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The Uncertain Future of OpenOffice.org 259

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the nothing-is-for-certain dept.
eldavojohn writes "What's the biggest threat to the success of OpenOffice.org? Is it Microsoft Office? Is it the simple fact that Dell doesn't offer it with computers? Not according to some participants in the 'open' source project itself, they say the biggest problem with OO.o is the fact that Sun codes, owns & makes all key decisions for the project when it should be more community oriented. A professor who participates in the project itself said 'enough developers are frustrated by both the technical and the organizational infrastructure at OpenOffice.org' and cites this as 'a real problem that is weighing on the project.' Other members of the community agree like Michael Meeks who asked 'At what fraction of the community will Sun reconsider its demand for ownership of the entirety of OpenOffice.org?' Hopefully with IBM's entrance into OO.o participation we will see the product become more community controlled & accessible. Has anyone else experienced this when developing for OO.o or another 'open' source project? Is it a good idea to criticize a company when they've put so much effort into a project that is technically open source and completely free? Is Sun trying to control OO.o like Java? Do they have good reasons or evil underlying intentions?"
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The Uncertain Future of OpenOffice.org

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  • Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by somersault (912633) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:33AM (#20668253) Homepage Journal
    "Is it a good idea to criticize a company when.."

    Is it a good idea to lie to a company or not provide any (constructive) feedback on negative issues just because they're being nice? If nobody is honest with them then their product may start off well and then head south quickly due to the pandering masses.
  • by FranTaylor (164577) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:34AM (#20668263)
    Sun gets bad press for not developing free software...

    Sun gets bad press for developing free software...

    Tough crowd.
  • Crying wolf.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by downix (84795) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:35AM (#20668297) Homepage
    This is a panic piece, trying to rile upfeelings, almost trolling. Relax guys, Sun hasnt shown the steps that is being worried about here. When it does, then let us begin discussing. Till then, it is useless speculation and little better than FUD.
  • Re:In order... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:37AM (#20668317)
    Is it a good idea to criticize a company when they've put so much effort into a project that is technically open source and completely free?

    If they are doing a bad job of managing it, then yes. Releasing it under an open source license is good, and they should be recognized for that. However, doing so doesn't automatically excuse other problems they may have.

  • Biggest threat? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TopSpin (753) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:39AM (#20668343) Journal

    What's the biggest threat to the success of OpenOffice.org?
    That's easy; Microsoft suing Sun for violating patents for MS Office 'inventions'. You know it's coming.

    As far as Sun's dominant position over OOo goes; as long as they keep performing I don't see the problem. New 2.x releases have been appearing every few months and each is a notable improvement. They're doing a good job and while they keep doing it they'll remain in control. Their latest release provides a platform for extensions; go develop your miracle feature and let Sun keep cranking on the core platform, as they have been.

  • Sun Bashing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:43AM (#20668409)
    Why all the Sun bashing? Opensolaris is open source. Java is almost fully open sourced now. OpenOffice is open source. What the hell is wrong with Sun wanting to maintain some influence over the projects they started?
  • Can anyone... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MrNemesis (587188) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:45AM (#20668431) Homepage Journal
    ...more proficient in programming than me explain why OOo uses its own inbuilt font rendering and toolkit? Aren't these things already provided by all modern guest OS's?

    IANAPBPKEAITBD [I Am Not A Programmer But Probably Know Enough About It To Be Dangerous] but if cross-platform-ness is a big thing, would it not be easier to have a series of OS-independent libs in the background with native frontends in win32, GTK, Qt, etc? This would also make it easier to make the user interface more "friendly" by way of familiarity and not sticking out like a sore thumb? To my mind the problems users see with OOo, aside from some user unfriendliness in some sections such as mail merge, are that it's slow as hell to start up, even from warm, the GUI is sometimes unresponsive/laggy and it looks (superfically) different from most apps they're used to (apparently this is "allowed" for stupid flashy apps, but a big no-no for "serious" apps).

