OpenOffice tensions

I like OpenOffice, I think its a viable competitor to Microsoft Office. One of the big problems (IMO) with many open source projects (including Linux) is the fragmentation. To really make headway in a commercial sense I think there needs to be some serious coordination. I was interested to hear that IBM were joining OpenOffice, and am looking forward to seeing the effects.

I was disappointed to read of trouble at’ mill the other day though. There seems to be some licensing issues that not all contributors are happy with. This is interesting as when I looked at contributing to OOo, the first thing I noticed was I had to assign my copyright to Sun (jointly, not exclusively). That didn’t seem very ‘free’ and open source. Turns out there are a few people with that view. The net effect is another version of OpenOffice with slightly different functionality.

Gnumeric doesn’t suffer from this as there are a small band of enthusiasts, with limited big business faff and hassle. Microsoft doesn’t suffer from this fragmentation as they invest so much effort in coordination. Although I do sometimes wonder if the user experience team are batting for the other side.

I don’t know if this multiple version effect is a good thing or a bad thing. I totally struggle to use Excel 2007 as its so completely targeted at non developers, my heavily customised 2003 beats it hands down in every way. But thats just the UI, these various versions of OOo have varying levels of VBA spport for example. So I can’t do my stuff in VBA safe in the knowledge that the customer will have the same level of support. Thats not ideal.

Anyone else bothered by this?



12 Responses to “OpenOffice tensions”

  1. Jon Peltier Says:

    So what’s the proportion of serious spreadsheet users that use OO?

    According to my web page stats, only a few percent of visitors to my site use Macs, so I feel no pressing need to make my tutorials or utilities Mac-friendly. Many are, since I developed them originally using Excel 97, but the payoff is nil. My payoff for adding Excel 2007 content is also small; I have only two clients actively using 2007, though there are more posts lately in the online forums about 2007 (same old questions, though, so the more recent adopters haven’t read any of the caveats). So I have doubt about the use of investing even ten minutes in anything related to OO.

  2. Stephane Rodriguez Says:


    Isn’t this a vicious circle ?

    If we don’t make the first step, how can we expect those technologies to get adopted ? We have helped Microsoft, haven’t we?

  3. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    >>We have helped Microsoft, haven’t we?

    That’s very true.

    In view of the fact that the public sectors (including schools) in a various countries moves to StarOffice/OpenOffice indicates that there may be a business market for consulting service.

    Strictly speaking, at present this may be a compliment to the Excel service in a similar way as with VSTO service.

    So why not build up a similar concept around GNumeric, OpenCalc including websites?

    Kind regards,

  4. Jon Peltier Says:

    Stephame –

    “If we don’t make the first step”

    Who’s this “we”? I feel no responsibility to spend an unknown but probably huge number of hours on an unknown software platform so that at some unknown time in the future, this platform may supplant the 800-lb gorilla.

    When I started with spreadsheets, Loyus was king, but only Excel was available in Windows, so I used Excel. Within a couple of years Lotus was a footnote. As far as I’m concerned, OO has not yet emerged from future footnote status, and I have to feed my family.

    While I may have wanted to help Microsoft, I’m not sure that I’ve had much if any effect on their designs and plans. I know that I have helped a lot of other users of Microsoft products.

  5. Jon Peltier Says:

    Dennis –

    In the US I see a lot of schools making their students use Macs. This may benefit the teachers, many of whom are afraid of computers but have seen and believed the TV ads that indicate that Macs are easier to use. It does not benefit the students, who must learn Windows and Windows-based applications when they get into real world employment. The fact that students know Macs has not at all led businesses to convert from PCs to Macs. I would not expect students’ use of Open Office in schools to drive companies’ adoption of these applications.

  6. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    “we” means anybody that has an impact on decision makers directly or not : vendors, consultants, book writers, …

    “an unknown software platform” : OpenOffice is an unknown platform? What is the goal of a book called a “bible” of a given product, if not to make it less unknown?

    “I know that I have helped a lot of other users of Microsoft products.” : That’s my definition of helping Microsoft. For every cent you make, Microsoft makes millions.

  7. Dennis Wallentin Says:


    In the short run it’s all about saving money by using less expensive productive suites in the public sector.

    At my kids’s school every pupil is allowed to use a StarOffice license at home for free.

    I think these two situations are good because it reduce the number of illegal copies of MSFT’s Office suite (also among micro and small companies).

    If this situation creates business opportunities for me then I’m pleased and if not then I always can help out my kids.

    Kind regards,

  8. Simon Says:

    At college they made us code C++ in vi with gcc on Linux. It frustrated me because I knew stuff like VB was so much more productive, and I would have to revert back to MS tech to make a living.
    But with hindsight I think there is a big philosophical question, and I think its right that education should support open source and free s/w.
    If the commercial stuff is as good as the vendors tell us then anyone who has learnt o/s stuff should be able to pick up the proprietory stuff easy peasey right?

  9. Harlan Grove Says:

    As far as college/university goes, are they teaching programming as a field of academic study (or system programming) or as a trade (so application programming)? If the former, they could require students to use ALGOL 68, PL/I or assembler and still do what they’re supposed to be doing. If the latter, why waste time going to university?

    Myself, I can’t understand why anyone still uses Microsoft Works. I know MSFT is converting it to adware, but it’d still be underpowered compared to OOo even if its price becomes the same (zero). If (and this may be a HUGE if) OOo replaces Works as the alternative to Office on new consumer PCs, then over time there’d be a lot of home/hobbist users who become familiar with it. If there were tens of millions of casual OOo users, would businesses still be scared about saving O(100) dollars/euros/pounds per seat by giving it to most users rather than Microsoft Office? Note: I said MOST – there’s still enough of a functionality gap between OOo and Office that some users would still benefit from Office. But Office on every PC is a waste of money.

  10. Jon Peltier Says:

    Stephane –

    >>“an unknown software platform” : OpenOffice is an unknown platform?

    I guess what I meant is a platform unknown to myself, and not in wide use.

    >>For every cent you make, Microsoft makes millions.

    Yes, but they make the same millions whether or not I help a single one of their users. My activities helping their users make no difference to Microsoft’s bottom line.

    Corrolary: For every cent my brother makes selling plumbing supplies, and every cent my sister makes selling insurance, Microsoft makes millions. True, but who cares?

  11. Jon Peltier Says:

    Dennis –

    >>In the short run it’s all about saving money by using less expensive productive suites in the public sector.

    The example I gave was Macs in my kids’ public schools. Where’s the cost savings?

  12. Harlan Grove Says:

    Apple sells Macs on the cheap to schools, and some educational software sellers sell their stuff to schools on the cheap as well. But the big savings comes from the Mac servers which, in the simple configurations used in most schools, makes admin and maintenance easier/less expensive than with Windows. Add the savings of not having to buy an AV license for every machine since they’re not using an OS with a miles-wide diameter bullseye on its backside, and it’s possible choosing Macs is a rational economic choice.

    That said, Linux on no name PCs would be cheaper still for h/w and s/w, but admin/maintenance might cost more.

    But as far as my own town’s school district is concerned, MSFT software audits are so nasty, costly and time consuming (especially when dealing with donated PCs) that minimizing MSFT software use is ALWAYS the right decision.

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