Just a quick update to my last post on getting Calc’s border line situation sorted out.
As of last post, the border lines were pretty in good shape as far as printing to paper, but it was still less than satisfactory when rendered on screen. Lines looked generally fatter and the dashes line were unevenly positioned. I had some ideas that I wanted to try out in order to make the border lines look prettier on screen. So I went ahead and spent a few extra days to give that a try, and I’m happy to report that that effort paid off.
To recap, this is what the border lines looked like as of last Friday.
and this is what they look like now:
The lines are skinnier, which in my opinion make them look slicker, and the dashes lines are now evenly spaced and look much better.
I spent this past week on investigating a collection of various problems surrounding how Calc draws cell borders. The problem is very hard to define and can become very subjective depending on who you talk to. Having said that, if you ever imported an Excel document that makes elaborate use of cell borders into Calc, you may often have seen that the borders were printed somewhat differently than what you would have expected.
When you open this document in Calc and print it, you probably get something like this:
You’ll immediately notice that some of the lines (hair, dashed and double lines to be precise) are not printed at all! Not only that, thin, medium and thick lines are a little skinner than those of Excel’s, the dotted line is barely visible, the medium dashed line looks a lot different, and the rest of the dashed lines all became solid lines.
Therefore, it was time for action.
I’ll spare you the details, but the good news is that after spending a week in various parts of the code base, I’ve been able to fix most of the major issues. Here is what Calc prints now using the build from the latest master branch:
There are still some minor discrepancies from Excel’s borders, such as the double line being a bit too thinner, the dotted line being not as dense as Excel’s etc. But I consider this a step in the right direction. The dashed and medium dashed lines look much better to my eye, and the thicknesses of these lines are more comparable to Excel’s.
The dash-dot and dash-dot-dot lines still become solid lines since we don’t yet support those line types, but that can be worked on at a later time.
So, this is all good, right?
Not quite. One of the reasons why the cell borders became such a big issue was that we previously focused too much on getting them to display correctly on screen. Unfortunately, the resolution of a typical PC monitor is not high enough to accurately depict the content of your document, so what you see on screen is a pixelized approximation of the actual content. When printing to a paper, on the other hand, the content gets depicted much more accurately simply because you get much higher resolution when printing.
I’ll give you a side-by-side comparison of how the content of the same document gets displayed in Excel (2010), Calc 4.2 (before my change), and Calc master (with my change) all at 100% zoom level.
First up is Excel:
The lines all look correct, unsurprisingly. One thing to note is that when displaying Excel approximates a hairline with a very thin, densely dotted line to differentiate it from a thin line both of which are one pixel high. But make no mistake; hairline by definition is a solid line. This is just a trick Excel employs in order to make the hairline look thinner than the thin line counterpart.
Then comes Calc as of 4.2 (before my change):
The hairline became a finely-dashed line both on display and in internal representation. Aside from that, both dashed and medium dashed lines look a bit too far apart. Also, the double line looks very much single. In terms of the line thicknesses, however, they do look very much comparable to Excel’s. Let me also remind you that Excel’s dash-dot and dash-dot-dot lines currently become solid lines in Calc because we don’t support these line types yet.
Now here is what Calc displays after my change:
The hair line is a solid line since we don’t use the same hair line trick that Excel uses. The dotted and dashes lines look much denser and in my opinion look better. The double line is now really double. The line thicknesses, however, are a bit off even though they are internally more comparable to Excel’s (as you saw in the printout above). This is due to the loss of precision during rasterization of the border lines, and for some reason they get fatter. We previosly tried to “fix” this by making the lines thinner internally, but that was a wrong approach since that also made the lines thinner even when printed, which was not a good thing. So, for now, this is a compromise we’ll have to live with.
But is there really nothing we can do about this? Well, we could try to apply some correction to make the lines look thinner on screen, and on screen only. I have some ideas how we may be able to achieve that, and I might give that a try during my next visit.
That, and we should also support those missing dash-dot, and dash-dot-dot line types at some point.
Here is the slides for my talk at the LibreOffice conference in Milan, Italy.
I did spend several slides with code examples in an attempt to explain how to use multi_type_vector in a performance-sensitive way. I realize it was not easy to digest all of that with my talk alone, so hopefully these slides will help you review it a bit for those of you who need it.
I will try to find some time to write separate blog articles to cover this topic properly.
Here is another performance improvement that just landed on master.
It was brought to our attention that the performance of saving documents to ODF spreadsheet format had been degrading quite noticeably. This was especially true when the document contained lots of what we call rich text cells. Rich text cells are those cells that contain text with mixed format spans, or text that consists of multiple lines. These cells are handled differently from simple strings internally, and have slightly more overhead than the simple string counterparts. Because of this, saving a document full of such texts was always slower than saving one with just numbers and simple strings.
