Wednesday Oct 24, 2007

Grooving at GOSCON

I was up in Portland, Oregon, last week attending the Government Open Source Conference put on by Oregon State University. This was my first Open Source convention, and it was a hoot. Sun and OpenOffice.org were ably represented by featured speakers Erwin Tenhumberg, Doug Johnson and Louis Suarez-Potts, so all I had to do was hang around and absorb the atmosphere.

There were some rather heated debates, including one I witnessed between Jason Matusow, Microsoft interop guru, and Arnaud Le Hors, IBM Open Source maven, on the merits of Open XML versus Open Document Format. Fun stuff! I was also impressed by the keynote by Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, who bears a striking resemblance in mannerisms, accent and intelligence to my hero Sen. John Edwards. Who knew Open Source could be so slick?

More than one speaker made a critical point that I think deserves some intensive thought. There are plenty of government agencies that would like to use Open Source software, but that are prevented from doing so by the procurement processes they have to follow. Typically, they have to issue a Request For Proposal that must be filled out by all interested vendors. These things often run to 100 pages of detailed questions. Microsoft and Oracle have whole teams dedicated to filling out RFPs. The Open Source world has no one. Result: the Open Source product doesn't get selected. There's got to be an answer to this. Maybe some civic-minded foundation would like to dedicate some resources to promoting the use of Open Source in government by responding to RFPs? Seems like a great way to save the taxpayers some big bucks.

Monday Sep 10, 2007

The OpenOffice.org ecosystem and the StarOffice distro

People often ask what the difference is between OpenOffice.org and StarOffice. This question has been popping up more often after Google's announcement that it would distribute StarOffice for free as part of the Google Pack of desktop applications.

Here's my take on this, gathered from my colleagues on the OpenOffice and StarOffice teams, especially Louis Suarez-Potts, OpenOffice.org Community Manager.

OpenOffice.org is a community Open Source project, released under the Lesser General Public License. Anyone can download either the binary or the source and redistribute them, at no charge, subject to the restrictions of the license. Sun is the biggest contributor to this project, but by no means the only one. Sun's contribution to this project is its gift to the world.

Like the Linux community, the OpenOffice.org community encourages others to develop their own distributions -- “distros” -- of the OpenOffice.org software by picking and choosing from its modules, and by adding their own modules. StarOffice is such a distro, created by taking the OpenOffice.org core, and adding various commercially-oriented modules, such as an advanced spellchecker licensed from a third party. The fact that Sun Microsystems created the StarOffice distro, and charges for it, does not mean that Sun considers StarOffice to be more “official” that OpenOffice.org, any more than Debian or Ubuntu is more “official” than the Linux kernel. StarOffice is just oriented toward a particular market segment.

There are other distros that target other markets. Sun created another distro called StarSuite that is oriented toward the Asian market. NeoOffice is an independent distro that has been ported to the Macintosh Aqua user interface. Novell created its own distro as well. The Google Pack StarOffice distro is a non-commercial version that is limited to Windows platforms.

The OpenOffice.org ecosystem encompasses all these distros, and also includes many indpendent vendors who provide support, training, consulting and other services for the various distros. Sun sells support and other services for OpenOffice.org, StarOffice and StarSuite, and cooperates with independent support vendors in various markets. We take pride in our major contribution to this ever-growing, open ecosystem.

 

Monday Aug 20, 2007

Office suites on Apple -- so many choices!

Suppose you buy a Mac (nice thought!) What will you use for an office productivity suite? I've been toying with the idea of getting a Mac, so my interest in this subject is more than academic. Also, since I've been doing StarOffice and OpenOffice.org services product management, I've got a professional interest, too. 

It turns out that there are lots of choices in this space, maybe the most on any platform. Let's see what's on offer:

Microsoft Office for the Mac -- probably the most popular choice. Microsoft has put a lot of effort into this product over the years, in spite of their rivalry with Apple. Back in the day when Apple had a huge share if the personal computer market, I've been told, Office for Mac was a major profit center for the Redmondians, and it's nice to see that they've kept it up. I've always been a big Excel fan, though I often find Word to be quite frustrating and unintuitive.

Apple iWork -- this one is starting to get interesting. It wasn't a complete choice until now, because it lacked a spreadsheet. Now it has one, and it's been getting good press. The price is right, too. It's always nice to use software built by the guys who built the hardware, just like Solaris on Sun. iWorks is the replacement for the obsolete AppleWorks.

NeoOffice -- I don't know too much about it, except that it is the brainchild of a couple of guys who used to work on OfficeOffice.org, and started life as a port of OpenOffice to the Mac. Main claim to fame: it uses the wonderful Mac Aqua screen interface instead of X11 and also has the virtue of being an open source project. I know guys within Sun who use it and like it.

