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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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  • Re:In order... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:39AM (#20668341)
    Exactly, except the fraction. Either the community owns it, or it doesn't... There's no 'partially community owned'. It doesn't REALLY matter, though, since the project is open source. If Sun gets stupid, fork time - 'Completely Amazing Office' has a nice ring to it. The fact that the initials CAO is pronounced 'cow' should not be taken into consideration. ;)
  • Diffuse or Focused? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Frumious Wombat (845680) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:39AM (#20668355)
    The question becomes does the community want another diffuse, nobody really in charge project, or do you want a benevolent dictator ensuring focus and quality control? Sun should be commended for sticking with OO for so long, when they could have just dumped all responsibility and let it drift aimlessly. They obviously have an interest, because with a few other tweaks they sell (or give it away to proper channels) as StarOffice, so it's doubtful they'll want to let go too much. Unless the Linus of OfficeSuites steps forward, then I'd rather see Sun or IBM maintain final say, to keep it on track.

    From reading the comments here for years, the biggest issue with contributing seems to be that the code is a behemoth, and takes time and skill to understand. This hasn't stopped the NeoOffice folks from getting it running on Macs, and Sun's continuing final say shouldn't stop anyone from adding some missing features (such as a decent reference manager, or spell and grammar checker).
  • Re:In order... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:41AM (#20668375)
    Maybe suns control is a bit of an issue, but I would say one thing about it.

    StarOffice, prior to making OpenOffice, was horrible. It sucked, swallowed and asked for seconds. Within one or two releases of OpenOffice, it was actually a good product, 99% of the stability was already removed.

    Maybe Suns heavy control is inhibiting it a bit (much less so than their full control and development), but it is in a better state than pre OSS.
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:45AM (#20668427)
    You must be new here. On Slashdot, only Google's "black box" search engine (and related products) and Apple's proprietary OS and hardware are considered "good". All other products and companies (with some rare open source project exceptions) are considered bad and/or evil.

  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @11:58AM (#20668633) Homepage Journal
    Yep and if these developers really don't like it why not work on Koffice?
    I am sure that some people are frustrated. I know as a user I am frustrated over some of OOs short comings.
    However I think it is a pretty dang good system so far.
  • by Spy der Mann (805235) <spydermann DOT slashdot AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:02PM (#20668671) Homepage Journal

    The open source "community" doesn't exactly have the best track record developing complex GUI intensive applications.

    And the "greatest understatement of the year" award goes to.... *drum rolls*
  • by Bill Dimm (463823) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:07PM (#20668739) Homepage
    While I greatly appreciate the work that is done on OOo, there does seem to be something wrong when it comes to getting bugs fixed. For example, cell notes became badly broken in oocalc 2.x because they no longer move when their cells are moved (e.g. by sorting). The bug [openoffice.org] (yes, I filed it and I am biased) has remained open for nearly two years, and the developers have classified it as an "enhancement" rather than a "defect" even though it worked fine in version 1.x and is apparently causing problems for quite a few people with no work-around. I don't mean to whine, but leaving such obvious and problematic bugs unfixed for so long isn't good for the project. I don't know if this happens because they are understaffed or if there is a problem with how things are being managed, but getting the OOo people to pay attention to bugs seems to be a problem.
  • Re:Can anyone... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by domatic (1128127) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:26PM (#20669019)
    As near as I can tell, OOO has two major problems. Once upon a time, StarOffice actually had it's own mini-desktop from which the major pieces of the app like Writer and documents could be started from. This desktop even had its own widget set called VCL. Sun wisely did away with the goofy Desktop UI but OOO's UI is still implemented in this widget set. Whenever OOO is ported to a new environment, the major sticking point is that a binding layer has to be created from VCL to a widget set in the environment. Being a C++ widget set with more or less conventional semantics, VCL mapped well to GTK2 and Windows so Linux and Windows are easy ports in that regard. It is a very poor impedance match to Cocoa on Objective C and still appears to be hosing a truly native Mac port to this day. The NeoOffice guys use Cocoa through Java which makes a thin shim programming wise but a pig memory and resource wise as they have to have Java active and resident in memory for their VCL -> Cocoa mapper.

    The other problem is that OOO isn't well divided up internally. It was designed to load as a huge glop o' code back in the StarOffice days and still does. I once argued about this until I was blue in the face with a OOO developer on NewsForge. I could not get it through his head that I wasn't talking about splitting off Writer, Calc and so-forth into separate apps. I understood that OOO's "apps" are developed from an internal common set of objects (which also means an equivalent to MS' COM system is also loaded with the main app). I was talking about being smarter about which objects to load initially and then loading others on demand. This would get the startup time and usual memory usage down. It would also make it easier to use OOO as an API the way Office is used as an API.
  • by ryanw (131814) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:40PM (#20669205)
    Weird.... why is it then that other projects like AbiWord, KOffice and the various other open source office utilities haven't taken over the market?

