stringent performance requirements.

At the end of the release, I noticed something that might interest you:

New Initiatives

At the forum in Tokyo, IBM announced an expansion of an open network of IT professionals and developers within the Linux community, called the OpenPower Project. The initiative gives Linux developers and enthusiasts an opportunity to test POWER5(TM) processor-based OpenPower(TM) servers via the Internet. The effort marks the first time that the Linux community has been able to test the impressive performance of OpenPower systems in an open, collaborative online forum.

The OpenPower Project also hosts a comprehensive set of tools and resources for Linux on Power Architecture(TM) technology. The OpenPower Project can be accessed at www.openpowerproject.org.

Here's the technical forum:
http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/forums/dw_forum.jsp?forum=375&cat=5

They also have a page of Linux resources, so you can quickly find information and documentation. That's where I found the link to the command line how-to.

Have fun playing!

UPDATE:

Sites collecting links to Linux live CD distribution downloads:

Debian Installers

Free Software Magazine - The magic of live CDs

FrozenTech's LiveCD List

Knoppix Customizations - Knoppix

LiveCD - DebianWiki

LiveDistros

LunuxMafia: Knoppix derivatives

LWN Distributions List

Metalist: LinuxMafia, Debian Live CDs


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