LibreOffice: An Idea Whose Time Has Come (and Gone)

60 Comments

The big news in Open Source Land this week is that the OpenOffice community has kissed goodbye to its project owner, Oracle (s orcl), so it can set up The Document Foundation and a new spin on the OpenOffice code called LibreOffice. The bigger news is that anyone cares.

After all, it’s not as if office suites are playing center stage in technology innovation. Not even Microsoft (s msft), which has owned the office productivity suite market for decades, has bothered to release meaningful changes to the desktop version of Office this century. So why should we expect more from The Document Foundation?

Supporters will likely cite Microsoft’s dominance as the very reason to look elsewhere for innovation. Indeed, The Document Foundation has declared its aim to channel innovation back into the office productivity market:

The Foundation will be the cornerstone of a new ecosystem where individuals and organizations can contribute to and benefit from the availability of a truly free office suite. It will generate increased competition and choice for the benefit of customers and drive innovation in the office suite market.

Perhaps. But why start from the paradigm of 1980s technology? Nothing on the Foundation’s new website, or in any of its press materials, suggests that the Foundation’s purpose is to do anything more than free OpenOffice development from the control of one company, Oracle. There’s no discussion of the possibilities of integration with the web. Screenshots look an awful lot like the OpenOffice suite that LibreOffice claims to leave behind.

This isn’t surprising, given that the new LibreOffice has only recently divorced itself from OpenOffice, not to mention the Foundation’s own proclamation that it’s not looking to fork OpenOffice, but rather for “continuity” with its OpenOffice past. Given that it starts from the same client-heavy code base and mentality, how can it hope to truly liberate OpenOffice from the shackles of the desktop on which it was born?

If anyone is advancing the office productivity market, it’s Google Apps (s goog) or Zoho Office, which were born on the web. It’s unclear what a web-light, client-heavy Microsoft Office clone can hope to achieve in terms of real innovation. And why are we worried about replicating Microsoft Office functionality, which has long been the aim of the OpenOffice community? While some Excel spreadsheet jocks may live in Microsoft Office, very few of the rest of us give it more than a cursory glance on a regular basis. It’s not that we’re not engaged in “office productivity,” either. We just work differently now.

We email. We SMS. We Facebook. We IM. Or perhaps we crop photos in iPhoto (s aapl) or make movies in iMovie. What we don’t do, or rarely do, is open a Word document to create a stale relic of communication. Business moves too fast these days to open attachments. Again, yes, there are people who live in documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. But these people are not you, most of the time.

Real innovation today is occurring at the intersection between cloud data and client-side code, as TripAdvisor demonstrates. And it’s happening in the very definition of rich-client applications, as such applications become more mobile and more web-friendly through the innovations of Strobe Inc. and others.

In short, there are far better uses of The Document Foundation’s developer talents than replicating Microsoft’s tired Office legacy. I think a better OpenOffice is a worthy goal, and support that. After all, enterprises will rely on Office and documents for years to come, even as they keep the green-screen terminals around to support outdated applications.

But the future belongs to the web, and The Document Foundation’s very name suggests a backward-looking focus, not the future focus that will keep it relevant. The web is built upon open source, and many of its most interesting innovations have arisen from the open-source community. I’d love to see The Document Foundation help move the conversation around “documents” to the web that is supplanting the need for relics of the way we once worked.

Note: My company, Canonical, supports The Document Foundation. The views expressed here are completely my own.

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60 Comments

Joerg

I know, it has all been said but as there is such a strong clash between the article and the actual reality of average user needs that I feel the need to comment.

I manage IT infrastructure for about 2000 people. They all “live in documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.” All of them, every day. Their ages range from 17 to 70. Most of them are students, many are teachers and of course there’s managers, assistants, accountants. Even sysadmins…

Sure, everyone *also* works in web-based, collaborative environments. (The most important ones of which are run by ourselves, on our own infrastructure, btw.) There’s also a lot of “IMing and Facebooking”, mostly for fun, but sometimes to collaborate on things. Are these environments going to replace office suites? No. They could if there were a significant overlap of use cases, but there just isn’t.

jason

I don’t Facebook or IM or crop photos in iPhoto. I do have hundreds of Openoffice documents and add more daily. Since when is client-based desktop productivity software dead?

Anoninato

The day my bank announces they’re moving their internal docs to the cloud/web/facebook/etc. is the day I move all of my savings to their competition.

Also, the “few Excel spreadsheet jocks” that you talk about are moving tons of money transfers in many institutions. And they aren’t a few.