    The main problem is OpenOffice isn't 100% compatible with MS Office documents. I have tried using Openoffice as a replacement to MS Word and Excel several times. Each time I end up getting burned because some executive pencil pusher thinks my layout sucked and looked bad. So in my attempt to use OpenOffice, I end up looking like a moron.

    SO sure, I can use openoffice for my own documents, and then open it in Word or excel and format it completely when giving it to others, but comon. I don't have enough hours in the day to use something just to "stick it to microsoft", because honestly, the company I work for already has site licenses for Office and all other microsoft products. So in reality my attempt to use Open Office won't ever "stick it to microsoft".
  • Why this? Why now??? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:44PM (#20669251)
    It's funny to see those questions being raised out of the blue, just after OpenOffice released OOo 2.3.

    It looks someone is trying to spoil the party.
  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:47PM (#20669287)
    Funny you should say this, because to date, the only radial menu system I have ever encountered was an open source window manager. I would say that counts a massive step forward in UI design (I live for the day when radial menus are the norm, but like Dvorak keyboards, it probably won't happen).
  • Ergocracy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Per Abrahamsen (1397) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:58PM (#20669447) Homepage
    For most free software, it is the case that those who contribute most work to the project, also influence its direction the most.
  • by jilles (20976) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:00PM (#20669487) Homepage
    Sun being in charge is not necessarily the problem; the problem is that they lack the competence and vision to bring the necessary changes to OOo and are making it hard to bring in external expertise to fix it. Lets face it, they're a hardware company that also does server software. They sell products to enterprises, not to people. They've never had to deal with end users and they are not very good at it.

    The simple reality is that Sun historically has done a less than great job designing and implementing user interfaces for end users. It's true for netbeans; solaris; Java and indeed open office that each of these products has a very long history of quirky, non standard user interfaces that pale to competing products. In all these products progress has been made. Basically solaris now sports a nice Gnome desktop (but they took their time killing their old UI), netbeans is undergowing the zillionth lets "fix the UI" effort, Java did great on the serverside but so far failed to get people enthousiastic on the desktop side (JavaFX being the latest misguided/doomed effort).

    The Open office UI looks out of place on any platform. Ugly icons; weird fonts; clumsy stuff like the cross references dialog or the poor excuse for a bibliography manager. Yes you can sort of do most office related stuff in it and for most people that is enough. Sun has been fighting the symptoms for years and they seem to be pretty proud of their work. The truth however is that the overall Sun UI experience is mediocre or adequate at best across their product line.

    What open office needs is somebody like Blake Ross to kick out the old UI and do a proper one. Blake and friends rescued the quirky mozilla from the fate that OOo is now facing: being a second choice cheap product that people use for cost rather than quality.
  • Re:Can anyone... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:19PM (#20669803)
    Bravo! We've been wanting a solution to the binding layer idiocy for a LONG time. We have a largely linux environment but "less skilled" and "support" staff are all on Mac OSX.

    Many of them are hopelessly married to excel and can't learn calc without endless whining and complaining about how slow it is (memory performance) and how it doesn't behave exactly like excel, hotkey differences, etc.

    All this makes it effectively impossible to re-train them (read they refuse to be retrained). After a few weeks of endless complaints about cut and paste issues on the mac (you can't cut and paste from browser or other apps into OOO), hotkeys, etc. they pressed for a move to NeoOffice.

    This was fine but... the same hotkey and performance issues come up with NeoOffice... and the whining starts over again.

    Funny thing is the linux users with OOO are as happy as so many clams. They all adapted really well. No moaning, no complaints. They just see it as a great way to save a bazillion dollars on the 100+ MS Office licenses and they put their effort into lobbying for a better coffee machine with all the savings.

    Maybe our solution is to sh%t-can all the whiners and make learning NeoOffice or OOO a 'requirement' but that's not likely to happen any time soon.

    So... how about they (Sun/OOO) just do away with all the binding layer crap and move the app forward in a really tangible manner.

    That and matching up the key bindings to MSO would go a long way towards making our job of getting users migrated to OOO a whole lot easier.

  • YES (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @02:14PM (#20670691)
    The question was: has anyone else experienced the kind of frustration described by the OO.o coders, on another open-source project. And my answer is yes, I have had some experience with that.

    I got involved in a minor way with a certain open-source project which shall remain nameless. A co-worker of mine, however, put a lot more into it. The "leader" of the project, who ran the SVN server and merged the code and the like, pretty much had full control over what was included into the project. The problem is, the guy was arrogant, spiteful, and himself a terrible coder.

