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January 7th, 2014

Rollapp’s Online LibreOffice Nearly Ready for Prime Time – But Not Yet

I wanted to be able to tell you that despite rollApp being in beta it’s pretty much ready to go. Unfortunately, I can’t, because it isn’t. There are some limitations that make using the site a deal breaker for most users. When the developers get those worked out, however, rollApp will be ready to be a major player in the world of online apps.

For those who don’t know, rollApp is a startup that intends to offer in-the-browser online versions of many favorite applications. Already they have an impressive roster of apps up and running–such as the entire LibreOffice suite, Gedit, Scribus, Inkscape and Darktable. Except for some limitations, they work great–you’d hardly know you weren’t using an application that’s sitting on your own hard drive.

However, the limitations, until fixed, render the online apps unusable for most real-life purposes.

The biggest problem has to do with the copy and paste function. To get around browser restrictions, the developers at rollApp have incorporated a Clipboard Manager into the mix. This works great for copying and pasting from within the application. However, there’s no way to paste into one of the online apps from outside the application. This means there’s no way to grab a quote from a webpage or email and paste it into something being written. Nor is there a way to copy from rollApp into an outside application, say an email client on your computer.

I asked about this on rollApp’s forum and received a prompt reply from Alex Grechanowski, a rollApp community manager.

“Currently the copy-n-paste feature only allows operating with text within an open application. I.e. you cannot copy a chunk of text from a website and insert it into the app…

We’ll check whether we can implement it in the future releases.”

This seems so obvious that I would’ve thought they’d already be working on it.

There are a few other problems as well.

There’s no way to save a document created within rollApp to your computer. RollApp opens and saves to online storage services, such as Google Drive, Dropbox or 4shared, but not to your local box. This means that to use anything created using rollApp tools, you must save it on a service such as Google Drive and then log into Google Drive to download it to the local machine. That being the case, why not do the writing using Google Drive and save a few steps?

I’m inclined to be confident that these shortcomings will be worked-out before rollApp leaves beta. They’ve done too much work to leave it unfinished. Indeed, I’m very impressed with the work they’ve done so far. When they’ve address these few issues, which should be easily handled, I plan to start using their site on a daily basis.

The rollApps service is offered in a free version supported by video ads or in an ad free paid version. New users get to go ad free for the first two weeks of use.

Here are some screenshots. Each image is click-to-enlarge:


Clicking on each application brings up a screen explaining that applications use.

Rollapp - connect with storage screen

When attempting to open a file for the first time, the user is prompted to connect with an online file storage service.

Rollapp - LibreOffice Writer

A shot of LibreOffice Writer up and running on Rollapp with my original work for this article.

Rollapp - Scribus

Open source desktop publishing application Scribus on Rollapp.

Rollapps - Darktable

Working with a graphics file using Darktable on Rollaps.

Rollapp - Mines

Oops! I used to be good at this game, but that was fifteen years ago. The “Forcibly Closed” notice in the background is what you get if you close an application by “X”ing it out instead of closing it properly from the file menu.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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5 comments to Rollapp’s Online LibreOffice Nearly Ready for Prime Time – But Not Yet

  • Eddie G.

    AWESOME!….Once again the F.O.S.S. world has risen to the challenge! Thank you Christine for giving this info to the masses. Also and this has nothing to do with the article – what OS are you using?…I was trying to see if there was any tell-tale signs but I don’t recognize any of it…just curious I’ll understand if its too personal an issue for you.

  • Not at all, Eddie. There’s no secret to the fact that I run Bodhi Linux, so the desktop is Enlightenment, using the Egyptian theme.

  • […] Rollapp’s Online LibreOffice Nearly Ready for Prime Time – But Not Yet […]

  • Stranger


    Sorry, but this whole idea is bullshit.

    I don’t get it. Why is everyone trying to shoehown EVERYTHING into the web? This idea is so damn stupid, it’s embarrassing.
    Here is why it’s stupid:

    First of all, since even cheap computers become more and more powerful and harddrive capacities become larger and larger, it does not make any sense. You simply can run applications on your computer. Why should one even CONSIDER cloud computing?
    Secondly, what happens to the data if you write a document and right in the middle of the work the connection breaks down? I guess it’d be simply fucking GONE!
    Thirdly, I assume that you can’t just magically port LibreOffice etc. to the web without writing any additional code. Therefore, for Rollapp there must have been some extra code written. I wonder where this code is. Even if they “publish” this extra code, there’s no reason to trust them that they actually use exactly this published code, without changes.
    They could easily build in anti-features.

    And indeed Rollapp has anti-features:
    It is not only infested with video (!) ads, it also talks massively back to home: It wants your browser to connect to Google, Facebook, Twitter; also Google Analytics. This is absolutely inacceptable.
    And that’s only the obvious stuff. Maybe there’s more.

    Also, what’s so bad about installing software on your own harddrive?

    FOSSers should NOT hype cloud-based applications, I think. Cloud computing makes you dependent. Dependency is the OPPOSITE of freedom, so I really don’t understand why Rollapp is so hyped here.

  • Ricardo

    I know I’m 3 weeks late, but… you know, someone’s wrong on the internet! 🙂

    @Stranger, in case you’re still reading these comments, one word: collaboration.

    You might not have a use for it, I might not have a use for it, but that doesn’t mean it’s stupid.

    I mean, people at work (not only at my workplace but everywhere else too) use Google Docs inspite of having OpenOffice, LibreOffice and even MS Office at their disposal.

    And that’s one of the reasons we’re implementing ownCloud on premises at work, so people stop using 3rd party services for company documents and still be productive.

    I don’t like public clouds but private clouds are a good thing in my opinion.

    And about RollApp’s use of FLOSS, there’s nothing we can do about it unless LibreOffice, Gedit, Scribus, etc were licensed under the Affero GPL or some similar license that requires source code to be distributed even if you don’t distribute the final work but only provide services on top of it.

    For example, ownCloud uses AGPL as its license.

    Finally: why is Rollapp so hyped here? I don’t know but I guess the alternatives (Google Docs, MS Office 365, what else?) are much worse.