However, even with this unavoidable overhead, the performance of saving rich text cells was clearly going in the wrong direction. Therefore it was time to act.
Long story short, after many days of code reading and writing, I brought it to a state where I can share some numbers.
Measuring export performance
I measured the performance of exporting rich text cells in the following steps.
Create a new spreadsheet document.
Type in cell A1 3 lines of ‘libreoffice’. Here, you can hit Ctrl-Enter to move to the next line within the same cell.
Copy A1, select A1:N1000 and paste, to replicate the content of A1 to all cells in the range.
Save the document as ODF spreadsheet document, and measure its duration.
I performed the above measurement with 3.5, 3.6, 4.0, 4.1, and the latest master (slated to become 4.2) builds, and these are the numbers.
It is clear from this chart that the performance started to suffer first in version 3.6, then gradually worsened over 4.0 and 4.1. The good news is that we have managed to bring the number back down in the master build, even lower than that of 3.5 which I used as the point of reference. Not just slightly lower, but much, much lower.
I don’t know about you, but I’m quite happy with this result.
This week I have finally finished implementing a true shared formula framework in Calc core which allows Calc to share token array instances between adjacent formula cells if they contain identical set of formula tokens. Since one of the major benefits of sharing formula token arrays is reduced memory footprint, I decided to measure the trend in Calc’s memory usages since 4.0 all the way up to the latest master, to see how much impact this shared formula work has made in Calc’s overall memory footprint.
Here is the test document I used to measure Calc’s memory usage
This ODF spreadsheet document contains 100000 rows of cells in 4 columns of which 399999 are formula cells. Column A contains a series of integers that grow linearly down the column. Here, only the first cell (A1) is a numeric cell while the rest are all formula cells that reference their respective immediate upper cell. Cells in Column B all reference their immediate left in Column A, cells in Column C all reference their immediate left in Column B, and so on. References used in this document are all relative references; no absolute references are used.
I’ve tested a total of 4 builds. One is the 4.0.1 build packaged for openSUSE 11.4 (x64) from the openSUSE repository, one is the 4.0.6 build built from the 4.0 branch, one is the 4.1.1 build built from the 4.1 branch, and the last one is the latest from the master branch. With the exception of the packaged 4.0.1 build, all builds are built locally on my machine running openSUSE 11.4 (x64). Also on the master build, I’ve tested memory usage both with and without shared formulas.
In each tested build, the memory usage was measured by directly opening the test document from the command line and recording the virtual memory usage in GNOME system monitor. After the document was loaded, I allowed for the virtual memory reading to stabilize by waiting several seconds before recording the number. The results are presented graphically in the following chart.
The following table shows the actual numbers recorded.
4.0.1 (packaged by openSUSE)
master (no shared formula)
master (shared formula)
Additionally, I’ve also measured the number of token array instances between the two master builds (one with shared formula and one without), and the build without shared formula created 399999 token array instances (exactly 4 x 100000 – 1) upon file load, whereas the build with shared formula created only 4 token array instances. This likely accounts for the difference of 78.3 MiB in virtual memory usage between the two builds.
Effect of cell storage rework
One thing worth noting here is that, even without shared formulas, the numbers clearly show a steady decline of Calc’s memory usage from 4.0 to 4.1, and to the current master. While we can’t clearly infer from these numbers alone what caused the memory usage to shrink, I can say with reasonable confidence that the cell storage rework we did during the same period is a significant factor in such memory footprint shrinkage. I won’t go into the details of the cell storage rework here; I’ll reserve that topic for another blog post.
Oh by the way, I have absolutely no idea why the 4.0.1 build packaged from the openSUSE repository shows such high memory usage. To me this looks more like an anomaly, indicative of earlier memory leaks we had later fixed, different custom allocator that only the distro packaged version uses that favors large up-front memory allocation, or anything else I haven’t thought of. Either way, I’m not counting this as something that resulted from any of our improvements we did in Calc core.
Last week was SUSE’s Hack Week – an event my employer does periodically to allow us – hard working engineers – to go wild with our wildest ideas and execute them in one week. Just like what I did at my last Hack Week event, I decided to work on integration of Orcus library into LibreOffice once again, to pick up on what I’d left off from my previous integration work.
Prior to Hack Week, orcus was already partially integrated; it was used to provide the backend functionality for Calc’s XML Source feature, and experimental support for Gnumeric file import. The XML Source side was pretty well integrated, but the normal file import side was only partially integrated. Lots of essential pieces were still missing, the largest of which were
support for multiple filters from a single external filter provider source (such as orcus),
progress indicator in the status bar, and
proper type detection by analyzing file content rather than its extension (which we call “deep detection”).
