In addition to blogging, I've also begun to contribute quarterly pieces on everything open (from open source to open standards to open business models) at Livre.nl which is a Dutch content portal focused on the same topics. For those who can't read Dutch I've posted my contribution for the 4th quarter of this year in English, below. I wrote it last month, so it's probably considered a bit dated from the perspective of the blogosphere but might still prove worth a read. For the record, I'm not fluent in Dutch either, but the Livre.nl folks are kind enough to translate my writing in advance of posting it.
Analysis of the IBM – OpenOffice.org Annoucement
On September 10th, the announcement that IBM is
now officially an active supporter and contributor to OpenOffice.org was
released to the public. There are several angles and perspectives to the impact
that this will have as far as open source, open standards and office
productivity tools goes. It remains illogical to peg IBM’s move as a precursor to
the fall of Microsoft Office as undisputed king of the hill for office
productivity. The fact that IBM has just as much to gain as it does to
contribute is overlooked in the process of casting the company solely as a
benefactor. Overall, there is considerable room for more innovation and
progress from alternatives like OpenOffice.org, all of which will accelerate the
current rate of change in the direction of those same emergent parties.
A Much Needed Push for OpenOffice.org?
Since its inception in 2000, through the graces of Sun Microsystems, OpenOffice.org has established itself as the leading open source productivity suite on the market with 40 million downloads since 2003. Yet, market share estimates have yet to demonstrate that OpenOffice.org is putting a dent in the mammoth 95% market share held by Microsoft Office with its 400 million copies in use. The crux of the matter is that Microsoft-controlled formats have become de-facto standards, as a result of extremely thorough market penetration by Office and, in relation, the lack of sustained competition. OpenOffice.org has made an honest effort to address interoperability with these formats only to find resistance from the fact that they are closed and proprietary as much as by Microsoft’s complete control over them.
Regardless of the Microsoft slant, OpenOffice.org has yet to reach functional equivalence in crucial areas such as spreadsheet, database and project management. In making the transition from Microsoft Office, users continue to voice issues regarding the shortage of viable replacements for functions on which they have developed critical dependencies. While OpenOffice.org remains a quality alternative for basic productivity uses, those users who have made significant legacy investments in Microsoft Office find that even a small fraction of missing interoperability and feature completeness is enough reason to remain “victims” of lock-in.
There was talk that delays in the release of both
Newer tools like wikis and productivity applications
delivered over the web (Google Apps) are causing users, organizations and
businesses to consider whether Microsoft should be at the nexus of their
options. Web-based approaches may not be ready to replace the desktop but they
do offer OpenOffice.org the opportunity to use the open source model to
integrate more web-centric content and information as sources of competitive
differentiator. OpenOffice.org would benefit greatly from creating tie-in’s and
integration points with this new paradigm. IBM’s direct involvement in the form
of the infusion of technology [source code] and engineering [35 full-time
programmers] might help make this prospect move closer to reality within the
near future. The IBM brand will also boost the credibility of a project that is
already far from anonymous, which might work towards encouraging other members
of IBM’s expansive partner ecosystem to consider how contributing to OpenOffice.org
might benefit them.
The IBM & ODF Angle
The commitment of support to OpenOffice.org is neither the first, nor the last by IBM in regards to open source software, or other open initiatives. The company can be traced as having furnished some sort of contribution to the following, amongst other, communities:
- The Linux kernel – http://kernel.org/
- Eclipse - http://www.eclipse.org/
- Apache Geronimo – http://geronimo.apache.org/
- The OpenAjax Alliance – http://www.openajax.org/
- The OpenDocumentFormat
Alliance – http://www.odfalliance.org/
In the case of OpenOffice.org, IBM has been using its code for several years as the basis of its own version of office applications that have been integrated into the Lotus Notes 8 collaboration suite. They essentially forked the source code for internal use. Forking open source code is no easy task, even for a large corporation with access to considerable resources. So by synchronizing it internal efforts with the official OpenOffice.org code base, IBM will be able to better leverage the collective potential of a community that is bound to grow even more. Instead of facing the complex task of maintaining a separate fork, communal resources will be leveraged towards facilitating what better amounts to a general distribution. Consequently, future releases of IBM Lotus Symphony will benefit from being able to draw OpenOffice.org features directly from a general community distribution that has been verified by various pockets of the entire OpenOffice.org umbrella.
Even so, IBM has the most to gain from supporting the OpenOffice.org rise to parity with respect to its effect on the acceptance of open standard-driven, document formats. As it stands, the OpenDocument Formats (ODF) has suffered from the dearth of a fully compatible office productivity suite that is available as open source. As somewhat of a counter measure, IBM will release the aforementioned Lotus Symphony free-of-charge. Symphony includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation tool. It is freely available to all users-- business, professional, academic, and consumer. In addition to running on both Windows and Linux, Symphony supports ODF and Microsoft Office formats. By contributing to the diversity of office productivity offerings, IBM strengthens the case for the acceptance of ODF. Interestingly, without the continued availability of progressively better offerings like Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice.org, it is very unlikely that a sufficient level of demand for ODF from the public sphere will foment in the near future.
The potential effects of continued Microsoft product
saturation were, in part, demonstrated when the State of Massachusetts decided
that they would move to accept both the Microsoft Office Open XML formats (OOXML) and ODF as acceptable formats.
The decision rendered in early August of this year was a reversal of the
state’s previous stance that only truly open standards should be included in
their Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM). As Microsoft scrambled to attain OOXML approval by Ecma
International, indicators pointed to a contingent of elements uncomfortable
with excluding Microsoft formats based on the perceived lack of alternatives
for applications contained within the Office productivity package.
OpenOffice.org has the opportunity to surface at the forefront of a new wave of solutions that address some widely held concerns about the availability of Microsoft Office alternatives. If the involvement of IBM spurs further progress as a comprehensive offering and the according mainstream momentum, the ODF movement will receive a much needed boost from a widely available, open alternative that also affords compatibility with legacy Microsoft formats. Moreover, the recent setback for OOXML at the hands of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)/ International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), where it failed to achieve the required number of votes for approval, provides further cause for all members of ODF camp (IBM included) to press forward with more support of OpenOffice.org during the aftermath of Microsoft’s failed standards fast track.