Is OpenOffice attrifying?

Michael Meeks certainly seems to think so

Whilst he accepts there are plenty of flaws in his analysis, the broad picture is pretty discouraging.

He reckons OO has about 24 active (code) contributors. MS Office 2007 had 700 staff! Although I’m not sure how many of them were coders, or how many were actually sabotaging the interface instead of enhancing the product. I’d guess 100 coders? (I can’t remember where I read that 700 staff number, anyone got a link?)

Michael points to some grim procedures as part of the cause, and I’m sure that is the case. My personal opinion though is that there are very few C/C++ coders who are that interested in office suites.

Its the same story in the MS world – Vista has had all the headlines, very few bothered to delve into the actual apps that ‘users’ use.

I looked at contributing to OOo, and its still on the list of ‘one day’s, but I want to start off with Gnumeric as that codebase seems easier to follow. A couple of things put me off contributing code though

  1. The need to sign over some part of the copyright to Sun – that doesn’t seem very ‘open source’ (thats OOo not Gnumeric)
  2. Getting into coding in Linux
  3. The need to earn a living

I hope to get there one day, but for now it seems that those with the technical skills don’t have the interest in the applications, and those with the interest in the applications do not have the requisite technical skills.

This conundrum is something Microsoft have come very close to solving with Office VBA. And something it now looks like they have thrown away with the spurning of VBA in favour of .net developer technology.

There are a few .net/Office devs around, and some great resources, but not many compared to the huge body of VBA resources available. Even though VBA has been unloved (in MS) since the 90’s.

If OOo made it possible for ordinary users to write add-ins and extensions, with no more difficulty than VBA do you think that would boost the community contributions?

(Michael is one of the folks working on getting VBA into OOo)

I don’t know if it would show up on his stats but I do think it would boost the OpenOffice ecosystem. Frankly you would have to be pretty dedicated to port a VBA app to StarBasic.

I think End User customisation and development facilities are essential in this end user productivity space, OOo seem to know that, MS used to know it but seem to have forgotten. And I do mean END USER, ‘professional’ dev tools are handy enough, but its the application users who need the power more than the IT team.

I want OpenOffice to do well, if it does it could easily replace MS Office as my target environment. Even if it doesn’t reach those heady heights, if it just gives MS the kick up the arse they need to listen to their actual customers instead of corporate IT middlemen, it will have succeeded for a lot of knowledge workers.

Maybe I need to re-prioritise OOo a little higher.



8 Responses to “Is OpenOffice attrifying?”

  1. Doug Glancy Says:

    “If OOo made it possible for ordinary users to write add-ins and extensions, with no more difficulty than VBA do you think that would boost the community contributions?”

    Yes! Actually, I’m not sure about community contributions, but it sure would be nice. Intellisense would be cool too.

    I was sorry to read this. I kind of figured if I waited until 4.0 or so, it would be truly competitive with Excel. OTOH, I think it’s amazing that an open-source program of this quality was ever developed at all.

  2. Dennis Wallentin Says:


    Originally a German company, StarOffice, tried to run a business with a commerical version. Later the software StarOffice was bought by SUN and they handed over all the code to a group of developer that created OpenOffice.

    It’s interesting and confusing that SUN promote a commercial version, StarOffice, but work close with the developers on the free version OpenOffice.

    The major differences seems to be better spelling support and more images in the commercial version and support in 90 days from SUN.

    Kind regards,

  3. Simon Says:

    I thought the big benefit of star office over OO was the migration tools to make it easier to migrate from MSO.

    I think Sun will disappear this year, that might actually boost OO, if there process is killing it.
    I’ve just read another analyst marking them down, I hope they open everything up on their way out.

  4. Bob Phillips Says:

    Wow! That is a big statement Simon. Evidence?

  5. Simon Says:

    oops – there s/d their of course – poor show that.

    No real evidence just a feeling i get from what I read. I just get the sense they may be heading to junk bond status. I mean what do they sell? where do they make their money? answer they don’t make money, they make a loss. I know they have lots of great hardware and software tech, but the last 18 months, they have been unable to convert that to a profitable business.

    Actually things are maybe looking up for them:

  6. Eddie Tam Says:


    Actually, the infrastructure to install add-in and extensions under OO is a lot better than the MS equivalent.

    Examples of add-in and extensions for OO can be found on:

    Also, the OpenOffice Netbeans Integration tool makes it easy to develop add-in under java:

    I’m so frustrated with the myriad of problems developing add-ins under MS environment. Using the Excel C API could be difficult and MS has neglected the Excel C API for many years. Try something easier with VB6, you are still stuck with COM registration and complicated deployment. The .NET COM Interop is stupidly slow at times.

    Been testing the water on OO lately and found that the underlying technologies in OO are not bad at all.

    By all means gives MS “the kick up the arse”.

  7. Simon Says:

    Eddie – thats a very good summary of the Excel add-in landscape.
    It misses VBA, which although it has its own set of problems, is very very easy to develop and deploy and by far the most common add-in tech. If OO can match this then things will get lively I think.

  8. Eddie Tam Says:

    Simon – yes, VBA is the most common add-in tech and we often use it. Like you said, is has its own set of problems.

    In terms of underlying technologies, I am quite suprise to found that OO has much more advanced features than the MS equilvalent. Among some of the advanced features are:

    1. OO actually behaves like a server even running on a local machine. Programatically create a new instance of Excel object actually start a new process. In OO, it is just a new connection to an existing instance of OO process.
    2. You can run OO in a “headless mode”, it uses TCP/IP for communication. No problem with remote clients, no need to worry about DCOM for remote connections.
    3. The add-in management in the recent version of OO is suprisingly good. Installing add-in/extension is easy with the OO Extension manager. SUN stated that it has borrowed the ideas from Mozilla Firefox.

    The are more but to be honest, I am not an expert in OO. I just started to explore the features with the aim to create an OO version of our existing Excel applications. Based on my experience so far, it has shown promises.

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