OpenOffice.org for Mac -- helps pay my salary, so I'm not objective, but I use its twin StarOffice (on Windows XP) on a daily basis, and I've been very happy with it, much more than I thought I would be when I stopped using Microsoft Office. I haven't used OpenOffice.org on the Mac, but I think it's clear in general that StarOffice/OpenOffice.org is the only professional-quality office suite out there that can rival Microsoft Office. If I get a Mac soon, OO.o will be my choice. The main drawback of OpenOffice.org on Mac is that it uses the X11 windowing system, instead of the native Mac Aqua, and there are folks for whom that is a major issue.

OpenOffice.org, Mac Aqua port -- yep, it's coming. There are engineers working on it full time, and the screen shots I've seen look amazing.  All the professional quality of OpenOffice.org combined with the elegance and clarity of Aqua.

Lots of choices! It's nice that Sun plays a big role in the diversity available on the Mac.

Sunday Aug 12, 2007

OpenOffice.org and linguistic diversity

We were talking with our son in Dubai on the weekend, and he pointed out how striking it is over there that English is the worls's lingua franca now. Dubai is a mashup of people from dozens of cultures, and they all communicate with each other in English. As my son pointed out, the British Empire started this trend, and the pervasive influence of media has only strengthened it.

I think it's clear that the computer is one medium that has accelerated this trend, through the Internet, but I think there is a happy counter-trend, too. Yes, the computer has solidified the place of English as the world's language of commerce, but it has also had the beneficial effect of preserving and encouraging the use of suppressed and waning languages. I like to think that OpenOffice.org is playing a useful role here. OpenOffice.org is one of the most globalized pieces of software in existence, with ongoing community-based localization projects in more than 80 languages. Take a look here at a list of the projects.

I was particularly impressed with OO.o's level of commitment to native language support when I read about the upcoming OpenOffice.org Conference (OOoCon 2007) in Barcelona. As the conference site notes, over the last seven years, the Barcelona-based OpenOffice Catalan localization team has distributed over 2 million copies of OpenOffice.org in Catalan. When you realize that Catalan was actively suppressed under the Franco regime, you can see the important role that our profession can play in the preservation and expansion of the world's cultural and linguistic diversity.

  

Tuesday Jul 31, 2007

StarOffice is invisible

I went to Borders the other night to see if there were any books on StarOffice or OpenOffice.org. Not a single one, but dozens on MSFT Office. What's up with that? Are we suffering from "If you build it, they will come" syndrome? Then I went to the web site of Encore Software, the US retail distributor of StarOffice. I didn't see SO listed on their home page among the games they sell, so used their search facility. It came up with nothing. We have an excellent product that sells at a fraction of the price of its only real competitor -- maybe we should tell the world about it.

Monday Jul 23, 2007

A funny thing happened to OpenOffice.org

Great companies follow their customers, and sometimes those customers go in unexpected directions. When StarOffice split into two products, it was thought that OpenOffice.org would be the hobbyist-oriented, community-supported version,  and that StarOffice would be the professionally-supported version that would be demanded by large organizations, rather in the mode of RedHat and Fedora. Then a funny thing happened.

As Jonathan pointed out recently, OpenOffice.org is popping up everywhere, and it is being adopted by some very large organizations, particularly government agencies around the world. More and more, agencies are following mandates that the software they use be entirely open. However, these large customers don't want to run unsupported, and Sun, following its customers where they lead, is beginning to sign deals to support OpenOffice.org. You read that right: customers can buy professional OpenOffice.org support from Sun. This takes nothing away from StarOffice -- there are still plenty of customers signing up for StarOffice support.  But it does show that sometimes whole market segments come out of nowhere, and astute companies must be ready to serve them. Sun is ready.

I was recently assigned to be the product manager for StarOffice and OpenOffice.org services, so this subject is very close to my heart. Anything you'd like to see happen in StarOffice and OpenOffice.org support? Let me know. Sun follows its customers.

Sunday Mar 26, 2006

OpenOffice in unexpected places

I noticed something interesting about OpenOffice: it's starting to pop up in unexpected places. You've probably seen those ubiquitous home-shopping channels that are all over cable TV. Here is a fairly pricey laptop from V2 Premier offered on ShopNBC. It costs more than $1700. To make the price a little more palatable, they include Windows XP and MS Works, but not MS Office. Instead, the "productivity DVD" that ships with the machine contains -- you guessed it -- OpenOffice.

A few years ago, theorists like Eric Raymond were proposing that Open Source software would take over when the price of computer hardware fell so low (like $200) that the OS would be the most expensive component, and that low end manufacturers would then start shipping Linux instead of Windows.  In practice, something different has occurred. Manufacturers have succeeded in raising the price of PCs, by offering more bells and whistles that the public wants, like portability --there's been a definite consumer shift to laptops-- and better entertainment options. To keep the price from getting completely ridiculous, it seems they're cutting out MS Office, and beginning to substitute OpenOffice on Windows.

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