In short, I was able to complete the first two pieces during Hack Week, while the last item still has yet to be worked on. Aside from this, there are still more minor pieces missing, but perhaps I can work on the remaining bits during the next Hack Week.
Enabling orcus in your build
If you have a recent enough build from the master branch of the LibreOffice repository, you can enable imports via orcus library by
checking the Enable experimental features box in the Options dialog, and
setting the environment variable LIBO_USE_ORCUS to YES before launching Calc.
This will overwrite the stock import filters for ODS, XLSX and CSV. At present, orcus only performs file extension based detection rather than content based one, so be mindful of this when you try this on your machine. To go back to the current import filters, simply disable experimental features, or unset the environment variable.
Note that I’ve added this bits to showcase a preview of what orcus can potentially do as a future import filter framework. As such, never use this in production if you want stable file loading experience, or don’t file bugs against this. We are not ready for that yet. Orcus filters are still missing lots and lots of features.
This is perhaps the most interesting part. I wanted to do a quick performance comparison and see how this orcus filter stands up against the current filter. Given the orcus filter is still only capable of importing raw cell values and not any other features or properties (not even cell formats), I’ve used this test file which only consists of raw text and numeric values in a 8-by-300000 range, to measure the load times that are as fair and representative as I could make them. Here is the result on my machine running openSUSE 11.4:
The current filter, which has undergone its set of performance optimizations on raw cell values, still spends upwards of 50 seconds. Given that it used to take minutes to load this file, it’s still an improvement.
The orcus filter, on the other hand, combined with the heavily optimized load handler in Calc core that I put in place during Hack Week, can load the same file in 4.5 seconds. I would say that is pretty impressive.
I also measured the load time on the same file using Excel 2007, on the same machine running on top of wine, and the result was 7.5 seconds. While running an Windows app via wine emulation layer may incur some performance cost, this page suggests that it should not be noticeable, if any. And my own experience of running various versions of Excel via wine backs up that argument. So this number should be fairly representative of Excel’s native performance on the same hardware.
Considering that my ultimate goal with orcus is to beat Excel on performance on loading its own files (or at least not be slower than Excel), I would say we are making good progress toward that goal.
That’s all for today. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Ok. I’m actually a bit late on this announcement since 10 days have already passed since the actual release of 0.7.1. Anyhow, I will hereby announce that version 0.7.1 of Multi-Dimensional Data Structure (mdds) is out, which contains several critical bug fixes over the previous 0.7.0 release. You can download the source package from here:
0.7.1 fixes several bugs in the set_empty() method of multi_type_vector. In the previous versions, the set_empty() method would fail to merge two adjacent empty blocks into a single block, which violated the basic requirement of multi_type_vector that it never allows two adjacent blocks of identical type. This caused other parts of multi_type_vector to fail as a result.
There are no API-incompatible changes since version 0.7.0. I highly recommend you update to 0.7.1 if you make heavy use of multi_type_vector and still use any versions older than 0.7.1.
Normally I don’t travel to Japan just to visit OSC mainly because of the distance; being located in the East Coast of the United States, it’s a big hassle to fly to Japan, not to mention the cost. Despite this, I wanted to visit this particular OSC primarily for two reasons.
The LibreOffice Japanese team had organized a separate track just for LibreOffice related talks, and I wanted to come and see face-to-face the people who are involved in our project in Japan in various capacities, and learn the latest on what’s going in the Japanese community.
There was one difficulty, however. Because I only had one week to arrange the travel (I got the email only a week before the scheduled ceremony date) I could not guarantee my arrival until the very last minute. Luckily everything went smoothly and I was able to book my flight and reserve my hotel despite the short notice.
This is actually my second time coming to this event. My first visit was in 2010. I was planning my trip to Tokyo to attend a different, work-related meeting. Then I learned about OSC Tokyo 2010 which was scheduled only one day after the meeting was scheduled to end, so I decided to extend my stay in Tokyo for just one more day to visit OSC. OSC 2010 was also held at Meisei University, so at least I didn’t have to research on how to get the conference venue this time.
Once on campus, there were signs all around the place that would take you to the building where the conference was held. Outside the venue, the campus was pretty quiet, and I didn’t see very many students.
No conferences are complete without booths. Various projects set up booths to greet the visitors, to distribute fliers and CD/DVD’s, and to inform them of what’s new in the projects. Volunteers from the LibreOffice Japanese team manned our booth throughout the conference. We distributed version 4.0 feature fliers, installer CD’s, T-shirts, stickers and flags.