    My co-worker submitted a change to the core code that increased its speed in some cases by as much as 100 times. However, the "project leader" apparently did not like his own code being fiddled with. (He had written the module containing the inefficient code.) At first he rejected the code changes, saying that he "did not like the coding style". Then, he incorporated the code changes incorrectly, which broke a lot of other things. Then, when he finally merged the code correctly, he publicly derided it for causing errors, when in fact the errors were in completely different parts of the program and he knew that.. and which was later demonstrated, also publicly. Did he ever apologize? Hell no. He cut the contributor off from the project, and me as well when I spoke up about this.

    In short, the guy was a real ass. I am glad he was not my boss at work or something. I would probably punch him in the nose and walk out. He was completely unsuited for "leading" a "team effort".
  • Re:In order... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @02:39PM (#20671003) Homepage Journal

    Linus controls the kernel. Mozilla controls firefox.
    Yes.

    At absolutely no time is Linus or Mozilla at the whim of the community. The directions of the products will absolutely be to the needs of the respective controlling body
    Umm, partly true. Linus listens to the community, that's what the LKML is all about. Is he at the community's whim? No. Does he accept input from others and make decisions that will be of the most benefit to the community? Yes.

    The same more or less holds true for Mozilla. Mozilla is not a money-making venture. Their sole purpose is to make Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird and related technologies available to the community. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less. What other agenda could they possibly have?

  • by sumdumass (711423) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @02:47PM (#20671097) Journal
    I don't agree with that. Well unless you don't care if the project goes into obscurity with no users outside code contributers.

    The user is just as important as the code contributers in many respects. If you alienate them, there goes the steam behind your project. So while I do agree that the contributers should have some say, their say should be be in tune with the people using the program. The process just falls apart and there is no community if you create something that no one uses.

    Sun on the other hand, contributes quite a bit of code so they are relevent by both of our standards.

    I don't think it would be wise to edge into a Debian style issue where the code gets stale and mired in political debate with no one willing to make an overriding decision to move forward. Debian is better now but there was a time or times when the stable release was years or decades in software terms behind any competing project. Leadership has a place as well. And if sun isn't providing the type that the community _and_ the users want, a fork can happen and Sun will find out what the term irrelevant means. Either way, the calls at this time for sun's head are the fanatics who are determined to sabotage a project if it isn't within their world of reality. Not everyone lives in that reality and those that don't shouldn't be condemned for doing so.

    And note, the "decades in software terms" are like dog years where the development life ages much more quickly then actual time and relevance. I know Debian hasn't be stale for decades. It is just that in software, a generation can go by in a year and with no improvements in the stable release, it becomes an old dog fast.
  • by k8to (9046) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @04:00PM (#20671973) Homepage
    The valuable part of the old days is that the number of pointless comments (like this one) were small, and without even moderation you could spot the comment from the engineer who actually was working on the product or technology discussed. The comment would typically contain 4-10 corrections of the article and a discussion for the rationale of the thing and their direction in making it.

    It was really the most efficient technology news discussion system around. 1 - Post woefully flawed tidbit on upcoming technology or product. 2 - Engineer/developer working on said thing posts intelligent, informative and interesting report on same. 3 - Everyone reads said comment.

    A combination of factors has destroyed this. Slashdot no longer appeals to the types of people who actually build and design such systems; the comment system and field is much noisier due to popularity, trolls, and other miscellany; there is more corporate awareness about "blogs" posting key information about upcoming things without explicit corporate blessing is generally frowned upon.
  • Re:Dont think so. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by junglee_iitk (651040) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @08:54PM (#20675507)
    That is why I hope KOffice is a better bet. OO is a mess.

    Now if KOffice was gplv3, it would have been PERFECT :)
  • by alexhmit01 (104757) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @12:44AM (#20677255)
    Sun bought StarOffice, originally with the plans of selling a cheap office suite. Sun never expected to "take-over" the market, unless they were insane, but rather to hurt Microsoft. Sun and Microsoft fought in the Server room, and in engineering workstations. Microsoft has nearly unlimited resources from their Desktop and Office monopolies.

    If ALL Sun accomplished with StarOffice was getting a few Microsoft Site licenses to use it as leverage to pay Microsoft less money, Sun "won." If you see the world as a two player game (which Sun did), then hurting your opponent helps you. Same reason militaries bomb weapons manufacturing plants, to stop the resupply of arms. Microsoft can support .Net and other technology projects that hurt Sun because they make so much money on their two main products, that the losses elsewhere are rounding errors.

    Sun wanted to fight for the control of the set-top box market with Java, cell phones with Java, etc. Anything that Sun does to deny Microsoft resources makes it harder for Microsoft to compete elsewhere. Microsoft failed to keep growing profits at the same rate, their stock price flat-lined, and their expansion into other markets was slowed.

    It's the same reason that Linux advocates only compare themselves to Microsoft, they see it as a two-player game.

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