    Chances are I'm barking up the wrong tree and my knowledge of OOo is hopelessly wrong, but for non-developers these things can be tricky to understand.
  • Re:Biggest threat? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann@slashdot.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:47AM (#20668459) Homepage Journal
    That's easy; Microsoft suing Sun for violating patents for MS Office 'inventions'. You know it's coming.

    When they do that, it'll just mean that OpenOffice.org is ready for primetime.
  • Re:Sun Bashing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:48AM (#20668469) Journal
    You're damn right. Anyone who doesn't like it can go fork it themselves.

    If you don't like the community around OO.o, fork it and make your own community. If you think the codebase is too unwieldy to fork, there are plenty of other open source office suites you can contribute to.
  • Re:Biggest threat? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zerocool^ (112121) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:48AM (#20668473) Homepage Journal

    For real.

    You're not happy with the direction of the project?

    Fork it. It's LGPL'd. Take the code, release it under your new project, and make improvements that "the community", whatever the heck that means to you, will approve of.

    Sheesh, as a previous poster said, tough crowd. Sun can't do anything right in the eyes of slashdot smitties.

    ~X
  • Re:Crying wolf.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:48AM (#20668481) Homepage

    I don't think it's even a panic piece. The "uncertain future" isn't whether it will be developed or not. It's just uncertain how much control Sun will maintain, and whether developers displeased with Sun will bother to make a fork.

    Either way, OpenOffice will continue to exist, continue to be developed, and continue to be used.

  • Then fork (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdavidb (449077) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:52AM (#20668535) Homepage Journal

    If you can do a better job coding, owning, and making key decisions, then fork the project and demonstrate.

    If you can't fork because you need Sun's expertise, then maybe you should admit that Sun deserves to participate on their own terms, just as you participate on yours.

    For years I've been amazed at how people will whine and whine about the direction an Open Source project is taking, rather than just demonstrating that another direction is better. The people doing the work are exercising their freedom to do whatever they want however they want it done. If you don't like it, not only is nobody making you participate, but lots of people have invested lots of work in giving you the freedom to do it the way you want to, instead.

    It worked for EGCS and X.org. But 99% of the time, it's just whiners whining that they don't have control. Power and control don't matter in Open Source; we all have equal power. You have the power to control your own version, and if that's truly holding the project that you're whining about back, then obviously once you unleash your new vision of project management yours will blow away the one you're whining about.

  • by HerculesMO (693085) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:52AM (#20668537)
    Open Office is that, right?

    I just think OO.o lacks a focus. As other Slashdot members had said earlier, it seems to be over engineered and not thought out enough in a 'direction.' An engineer says "Java is a good idea to have" so they add Java... and bring other woes.

    While I know some people may dislike the new Office 2007, after using it for a while now, I can say honestly that it's the best version yet. The usability and UI are greatly improved (once you get used to them). Open Office lacks the 'polish' that a Microsoft Office delivers. This isn't about document format wars folks -- it's about the sheer usability of one platform over another. You cannot invent a similar animal as a MS Office, and then go your own direction even if it's smarter. You have to adopt the platform, and make it your own. That's how Firefox has taken off so well. They came in as a web browser, same functions, and built upon it.

    Open Office (and I haven't checked out the latest version) comes in and says that it's a replacement for MS Office... but it does things its own way. Some shortcut keys are similar, but a lot of stuff is different. It's usable for sure, especially for /. users, but for the average Joe who has used Office everywhere else, OO.o is a different animal. And it's uglier and slower.

    Make it pretty, make it similar... then build upon it. Not before. Just my thought anyway... maybe Sun will take it to heart. I don't see any benefit or disadvantage to having more control in the community hands, because like they say.. too many cooks spoil the broth. And we will have a LOT of cooks all trying to make feature decisions, instead of a focused core of people that guide the direction of a project.
  • by demachina (71715) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:54AM (#20668559)
    The open source "community" doesn't exactly have the best track record developing complex GUI intensive applications. There is Gimp which is OK but not great. Firefox isn't exactly doing much as far as UI goes. KDE and Gnome both have ... issues ... in particular the fact that there are two desktops in the first place fragmenting application development and massively duplicating effort.

