Now we are two: OpenOffice.org celebrates

Still aiming to catch MS Office

OpenOffice.org, the Open Source office suite based on Sun's StarOffice, celebrated its second birthday this week with a couple of new releases: a 1.0 beta for Mac OS X and a new developer release, charting the path for future user versions of OpenOffice.org 1.0.

In the battle of the office suites, where there's Microsoft Office and everything else, OpenOffice.org claims 8.5 million downloads in the past two years and near compatibility with MS Office. We thought the second birthday would be a good excuse to chat with Sam Hiser of the OpenOffice.org Marketing Project about the state of the project and of office suite competition.

Newsforge: How prevalent do you believe OpenOffice.org use to be? I'd imagine the everyday use is somewhere between the 8.5 million downloads and the 70,000 registered users.

Hiser: That's not a bad range. A conservative estimate would place the number of users of OpenOffice.org 1.0 at 2 to 5 million. Now, that excludes any units of StarOffice 6.0.

The theoretical number that's important is "all seats of Ooo1 .0 and its derivatives," which would indicate the penetration of OOo's well-documented, standard XML file format.

The download numbers we have are rough, because its difficult to track downloads off of our many (now 35) mirror sites with precision.

We aren't even aware of the stats from the two Chinese OpenOffice.org 1.0 derivatives, KiaOffice and RedOffice. So, Lord knows, we might have 20 million seats. There's a project here ...

What needs to take place yet before OpenOffice.org can make a sizable dent in the Windows Office monopoly? Is that a realistic goal?

Hiser: No question it's realistic, but it depends on what you define as a sizable dent. One arena we need to do some work is psychological -- in mind-share. That's just presence and marketing and it will take both time and persistence -- the community has those.

The OpenOffice.org 1.0 suite itself is very advanced fundamentally, the code is very well organized, and the community has the mandate to continue to integrate and improve the software all the time. So there's no question that OOo and its derivatives like StarOffice 6.0 are going to compete extremely well on the ground as an office tool set.

What's missing is a few key features--which we are presently working on -- like calendar, scheduling and mail handling, or full database integration, to which office suite users have become accustomed; we already have the killer file format. Once OOo introduces these features, there will be no excuse for most users, institutions, businesses or corporations to continue to pay a premium for the office suite.

The implication of this is when you're talking someday about the office suite market being three to five times the size of today's market -- due to cheap hardware and penetration of computing into lesser developed areas [By the way, OpenOffice.org 1.0 is the office suite running on the single desktop that's set up in the middle of a Rwandan refugee camp -- my West African marketing people tell me.] -- you'll have today's leader holding less than 20% of that market with OOo and its derivatives holding the balance of that. If that 20% is below the tipping point, then it will go to zero faster than people expect -- like Lotus 1-2-3. There is only so much tolerance for an orphaned file format.

Now, the leader is working really hard, as they do, but -- even if you talk about the tablet, voice recognition, Web services and really attractive focus-group-ed UI -- the feature set is largely mature today, and at a time when people are re-thinking how many FEWER gadgets they want in their lives ... how much LESS technology, per se, is the answer. So the leader will by no means be standing still, but they will be, like, the Aston Martin of office suites -- and OpenOffice.org x.0 will be the Volkswagen Beetle (which morphs to the Space Shuttle for the price of a support contract. ;-)

What are some major goals for the software going forward? Are there features the team still really thinks the office suite needs?

Hiser:

All languages supportable. Not 35, but 135! (23 available today)

Great integration with all supportable OS platforms

Full integration with Mac's OS X Aqua!

Groupware across all platforms

Database (some integration is available today to experts)

a great implementation of XML in the file format (done)

DVD integration with Impress (OOo's presentation module)

Everyone in the community has their "Desert-Island" wish list. These are some I think are important.

There are a number of ports that have happened or are in progress. What's the point of porting to fairly obscure OSes like OS/2 or VMS or BeOS?

Hiser: There are people who use and love certain environments, and if they choose to support them, it's not mine or anyone's job to interfere with that. It's natural to question the effort to support what people may perceive as "dying" environments, but you know what they say about the fat lady? It's classic Open Source "scratch your own itch." Who knows, maybe BeOS will get open-sourced and become the ideal third-gen OS?