You can’t tie an office productivity suite to the same consumer market that spends the day on facebook. They aren’t the ones making the MS Office division one of the most profitable in Microsoft.

Sir, you are missing the point

We’re not rich like you do. 2/3 of the web users can not afford to stay online permanently just so they can “office” their way in the web. OFFLINE is still the BEST choice.

With your statements, it is now clear who’s the culprit in removing a lot of features from Ubuntu since Lucid. Features that are very useful for non broadband users which is still more than half of the world’s Internet users.

You effectively told them to “go away, Ubuntu is only for people who can go online permanently and using the latest in Internet connection” systems or protocols.

Gordon F.

You’re hoping that the future is the web because your open-source desktop applications are hopelessly terrible. The whole article is just a long, twisted way of wishful thinking.

Satrio Adi Rukmono

“Not even Microsoft, which has owned the office productivity suite market for decades, has bothered to release meaningful changes to the desktop version of Office this century.”

In fact, they did. But I think you’re too busy emailing, Facebooking, IMing, etc. etc. so you didn’t notice. Office 2007 with Ribbon UI is so far the original easiest office suit I’ve ever used. I support open source (in fact LibreOffice is the only installed office suit in my computer) but honestly, Office 2007 is simply the best.

And as other commentators stated, real people still use desktop office suits. Lucky for you to live in developed country, but in most developing countries, Internet connection is something expensive and considered a luxury. Try using Google Docs here; I bet almost half of the time you spend is waiting for the app to load.

Ondrej

Hi Matt. Contrary to what most other commenters say, I for one agree. I’ve been running a small business for 18 years, and the last office software we bought for our computers was Office 97. I don’t think I ever received a .doc document after late 1990s except from one small company in rural southwest USA. All else is email, etc. with the occasional PDF. I use MS Word from time to time, though. To count the number of characters in stuff that I write.

Keven

I completely disagree. Maybe YOU’RE the odd man out, when you say you don’t use the antiquated method of communication known as a word document. But, my customers- who are real, working people, who use their computers every day for work AND enjoyment- NEED to have an office suite. Some shell out out for MS Office- others use iWork- still others are ok with OpenOffice (LibreOffice now- and no, it’s not much different at this point- )
You’re saying that documents are antiquated, and say that the future belongs to the web- but, what are we storing on the web, if not documents? (Excluding youtube videos, facebook photos and the like?) Businesses don’t run on photographs cropped in iphoto- They need to send something to convey the information they need their employees and customers to know.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding the gist of your article, but until holograms and direct telepathic communication are common, I don’t think that documents are going anywhere.

Avner

Where is the dislike button ?

“We email. We SMS. We Facebook. We IM. Or perhaps we crop photos in iPhoto (s aapl) or make movies in iMovie. What we don’t do, or rarely do, is open a Word document to create a stale relic of communication. Business moves too fast these days to open attachments. Again, yes, there are people who live in documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. But these people are not you, most of the time.”

hmmm… I’m reading this over over, and I can’t find anything that is related to the word “Work”, in its simplest term.

All what you wrote is related to “fun” and not to “work”. or maybe you have the job ever.

Almost all real offices, (not like the one you’re luckily at) still heavily depends on their office productivity suit.
I should know that, as a one that has & had managed the computer systems, at companies with thousands of computer.

If I would remove their Microsoft Office suit, I would get fired the next day. (note: I did tried OpenOffice, and still trying it to some extent. but the compatibility issues prevent it from being a real replacement)

Cloud computing is not the answer, yet. With the reliability of the communication infrastructure, and its monthly costs, it can’t be a replacement for a local desktop solution. (or one based on a terminal servers-thin clients)

I welcome this move, and my manager welcome it even more. The cost for each licence of Microsoft office is 300$ and more.

sirrahn

Think it been said, but I agree with most of the posts that I do not see the move away from office apps that’s assumed in this article.

The premise of a lot of these debates like this is that to be worthwhile projects need to be doing something innovative/cloud based – that application on computers are old hat and the past.

I am yet to be convinced that I want to run a potentially slower, potentially unavailable cloud based application when I can run one from my computer – why?

wally

“We just work differently now”

“We”???

No, we don’t. Work for most of us is still documents, orders, authorizations, contracts, reports, payrolls, specifications, etc., etc. etc. and we need copyable, distributable, permanent paper records.

moondowner

The time for desktop office productivity suites is always _now_. It will never be late for them. They can work off-line, can provide lots of features, and can be customizable.

Plus, not everything can be provided by an on-line office suite. Can I make a presentation with Google Docs or Zoho in the same way as with OpenOffice.org Presentation?