Also present was the openSUSE project booth. Fuminobu Takeyama was single-handedly manning the booth when I dropped by on Friday. He is a volunteer in the openSUSE project who also manages several packages for Japanese locales. We briefly talked about some issues with Japanese input method in LibreOffice, and how some folks work around it by forcing the GTK VCL backend even if LibreOffice is launched in the KDE environment (because the input method code in the GTK VCL backend is more reliable than that in the KDE VCL). He said he is very much hoping to someday find time to look into LibreOffice code, to solve various Japanese-related issues that are still outstanding in the latest release.
OSS Contributor’s Award
The ceremony for the OSS Contributor’s Awards was held on Friday evening. The OSS Contributor’s Awards are given to
“those who have created or managed an influential development project and to developers who have played an important role in a global project or those who have contributed to the promotion of related activities.” (quoted from this slide)
The candidates are nominated publicly, and the winners are selected by the Awards Committee. They select four winners and nine incentive award winners each year, and I was fortunate enough to have been selected as one of the four award winners this year.
The ceremony was held in a separate, moderately-sized lecture room right next to the booth areas, and was very well attended. Out of four winners, two of us were present to receive the awards: Tetsuo Handa and myself. We each gave a brief 10-minutes talk afterward, outlining our current activities and our future plans.
Handa-san is a well known Linux kernel hacker and he is leading the development of a kernel security module known as TOMOYO Linux. We briefly chatted after the ceremony, and he hinted that he may get a chance to hack on LibreOffice in the distant future (and I encouraged him!) So, let’s keep his name in the back of our mind, and hope we can see him in our project someday. ;-)
You can find two press articles on this here and here. The official announcement from the OSS Forum is here.
I spent the second day of the conference mostly in the LibreOffice mini-Conference track. According to Naruhiko-san, this is our first ever track dedicated to LibreOffice (and hopefully won’t be the last) held in Japan. We were able to rent a pretty large lecture room for the whole day to host this mini-Conference. Despite the large size, the room was moderately attended.
The first talk was by Miyoshi Ohmori, and his talk was about the company-wide migration from OpenOffice.org to LibreOffice at NTT Comware. In his talk, he shared the challenges he faced during the migration and ways to solve them.
Next up was a talk by Shinji Enoki covering new features in LibreOffice 4.0. He covered all aspects of new features in 4.0, from Firefox Personas support, to Calc’s import filter performance improvement, and everything in-between. His talk was followed by Naruhiko Ogasawara who shared his experience with his trip to the 2nd LibreOffice Conference in Berlin, how he decided to join the LibreOffice community, and how he decided to submit paper for the conference and eventually travel there. During his talk, Ogasawara-san played the video message from Italo that was created specifically for the Japanese audience.
If you thought Enoki-san and Ogasawara-san looked familiar, it was because they came to the Berlin conference to co-present a talk on the topic of the non-English locale communities. The slide for their talk during the Berlin conference is found here. Enoki-san later traveled to Prague with me and the rest of SUSE’ers, to meet with Petr Mladek to learn more about the current QA activities. (Petr couldn’t make it to Berlin due to illness). Anyway, back to the mini-Conf…
The last talk before the lunch break was by Masaki Tamakoshi. In his talk, he presented a good extension to use to add AutoCAD-like functionality to Draw to make Draw easier and more familiar to use for former (or current) AutoCAD users. He also talked about how to convert AutoCAD’s proprietary dwg files to make them loadable into Draw, and how to create playable animation files from Impress slides, using external tools.
After the lunch break, Jun Meguro kickstarted the afternoon session with his talk on how to make effective use of Draw to create professional posters. His organization – City of Aizuwakamatsu – is in fact one of the first organizations in Japan that made a large scale adoption of OpenOffice.org when such a move was still not very common, and instantly became the poster child of OpenOffice.org adoption. They had later moved on to LibreOffice, and Meguro-san continues to contribute to the LibreOffice project as a member of the Japanese language team.
In his talk, he emphasized the usefulness of Draw – the application that may not have received the attention and praise it deserves, and how Draw can be used to create professional posters and fliers without purchasing expensive and proprietary alternatives. He also hinted during his talk that, these days, they can send ODF documents to other local government offices without first converting them to MS Office or PDF formats. This was first revealed when he accidentally sent off a native Draw document (odg) without converting it to PDF, and later received a phone call from the recipient of the document to discuss about the details of the drawing! Although this is an isolated incident, an anecdote like this may suggest that the actual rate of ODF adoption may well be higher than we may have expected.