    There are times when its not exactly bad to have one entity, whether it be a company or an individual, who puts an end to the bickering, makes a decision, sets the direction, imperfect though it may be, and makes everyone pull in the same direction. Linus serves that role for the kernel, SUN does it for Open Office.

    Debate is good, expressing different views is good, one entity with poor vision dictating direction is bad. But, a project with a hundred chiefs and no Indians, and design by committee is not a always a prescription for success.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:55AM (#20668579)
    that anyone who wants to contribute code is guaranteed that their contributed code wil be used?

    "OpenOffice.org has a very central business process of controlling what comes into the source base and by that very system misses the point of Open Source development," said Ken Foskey, an Australian open-source developer who volunteered for OpenOffice.org for three years. He left in 2005 after becoming "increasingly frustrated" with the organization's bureaucracy.


    Once a project reaches a certain size and a certain number of users who expect the program(s) to remain usable then some sort of quality control has to come into play. This means that some code contributions will be rejected for various reasons.

    Contributors whose code is rejected in such a manner don't need to fly into a snit and have a hissy fit about the project rejecting them. They're entirely free to incorporate their code into their local sources and compile and use the program(s) as they see fit. They can even distribute the modified sources and executables to anyone who wants to use them as well.

    That's supposed to be the point of Open Source is it not? The freedom to have the code and modify the code and compile the code and run the programs.

    Not the freedom to insist that your code be accepted and incorporated into the main source tree. (Well actually you're free to insist on this but the maintainers of the main source tree are equally free to ignore you.)
  • Re:Sun Bashing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by monkeySauce (562927) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:02PM (#20668669) Journal
    I agree. The alternative is they might never have open-sourced StarOffice at all. Cut Sun some slack.
  • Re:Then fork (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@@@yahoo...com> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:02PM (#20668675) Homepage Journal
    "If you can't fork because you need Sun's expertise, then maybe you should admit that Sun deserves to participate on their own terms, just as you participate on yours."

    It is a logical fallacy to say that someone only has a valid complaint against someone if they can do it better.

    "we all have equal power"
    No, we don't. It is perfectly valid for someone who can't code to complaing about a bug or the lack of a feature, or the fact that it is slow. Just like a automobile owner can complain if their breaks don't work. No one is going to say to them to shut up unless they are willing to build there own car.
  • by trolltalk.com (1108067) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:06PM (#20668725) Homepage Journal

    Lets see ... I must be doubly evil, since I'm running openSUSE both at home and the office ... and don't have a single piece of apple gear.

    Sun isn't perfect, and neither are Novell, but they've done some of the major heavy lifting, and we should try to sound bit more appreciative, because we're not perfect either.

    Otherwise, we just end up sounding like a bunch of fickle myspace bloggers.

  • Misrepresentation (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:07PM (#20668731)
    Sun isn't getting bad press for developing free software.

    They are getting bad press for developing it badly.

  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:07PM (#20668743)
    While I know some people may dislike the new Office 2007, after using it for a while now, I can say honestly that it's the best version yet. The usability and UI are greatly improved (once you get used to them). Open Office lacks the 'polish' that a Microsoft Office delivers. This isn't about document format wars folks -- it's about the sheer usability of one platform over another.

    Not a popular position here, but I'm forced to agree.

    I'm genuinely glad that there is an Open Office and people who work constantly to make it better. I'm sure Microsoft doesn't see it as competition, but it does provide a limit / sanity check on them; if the price of MS Office rises or it stops improving, OO is always out there as an alternative.

    But at the same time, it puzzles me. Microsoft does a thousand things, many of them not well. There are as many niches to get into and build a better mousetrap. But Office? That's one of the things they actually do really well. Many have argued that a large part of MS's continued dominance of the desktop is because of Office, and it's hard for me to disagree. Why pick that of all windmills to tilt at? I can't deny that it's an interesting/challenging project, but...

  • by richcoder (539438) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:12PM (#20668807)
    Firefox isn't exactly doing much as far as UI goes.