“In short, there are far better uses of The Document Foundation’s developer talents than replicating Microsoft’s tired Office legacy. ”
And lastly, I don’t like this sentence/attitude for two reasons, first, OpenOffice.org (or the forked LibreOffice) is a complete alternative to MS Office, what’s there to replicate? and second, their developer talents should be focused on LibreOffice, is there a proper Desktop without a proper office suite?

BigLinuxGuy

Matt,

I respectfully disagree. The majority of business communications are in some form of document (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation). Where or how the document is created is of little importance, especially given the “ideal” of universal access to the Internet is still not a reality.

While I understand the evangelism of “let’s all just use web apps and forget about having anything installed locally”, the truth of the matter, especially with regards to mobile cellular data networks, is that one cannot always find a wireless connection. Furthermore, even with the increases in capacity and speed promised by the LTE networks, the cruel reality is that a large chunk of the pipe will be consumed with the additional signaling traffic required by those technologies.

I’ve grown accustomed to technology trend evangelism, although I find it distasteful to mix religion into secular issues. It seems that it is an inseparable element that accompanies the hubris associated with anything these days. However, attempting to present something as an inevitability is fallacious and always translates into hyperbole aimed to support a particular position.

To wit, although online office suite-like apps have become more popular they have not unseated locally installed desktop applications for most businesses because they don’t pass the sniff test with most corporate data security teams. Should they pass? Not my place to judge, but that seems to be the way the world really is.

For what it’s worth, I’m a proponent of open source in my company, but our selection process is based upon selecting the right toolsets for our needs, not blindly selecting toolsets because “all the cool kids are doing it”, which is, to some degree, what I get from your post.

The nature of Open Source is to scratch an itch. If a group wants to fork OpenOffice, then I say go for it. It’s well within the Open Source social contract. To discourage forks is not within that social contract. The users will ultimately decide whether or not the fork thrives or perishes.

Locally installed apps exist because bandwidth is not infinite nor free (major flaw in the web app argument). I appreciate your enthusiasm for web apps, but please reflect it as such, not as an inevitability.

Alan

Like many other commenters, I think you are wrong to disregard the importance of a client-based office suite. The internet may be the future of the office suite, but to say that it is the present would be premature. Even in the first world, many of us lack fast and reliable internet connections, and naturally this is even more true of the second and third worlds. Though I suppose most people using open source technology in the first world may be assumed to have some kind of internet connection, it doesn’t follow that everyone is in a position to rely on this connection for what may be the vast bulk of their work depending on the area they work in.

benq

Hum, no. Maybe you’re right when it comes to your own business (IT), however, how does an average OFFICE look like? An office suite should meet the requirements of an average office. The average office does not (and will not in the near or mid-term future) do cloud computing. At best you see Thin-Clients and Application-Servers. Any organization would be hard-boiled to use Google Docs (or any other online-solution) for their Office work (for liability and control reasons; sure I can’t control what MS makes out of Office, but I can at least decide to stick with the old one as long as possible). Not to forget that the regular user of an Office suite HATES changes. They use it to get things done and they don’t want to do it with a new paradigm of UI design. MS Office tried new interface designs and changed back, for exactly that reason.

So I think that innovation and office are two things that do nor readily work together. We still use FAX, of course we email, some firms also prefer email over *.doc, but what do they do with the emails? They print them out and stick them in a paper file. So, expecting true innovations to widespread in average offices is just as right as waiting for the paperless office.

Grep

Wow.

You sound so arrogant. Not everyone wants to have there documents in the cloud, that can be option… but the default.

The fact that you’re associated with Canonical and even worse, you’re an executive member… makes me sick. Thanks for your useless rant.

The Static

Sometimes I want to be off-line. Just me and my PC. And in the country where I currently live being on-line is not always a satisfying experience (I am not patient enough).
Always, I want my document to be on my PC where I control who can access it (more precisely, where I can prevent G or F look into it and learn about me).
I used various DTP and document tools (not at professional level) and found that OOo is exactly what I need. It can be polished here and there, yes, but I can type in my text and format as much as I need. It is just right for my need. And the price (both in money (zero) and privacy loss (zero)) is just right.

Nate

I think this article right. The web is the way forward. We need an open source Google Docs replacement more than we need a MS Office replacement.

However, as many of the comments pointed out, much of the world is still stuck in the ’80’s. So, LibreOffice will be nice, but ultimately, it’s a dead end road.

Bob C.

Some of have no wish to be in the cloud and like to keep our data locally. I have trouble understanding why people think the desktop is dead, or that desktop apps are dead or retro.

