Open Office : Well and truly forked

LibreOffice has just emerged as a new fork to the openoffice suite of products. Its mission is :

to make an office suite available as truly free software, developed within the wider community. The organisation has support from companies like Google, Novell and Red Hat.

I wish LibreOffice success, but a big part of me thinks that without some huge changes, OpenOffice is a dead horse that ought not to be flogged any more. Now I’ve written about it before, but I’m just going to have to get “shouty”.

Here’s what I’m planning to say:

  • OpenOffice is a great product… for the 1990′s
  • Seriously… there’s this new thing… The Internet. And it’s awesome
  • OpenOffice is doomed to fail without a major change in strategy and purpose
  • Microsoft is busy seeing the future while the “office wanabees” scurry after it
  • Office suites are the past not the future
  • If you want to get ahead of Microsoft look at CKEditor, Evernote, Google Docs, WordPress, Joomla then take another step…
  • What I’d do if someone gave me the cash,..
  • A call to action

OpenOffice is a great product… for the 1990′s

OpenOffice is a product stuck in the wrong decade. It’s a dinosaur in an era of opposable thumbs. It harks back to that age when we all toted floppy disks and dialed up on modems. Dudes – it’s over, step away from the moribund, bloaty, narrow-band internet world and get into the world of Web 2.0, Broad-band, user-created content, blogs and Evernoting.

Seriously… there’s this new thing… The Internet. And it’s awesome

I’m not joking, this interweb-connected-network-thingy is really, really cool. And while you’re arguing about “ribbon menus” all the cool kids are creating their content elsewhere.

The cool kids are writing notes in facebook, on their blogs, on twitter, in their email accounts. The associate that fat ugly bloated “Office Productivity Suite” with school because they have to use it (and alas most schools effectively still mandate Microsoft Office) to do their assignments but that’s it.

So… how stupid (let’s say … out of ten?) is it to persist in producing tools for a mode of working that is rapidly being consigned to history?

OpenOffice is doomed to fail without a major change in strategy and purpose

Doomed. Doomed I tell you! It’s got a one way ticket on the fail-train to Failsville.

How can I recommend to any of my large clients that they go the pain of transition (and the transition for a 5,000 desktop environment would be costly in terms of time, migration, support and deployment) to a technology that I think is a soft-sugar barrier against the tide that is web-created content?

Is there a saving to be had over Microsoft Office? Yes, there is, but the future – and I believe it’s a nearer future than many think renders the office suite as we know it extinct.

I say this as someone who uses OpenOffice – this blog is being written in OO and will be published directly from the app using the Weblog publisher plugin http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/project/swp. I use OpenOffice because I feel like I ought to support it, and every time I wait (and wait) for it to load I feel as if I’m doing just a little bit for the movement. But, there’s no joy at all in using it. It is a joyless clone of Microsoft Office.

The thing is… I only actually use a word-processor at all because I’ve not found a light on-and-offline alternative. So when I’m writing reports or papers – eventually it’s going to have to be word-processed (although – to heap irony upon irony – it then gets put into in-design if it’s going to be printed – argh).

If you care about truly Open document editing (and for that we need ODF), if you want to create a real alternative to the Microsoft hegemony, if you want to be as productive as possible when you write stuff… then OpenOffice is not a long-term strategy.

Microsoft is busy seeing the future while the “office wanabees” scurry after it

I absolutely love bashing Microsoft. While I try to remain balanced, I really love it when I see an alternative to one of Microsoft’s technologies. It gives me no joy whatsoever to praise Microsoft or it’s technology.

But look at Live.com. Look at SilverLight, look at the things they’re doing to Sharepoint. I shudder to say it – but they’re doing some amazing things. Heavens, there’s even a danger that IE 9 will take Microsoft’s primary browser out of the domain of “idiot in the internet village”.

Sure, Live.com is for kids… but as the late Mr Jackson said… “the children are our future”.

The community needs to be building the “Live.com” killer – not the “Office Killer”.

OpenOffice and IBM’s (much slicker and better) Symphony have their strategy so wrong, that I’m not sure there’s any point in them at all.

Office suites are the past not the future

Personally, I think that most of the chatter about Web 2.0 is utter nonsense. The defining characteristic of Web 2.0 isn’t rounded corners – It’s broad-band.