    Some could successfully argue that Firefox contains a HUGE amount of UI work. The entire app is one large UI system.
  • by iamacat (583406) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:13PM (#20668817)
    The commercial "community" doesn't exactly have the best track record developing complex GUI intensive applications. There is Photoshop, which is not affordable for 99% of potential market. Internet Explorer isn't exactly doing much as far as web pages appearance, standard compliance or security. Windows and MacOSX both have ... issues ... in particular the fact that there are two desktops in the first place fragmenting application development and massively duplicating effort.
  • Re:In order... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Score Whore (32328) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:31PM (#20669075)
    This sounds like more Sun bashing rather than any real issues. Consider Linux. Only a few people have commit privs. Any forked version is pretty much guaranteed to die by the wayside due to the momentum of the parent. And if you have good ideas there's a reasonable chance that they may be copied by a more established kernel dev and checked in under their name. Look at Firefox, only a few people can participate. Both are arguably less open than OOo and yet we don't see anybody pissing on them.
  • Re:Then fork (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bluesman (104513) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:48PM (#20669297) Homepage
    Complaints can be valid all day long, but that doesn't necessarily make them helpful.

    When you're managing a project, usually you have to make decisions that are going to piss some people off. Those people can whine about it forever or simply realize that the decision had to be made and shut up about it. If they feel a bad decision is THAT big a deal, then it's time to put up or shut up, and show everyone else how wrong they are. That's productive and helpful, complaining isn't.

    I find OpenOffice to be really good software, and it's improving rapidly. I don't see the problem in the grand scheme of things.

  • by edmicman (830206) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:54PM (#20669379) Homepage Journal
    What I see with OpenOffice is that it is perpetually trying to be MS Office. It shouldn't try to be MS Office, with an always circa-5-years-ago. For OO to succeed, it needs to be better than MS Office. Make people want to use it instead of MS's offerings. This seems to be the case with a lot of open office software - they're pushed as alternatives that mostly do the job, but the "big" selling points are that they are free to the end user, mostly compatible with the competition, and use open formats. Look at what Firefox did - they didn't try and replicate an alternative to IE that was always chasing IE's features...they made a *better* browser.

    If material cost were not an issue, now or ever, who would pick OO over MS Office? All OO is, and will be in the forseeable future, is the bastard wannabe kid brother of MS Unfortunately, Exchange is in the mix, too, because of the links between the office suite, email, and intranet. Where's the open source initiative to create a *better* solution than the MS Exchange environment? Everyone just focuses on Exchange compatibility, and as long as you do that, you're perpetually going to be playing catch up.

    Really, they should start from the ground up, and create a whole new office app/email app/email backend. Whose goal is to be *better* than the competition instead of a cheap or free alternative. That is, if anyone really wants to try and supplant MS's share. Just my $.02.
  • by NekoXP (67564) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:55PM (#20669389) Homepage
    I think IBM weighing in will make it easier (more developers) but I'd be sad to see the commercially-oriented development structure go away. I doubt IBM are planning that considering their focus is a Microsoft-competitive Lotus suite and not entirely freedom-oriented.

    Taking some of the control from Sun, and having IBM give in some effort and direction will mean the product can only get better. Wresting control from them and doing a design-by-committee open-source movement might fundamentally destroy the package.

    There are only very few projects which have been spawned from a commercial development and moved to a true open source, open development and open community design model and survived with a great product. One might say Firefox is one of them, but would it have even gotten there if Netscape/AOL hadn't been pushing their buttons to produce browsers? It's perfectly possible that, given the way most open source projects are run, we would still be running Mozilla 1.8 beta right now and Firefox would never have been spawned from it.

    I guess, if you want to fork Open Office, you're free to. Go ahead, make Open Open Office and see how far you get. The best parts of it might be rolled into Lotus Suite and Star Office, or.. they might not.
  • Re:Dont think so. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:41PM (#20670137) Journal
    Go on then. Do it. What are you waiting for?