In the next talk, Masahisa Kamataki talked about how to make use of FLOSS office suites such as LibreOffice, combined with non-FLOSS but free as in beer cloud services such as SkyDrive and Google Drive to reduce operation costs. He mentioned that all of this was made possible thanks to the international standard ODF which many major cloud services also support these days. He also demonstrated the level of ODF compatibilities between these cloud services.
Next up was Ikuya Awashiro. He talked about the specifics of LibreOffice Japanese localization effort. As someone who coordinates the Japanese translation of LibreOffice UI strings, he knows the in’s and out’s of LibreOffice translation which he covered extensively in his talk. He also talked about the detailed history of the translation in this code base, dating back to the old OpenOffice.org days, and how he learned what not to do in order to successfully coordinate the current community-based translation effort in our project.
I should also mention that, of all the presenters we had during this track (including myself), he was the only presenter who used the Impress Remote feature!
Makoto Takizawa concluded the afternoon session with his ODF PlugFest talk which also happened to be the very last talk in the whole LibreOffice track.
He started off his talk with the basics of ODF, including its standardization history, and went on to talk about various ODF-supporting applications and how each of these apps fares on interoperability test. During his talk he noted that, although in theory the use of ODF ensures seamless interoperability between different supporting applications, in reality there are still some nasty corner cases where different ODF producers interpret ODF differently.
Toward the end of his talk, he performed a live ODF spreadsheet scenario test using Calligra, Gnumeric, SkyDrive and LibreOffice, to test in real life the level of ODF conformance in these spreadsheet applications. In this particular scenario, Calligra, Gnumeric and SkyDrive actually scored higher than LibreOffice. He concluded his talk by pointing out the importance of the ODF user community assessing the conformance level of each ODF-supporting application, and actively giving feedback to the developer community to improve ODF interoperability between the supporting applications.
Lastly, while I was not officially on the list of speakers in this track, I managed to squeeze my talk during the lunch break, to briefly talk about various random development topics. Please refer to my earlier post to get a hold of the slide for my talk. Unfortunately I had to cut it short to give people enough time to eat lunch, but it sort of worked out since I didn’t have much time to prepare my talk to begin with! ;-)
All in all, I believe this was a quite successful LibreOffice track. We were able to see each other face-to-face which is not very easy to do given how widespread we are geographically. That is true even for those inside Japan, and more so for me. It was unfortunate that Takeshi Abe couldn’t make it for this event. Perhaps we should plan another conference during OSC Okinawa so that we get to see him again.
This was actually my very first time to participate in OSC Japan as a speaker, and mingle with so many people from various sectors of the Japanese market. I spoke to quite a lot of people in various capacities during the conference, and I was pleasantly surprised with the level of interest that they have toward LibreOffice. Various local governments are aggressively considering a switch to LibreOffice, with Aizuwakamatsu City and JA Fukuoka leading the way. Though the uptake of LibreOffice among Japanese corporations are still slow, Sumitomo Electric has recently announced their adoption of LibreOffice, so others who are still hesitating to switch may eventually follow suit. I also chatted with someone from a local school district working very hard to realize a district-wide adoption of LibreOffice, which suggests that people in the education sector also see value in adopting LibreOffice.
On the other side of the fence, however, we have yet to attract a healthy dose of developers toward LibreOffice from the Japanese developer community. It is my impression that Japan has a sizable Linux kernel developer community, and in fact, many of the participants at OSC Tokyo were kernel hackers. So, whatever reason they may have for not participating in the LibreOffice development, it’s not because of lack of talents and expertize; they are there, contributing to other projects. At the same time, I also saw lots of interest in hacking on LibreOffice from various people. So, the interest is there; what they just need is a means and justification to work on LibreOffice.
While chatting with Ogawa-san from Ashisuto, who provides paid support for LibreOffice, it is apparent that we are not very far from seeing companies emerging who are very eager to find developers to work on LibreOffice. It is therefore my hope that, by increasing the level of LibreOffice adoption amongst users, the level of interest in participating the development of LibreOffice among support vendors will increase proportionally as a result. And my own impression from participating in OSC Tokyo fills me with optimism in this regard.
This is saved as a hybrid PDF; you can view it in your regular PDF viewer (such as Evince and Adobe PDF viewer), or you can open it in Impress to edit it as a normal Impress document. Use this one in case you need it as a pure Impress document.
And the second one is for the talk I did during the LibreOffice mini-Conference on Saturday.
Like the 1st one, this one is also a hybrid PDF. The regular odp version is available here.
I will write more about OSC Tokyo and especially about the LibreOffice mini-Conference in a separate blog. Stay tuned.