In the olden days (and I appreciate that some of you will have no clue what I’m talking about here), after buying the latest Sade album (a curious frisbee like thing that makes noises when rotated at 33rpm and pressed against a diamond stylus that is in turn connected to an amplifier) I’d “log in” to the internet. On my 9,600 baud modem. Then I’d wait. We didn’t share much video in those days. I was connected to the internet for perhaps 2% of the time. Of course I wasn’t going to store documents online.

I now have over 9.6 megabits of bandwidth to play with. I’m connected more or less all the time (when I’m in the UK – I’ll have to win the lottery to be able to roam my iPhone in the USA) – the times have changed. Mathematically speaking, I have several oodles more bandwidth than I used to (is it 1000 times more? – Meh… you know what I mean).

The future is about mixed up content, it’s about clicking on a photo and writing a comment, publishing a blog-entry from your phone. And oddly enough – as James Governor says “The future is already here for a lot of people”.

If you want to get ahead of Microsoft look at CKEditor, Evernote, Google Docs, WordPress, Joomla then take another step…

Here’s the future of document editing expressed in pictures…

Evernote (as used by the RedMonk guys – and they know a thing or two about what’s coming) -

This is how lots of smart people type stuff these days
One of the bathwick applications (this is CKEdit) -

And on Facebook…

Face book - shudderDo you see my point at all?

What I’d do if someone gave me the cash..

I’d take all the source code for OpenOffice and print it out onto paper. Then I’d erase it from the repository. I’d store the paper print-outs at the top of a tower, surrounded by an alligator filled swamp, fifty miles from the development lab.

Sure, the developers can re-use that old code, I’ve no problem at all – It’s just got to be worth the effort of walking to the swamp, wading through the murky waters, wrastling the ‘gators, climbing the tower and copying the source out by hand. If they’re not willing to do that, then that code just isn’t worth it.

Next I’d go way back to basics – take something like CKEditor as my base, then look at what I’d need to do to make it produce ODF.

I’d create usable libraries in PHP, Python, and Rails (bless them, they’d only whine if I didn’t) to enable anyone to create and manipulate documents. I’d cajole Google into supporting it (I know they’re close…).

Then I’d think about all the places where people had to type stuff – phones, web-pages, ERP applications and push to get the OpenOffice widget embedded into all of these.

How hard could that be? Given that so much of this stuff is already done, given the amount of effort that the likes of Oracle/Sun, Novell and IBM have spent to make OpenOffice work… it’s peanuts.

A call to action

Ok, in the last para, I “simplified” things a bit – but, seriously – how hard would it be to get some smart people together to create a manifesto for the next era of productivity tools – You know, Document editing widgets, presentation creators, spreadsheets? If anyone wants to put together a group to create a manifesto for the next era of office productivity app then I’m in.

Naturally, if you’re a large commercial organisation, and you’d like to pick my brains then come with a purchase order in hand.

Postscript

Since I posted this, I’ve seen a blog by Matt Asay which says very similar things – http://gigaom.com/2010/09/28/libreoffice-an-idea-whose-time-has-come-and-gone/

2 thoughts on “Open Office : Well and truly forked

  1. Gary,

    You seem to mostly focus on the word processing end of things. The interwebs haven’t quite caught up for spreadsheets and presentations. Is there more life on the desktop for those apps?

    Bob

  2. Bob – yes, I have focussed on Word Processors and (in an act of cowardice basically) ignored Spreadsheets and Presentations – but!

    I really think the spreadsheets issue is simple – and how cool would it be to have a spreasheet that really could have a cell that contains “=@RSS(IBM)” or some such – genuinely dynamic content. Google spreadsheets have a way to go but they’re not bad.

    As for presentations, I think this is the one that immediately looks the most scary, but there are a couple of things I’d say about this specifically – First – I don’t think the “Powerpoint” paradigm is necesarily the right one, so I don’t expect it to be replaced by an out and out powerpoint clone (Although Google Presentations does a fair job of importing my presentations), I’m think it’ll be something cooler, funkier – Take http://prezi.com/ for example… it’s “presentations” but not as we know it…

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