    At the moment, Sun pays for 80% of the development work on OO.o, Novell for about 15%, and a few other contributors do the rest. If you fork it, you will immediately lose 80% of the developers, and may lose a lot from the remaining 20%, so I hope you're up for a lot of work.

    Or do you mean you want the 'community' to control it, but not actually have to write any of the code?

  • by soullessbastard (596494) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:49PM (#20670279) Homepage Journal

    Disclaimer: I am one of the founders of NeoOffice [neooffice.org].

    I think there's already interesting proof that forks can provide a very viable alternative to the overhead of the OOo project. Although the reasons are many, one of the big problems I historically had as a Mac OOo engineer was trying to get patches approved by Sun engineering. It has proven to be more efficient to have engineering freedom, allowing us to implement things that might never be approved by Hamburg. Being independent also has allowed us to implement a binary patching system so our bug fixes can be delivered quickly and independently if any marketing driven release schedules. Being outside the politics has also allowed us to integrate other open source technologies into the application that are important to Mac users, such as VBA support as well as OpenXML import and export. Yes, OpenXML import and export could be integrated into OOo today but engineering politics and Sun's manipulation of the project to foment a document format war have kept this functionality out of OOo, doing nothing except harm users that need to seamlessly integrate with MS Office environments.

    NeoOffice has been shipping a solid, native, GPL licensed Mac product for over 2 whole years. We have shown forking is successful. Dropping the politics of the OOo organization has made us more efficient and resulted in a better product that users appreciate. We have had a free software solution for Mac for years, and all OOo has done is exorcise all reference to us from their website. Perhaps it is just banishment for daring to do things differently and not helping to propogate the name of OOo (which Jonathan Schwartz has publicly said is Sun's second most valuable brand after Java). Seems a bit like Sun wants control to me. It will be interesting to see if Sun has the stones to snub IBM for its Lotus Symphony brand in the same fashion.

    ed

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:50PM (#20670311) Journal
    For open source development, there's only one community that really matters when it comes to picking the direction for a project: The community of people who contribute code[1] to that project, or pay others to contribute code. If you are not contributing to the project, your opinions are worth nothing, and the project should care about you exactly as much as a company would care about people who aren't in their target audience. If you want a voice, write some code, or documentation, provide some artwork, or employ someone to do one or more of these. Then you get a say.

    At the moment, around 80% of the OpenOffice.org community are employed by Sun.

    [1] Or documentation, UI mockups, HCI studies, etc.

  • by drharris (1100127) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @06:56PM (#20674283)

    I think you make an excellent point about the forking. In spite of what so many Slashbots say, I am never annoyed by the startup time or memory overhead of NeoOffice. Your efforts have given me ( and several other "switchers" I've influenced ) a hugely useful product that does pretty much exactly what I need and does it ver

    You have my gratitude ( and my donation to back it up ). I am always amazed at how many people will try to discredit your efforts by complaining about a few extra seconds of their life "wasted" on application startup. I hope you and the other developer(s?) continue your efforts. It would be nice to someday have a native OOo OS X port, but that would really be gravy as NeoOffice has improved so much with the latest release, I don't even think about the differences anymore.

  • by anomalous cohort (704239) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @07:36PM (#20674753) Homepage Journal

    Let me see if I am getting this straight. You wrote a java script app that makes 1500 XHRs and keeps appending data to the end of the page and you are complaining about how FF is handling that. Is that your claim more or less? Here is my reaction.

    • If you need to populate the GUI with 1500 pieces of data, why not code your server side such that you make 1 XHR to get all 1500 pieces? You performance will improve with fewer round trips.
    • Any GUI that has 1500 pieces of data on it is way too complex. Consider redesigning the GUI to present less amounts of more relevant data to the user. This is called progressive disclosure [blogs.com] and it is a good thing for improving usability. No one is going to be able to cognitively consider 1500 pieces of data simultaneously.
    • That fact that FF doesn't handle well such poorly designed and ill conceived GUI doesn't really bother me. In fact, the only improvement I could wish for FF is that it wouldn't handle that kind of application at all. Think of it as a bandwidth and eyeball saving feature.

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