I suggest you ask our valuable contributor, Kevin Hendricks up in Canada, why he runs the Linux port for PowerPC. It's a small market, per se, if you're a corporate-type reading the numbers. But its critical to Kevin and to anyone who wants to run Linux on Mac hardware -- a growing segment, and for technically good reason. I've been wanting to thank Kevin personally for his great commitment because his work just enabled me to revive an early G3 Powerbook and run it with all the apps (GNOME, Evolution on YDL) like my main workstation. Thanks Kevin! It's the people like Kevin and Ed Peterlin on the Mac OS X port who are each pulling three oars on this project --one in their teeth. ;-) It's funny: where Mac and OpenOffice.org passions overlap you get a certain form of combustion. Unique. It's really a great privilege to be a part of this project.

What kind of volunteers does the OpenOffice.org team still need?

Hiser: The community is always looking for developers (C++) to pick up part of a project, users to complain like mad, and marketers who believe in this great product and its potential.

Frankly, it hasn't been hard to recruit contributors of surprisingly high quality ... the smart folks are self-selecting. But there's a lot to do and we need to increase our depth because it's a volunteer project.

What do you think of the other non-Microsoft office suites out there? Has StarOffice's decision to start charging for its software boosted OpenOffice.org? What do you think of other offices suites such as Hancom Office, etc.?

Hiser: StarOffice 6.0 costs money: Can't tell about the impact on Ooo -- probably favorable -- but we see how it helped StarOffice 6.0 in its markets.

Some onlookers were surprised that the general response to Sun's fee strategy with StarOffice 6.0 was so positive from customers. But you have to put yourself in the shoes of the enterprise IT executive: they have been getting reamed with only a single vendor for HOW many years? Their view was longer-term, beyond the mere cost, and they were ecstatic that the new licensing scheme reflected Sun's commitment to a financially viable, competitive product that would be sustainable.

The other suites -- the Open Source ones -- are good ... it's hard to fault their efforts on Linux. AbiWord, Hancom and KOffice, the ones that come first to mind, are quite solid and nice to use.

OOo is simply a different animal. Its presence doesn't stop at Linux -- as important as the two are for each other. It also has these substantial multi-lingual, multi-platform advantages; and OOo deals with MS Office file formats pretty completely by comparison to the other suites. Linux Format, the UK magazine, had a very thorough runoff recently in which OOo performed top, if you pay attention to comparisons.

Honestly, just OOo/SO's file format is enough to make governments around the world swoon. It's because, ex-USA, they are very nervous about a single entity (and an American one, to boot) controlling, like, noticeable portions of their national budgets and they just want to be sure that their citizens have open access to information forever. OpenOffice.org 1.0 / StarOffice 6.0 do that. It's quite a lot.

What's next for the project? What's the immediate focus?

Hiser: I must admit that the OOo version for Mac OS X has significant tangible as well as karmic value to the community and brings with it a passionate and interesting group of users -- if you go by those "Switch" commercials. ;-) It's going to be interesting for us all to watch during the next 18-month roadmap toward Aqua integration. Ed Peterlin and Dan Williams, just two of our contributing developers, could use a few more able hands with Unix and Mac know-how on that port. Ed, by the way, is not Canadian.

Focus on housekeeping: peer-to-peer distribution; internal community governance structure.

Keep building the Native Lang communities. OOo has user/developer/marketer communities that conduct intercourse in:

Dutch

Spanish

French

Brazilian Portuguese

German

Italian

This is where the fabric of the community of OOo is so strong. "E Pluribus Unum," ring any bells? This is a product with a distinct footprint in every locality--rich or poor.

Figure out where to put the money people keep offering us.

On the Marketing Project: implement the User and Consultant Surveys to get a better understanding of our users and some good data. Users everywhere! Please answer the User Survey at installation time. It's tremendously valuable to the community's effort to rapidly improve the software. Also, we have this great global Marketing Contacts network, this web of people on the Marketing Project who interface with users and potential users locally in each region. It's a super group of individuals -- really passionate, most whom I have never met in person -- and the network helps us keep our message uniform and in sync (and translated into about half a dozen languages) across the time zones on days like today when we have a press release. My biggest challenge is to get the time zone conversions right ... and when I don't the "MarCon" people are there to make it happen smoothly. ;-) Bet you can't guess what 10:00 a.m. San Francisco time is in UTC?

What's the long-term goal? Where would you like to see OpenOffice.org in five years?

Hiser: My colleagues may hold a different view, but in 2007 I see OOo, together with all its derivatives, owning to six nines 99.9999% of the non-corporate global office suite market, and about ... uhm ... 50% of the corporate market. That'll do. That'll do.

© Newsforge.com

Sponsored: 10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity