OpenOffice Or LibreOffice? A Star Is Torn

When it comes to open source office suites, most people choose OpenOffice or LibreOffice, and they both look suspiciously similar. That isn’t surprising since they both started with exactly the same code base. However, the LibreOffice team recently penned an open letter to the Apache project — the current keepers of OpenOffice — asking them to redirect new users to the LibreOffice project. Their logic is that OpenOffice has huge name recognition, but hasn’t had a new major release in several years. LibreOffice, on the other hand, is a very active project. We could argue that case either way, but we won’t. But it did get us thinking about how things got here.

It all started when German Marco Börries wrote StarWriter in 1985 for the Zilog Z80. By 1986, he created a company, Star Division, porting the word processor to platforms like CP/M and MSDOS. Eventually, the company added other office suite programs and with support for DOS, OS/2, and Windows, the suite became known as StarOffice.

The program was far less expensive than most competitors, costing about $70, yet in 1999 that price point prompted Sun Microsystems to buy StarOffice. We don’t mean they bought a copy or a license, they bought the entire thing for just under $74 million. The story was that it was still cheaper than buying a license for each Sun employee, particularly since most had both a Windows machine and a Unix machine which still required some capability.

Sun in Charge

Sun provided StarOffice 5.2 in 2000 as a free download for personal use, which gave the software a lot of attention. It eventually released much of the code under an open source license producing OpenOffice. Sun contributed to the project and would periodically snapshot the code to market future versions of StarOffice.

This was the state of affairs for a while. StarOffice 6.0 corresponded to OpenOffice 1.0. In 2003, release 1.1 turned into StarOffice 7. A couple of years later, StarOffice 8/OpenOffice 2.0 appeared and by 2008, we had StarOffice 9 with OpenOffice 3.0 just before Oracle entered the picture.

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Free P2P VPN

People use a VPN — virtual private network — for a lot of reasons. However, for many people it is synonymous with hiding your network traffic, one thing that VPN can do. FreePN is a relatively new open source project that aims to build a free peer-to-peer VPN network. Like TOR, it is decentralized.

Right now, you can download for Ubuntu and Gentoo. There is a way to ask for early access for Debian, Fedora, and Arch. Windows, iOS, MacOS, and Android versions are promised for the future.

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Popcorn Pocket P. C. Open Sourced

If you miss the days you could get an organizer that would — sort of — run Linux, you might be interested in Popcorn computer’s Pocket P. C., which was recently open-sourced on GitHub. Before you jump over to build one, though, there are a few things you should know.

First, the files are untested since the first unit hasn’t shipped yet. In addition, while the schematic looks pretty complete, there’s no actual bill of materials and the PCB layers in the PDF file might not be very easy to replicate, since they are just a series of images, one for each layer. You can see an overview video of the device, below.

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Add Intuitiveness To OpenSCAD With Encoders

The first time I saw 3D modeling and 3D printing used practically was at a hack day event. We printed simple plastic struts to hold a couple of spring-loaded wires apart. Nothing revolutionary as far as parts go but it was the moment I realized the value of a printer.

Since then, I have used OpenSCAD because that is what I saw the first time but the intuitiveness of other programs led me to develop the OpenVectorKB which allowed the ubiquitous vectors in OpenSCAD to be changed at will while keeping the parametric qualities of the program, and even leveraging them.

All three values in a vector, X, Y, and Z, are modified by twisting encoder knobs. The device acts as a keyboard to

  1. select the relevant value
  2. replace it with an updated value
  3. refresh the display
  4. move the cursor back to the starting point

There is no software to install and it runs off a Teensy-LC so reprogramming it for other programs is possible in any program where rotary encoders may be useful. Additional modes include a mouse, arrow keys, Audacity editing controls, and VLC time searching.

Here’s an article in favor of OpenSCAD and here’s one against it. This article does a good job of explaining OpenSCAD.

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RooBee One, An Open-source SLA/DLP 3D Printer

[Aldric Negrier] is no stranger to the 3D printing world. Having built a few already, he designed and built an SLA/DLP 3D printer, named RooBee One, sharing the plans on Instructables. He also published tons of other stuff, like a 3D Printed Syringe Pump Rack and a 3D Scanning Rig And DIY Turntable. It’s really worth while going through his whole Instructables repository.

This open-source 3D printer was inspired by the Cristelia – SLA/LCD 3d printer and the Vulcanus MAX 3D printer (that he designed). RooBee One has an aluminium frame and an adjustable print area of 80x60x200 mm, with up to 150x105x200mm build volume using an ACER DLP projector. In addition, a fan on top of the printer was added to extract the toxic vapours outside and away from the printer operator. The electronics are based on the Arduino MEGA with the RAMPS 1.4 shield and one NEMA 17 stepper motor. As for the Arduino Mega firmware, [Aldric] choose to use Repetier, which he usually uses in his other printers.

The SLA resin he used is the Standard Blend Resin from Fun to Do Resins. These resins tend to release toxic airborne particles, so extra care should be taken to ventilate the area while printing and also do a proper cleaning afterwards.

You can get a glimpse of the printer making a small gear come to life in the following video:

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Spherebot: Decorating Xmas Baubles


The Spherebot is an open source machine capable of printing designs onto spherical objects, such as Xmas baubles!

The design is based on the ever-popular Egg-Bot, which we have seen derived into many other useful printers such as the Mug Plotter, and the Ping Pong Printer.

The Spherebot features two stepper motors, one servo motor for marker actuation, some cheap mounting hardware, and a whole bunch of 3D printed parts—all of which are available on Thingiverse. In this design they used a 3D printer controller board called the 3Drag by Open-Electronics, which is based on the ATmega2560 (the same microcontroller as the Arduino MEGA). The Spherebot doesn’t require all three axes or an extruder, so they only installed 2 out of the 4 stepper drivers on the board to save cost.

Once you have it all built, it’s a simple matter of uploading your design into the free Spherebot-Host-GUI provided on GitHub. Stick around after the break to see just what it is capable of!

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Bristle Bot Controversy


When the Bristlebots were released back in 2007 by Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, we all thought they were pretty cool. Apparently someone at Klutz did too. They have released a book, with the title “Invasion of the BristleBots”. The bots seem to be identical and the name is identical. There is no mention of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories anywhere in it. [Phillip Torrone] has attempted to contact Klutz and the book publisher Scholastic directly to find out more information.

[Windell] and [Lenore] from EMSL had this to say:

“This is the first that I’ve heard of it. Frankly, I am a bit offended. Klutz makes some nice things, and I’m surprised that they wouldn’t have contacted us, asked permission, or at least given us credit. (Locomotion by ratcheting bristles isn’t remotely new — it occurs in nature — but the name ‘Bristlebot’ is surely ours, and I don’t know of any prior implementation with a toothbrush.)”

You probably know EMSL from their other projects such as the Peggy and Meggy jr. How would you feel if a project you did was published without credit? Would you care or not?