Ready for a new Google Docs alternative? Meet open source OX Documents

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As the free trial period for Microsoft Office 2013 draws to a close, it's a pretty safe bet that more users than ever are thinking long and hard about whether or not to buy or subscribe.

There's no doubt competitors such as the open source LibreOffice and the browser-based Google Docs offer compelling alternatives, but soon there will be yet another contender to consider.

Unveiled on Wednesday by Open-Xchange, OX Documents will be a productivity suite that's both open source  and browser-based, thus combining a bit of each of those leading alternatives.

'Non-destructive' support

OX Documents will eventually be a cloud-based office productivity suite, and it's due to be fully complete and full-featured later this year. For now, though, Open-Xchange is focusing first on OX Text, its in-browser word processing component.

OX Text offers direct editing capabilities for both Microsoft Word .docx files and OpenOffice or LibreOffice .odt files, but there's also viewing support for all major file formats. Billed by Open-Xchange as a “pioneering feature” of OX Text is what it calls the software's “non-destructive” support of Microsoft Office and OpenOffice or LibreOffice file formats.

“XML-based documents can be seamlessly read, edited, and saved back to the original format at a level of quality and fidelity previously unavailable with browser-based text editors,” the group explains.

Multiple users can also view and edit the same document in real time using OX Text, allowing for structured collaboration.

'Formatted as originally intended'

OX Text was actually developed by members of the original OpenOffice development team, Open-Xchange says, with the goal of creating a cloud-based office suite from scratch using state-of-the-art HTML5 and JavaScript technology.


“A crucial factor in the development of OX Text was not to introduce yet another proprietary file format to further add to the productivity compatibility jungle,” explained Open-Xchange CEO Rafael Laguna. “Existing cloud-based tools insist that you adopt their format before you can begin the edit process that creates ugly conversion artifacts, putting a brake on fast adoption of collaboration in the cloud.”

The software also keeps original document formats by “not attempting to alter or convert non-compatible native formatting features,” Laguna added. So, when you reopen a document in Microsoft Word, “it is formatted as originally intended, without any alterations.”

Roughly 80 percent of a Word document's elements can be edited by OX Text, according to a NetworkWorld report, but 100 percent of the document survives with its formatting preserved.

A preview version now available

OX Text will be available in early April under a GNU General Public License 2 and Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License, as well as under commercial licenses that offer support-based subscriptions to telecom and mobile carriers, hosting companies, cloud providers, and others, Open-Xchange says.

It will be available both separately and as an extension of Open-Xchange's existing OX App Suite. Later in 2013 we'll see the arrival of presentation and spreadsheet components. In the meantime, you can check out a preview version of OX Text online.

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