I agree with the other people commenting who disagree with the article. It’s a pity the article has been picked up by a news source, and it’s a further pity that on the page as I am able to see it, there’s a place to vote for liking the article, but none for disliking it.

Micah

The fact that such a high Canonical exec would make such statements makes me even more skeptical about Ubuntu’s direction.

Bruce D'Arcus

Cloud-based documents are still documents, so I don’t think the new effort is necessarily only ever going to have a desktop focus. I certainly agree we need a robust, open source alternative to what is now a virtually exclusively proprietary market for cloud-based productivity.

The Article's Author Is a Tool

You write with the temperament of an arrogant child.

“We email. We SMS. We Facebook. We IM. Or perhaps we crop photos in iPhoto (s aapl) or make movies in iMovie. What we don’t do, or rarely do, is open a Word document to create a stale relic of communication.”

Well, “we” need lessons on English grammar and punctuation. It is no wonder that you cannot craft in an application such as Microsoft Word a coherent document of any significant length and complexity.

Also, mentioning privacy violator Facebook shows that you have no grip on reality: Only morons subject themselves to Facebook’s well-publicized abuses. IM clients are woefully insecure, too.

So, go stick your iDevice up your iCan, and stop bothering adults with your iMovies, iPhotos, and iRants.

Patrick Niedzielski

Sorry, but there were no errors in grammar in that quote. In your case, perhaps the royal “we” was actually literal. Look up intransitive verbs. Those things like “email” (which is a verb, “SMS” (same thing), “Facebook” (as Google has become a verb), and “IM” are all intransitive verbs.

“Also, mentioning privacy violator Facebook shows that you have no grip on reality: Only morons subject themselves to Facebook’s well-publicized abuses.”

So his argument is flawed because he says that people use Facebook? Or rather, he is living in his own world because he says that people use Facebook? Regardless of whether his premise is correct, your ad hominem is certainly fallacious.

“IM clients are woefully insecure, too.”

Don’t generalize. Protocols, maybe? But XMPP can be really secure if set up properly. And both Pidgin and Empathy support these securities.

“So, go stick your iDevice up your iCan, and stop bothering adults with your iMovies, iPhotos, and iRants.”

Where did he talk about iPhones/iPads/iPods in any detail again?

Stop your nonsense. If you don’t agree with the article, then say so. But don’t challenge a person’s grip on reality, call his grammar and punctuation (which is perfectly fine, by the way) wrong, making his argument wrong, or attack the poster. Let’s all try to be civil.

Cheers,
Patrick Niedzielski

AnonGuy

It still doesn’t hide the fact that your entire argument in the post is pretty inaccurate. Firstly, Microsoft Office Web Apps exist, and Google Docs is woefully inadequate compared to OWA despite having years worth of head start in it. Microsoft Office can Save To/Open From SkyDrive/SharePoint, and Office OneNote can Sync to SkyDrive (OWA)/SharePoint. Outlook Web Access has existed for years, and there’s no way you can say the user experience in GMail is superior to Outlook Web Access.

To say Microsoft has made no innovations in its Office Suite is patently false, and to imply that they have made no moves to Webifying their Office Suite is patently dishonest.

Patrick Niedzielski

@AnonGuy

“your entire argument”
I didn’t write this article…? Nor do I see where I was arguing what you are implying. Am I missing something?

Edwin Pine

I think that you might be a little misinformed about how offices and schools operate. When I go to work, I do not work on social networks, via SMS, or in photo organizers. In fact I use OpenOffice and Zimbra all day long for, really, everything I do, aside from file management (ie, moving these documents to folders, to file shares, etc, which for the record I do in KDE Dolphin). So the importance and significance of an Enterprise-class office suite is very important.

That said, there is an audience for what you do and perceive others to do on computers, so I don’t think your post is wrong. It’s just not taking into account a very major market outside of your own niche.

Dave

“We just work differently now. We email. We SMS. We Facebook. We IM. Or perhaps we crop photos in iPhoto (s aapl) or make movies in iMovie. What we don’t do, or rarely do, is open a Word document to create a stale relic of communication.”

I trust this is a royal we. I, a reader of this blog, do not SMS or “Facebook”. (And iPhoto and iMovie are rather client-heavy applications, aren’t they?) My livelihood depends on being able to write long documents, and, while I don’t use ooffice, I use an even more venerable client-side document production tool: LaTeX.

Office suites are still *huge* in the enterprise world, not to mention the University. Many, many white-collar job ads still request Word/Excel expertise. And if you want to get anything published outside of the hard sciences, you have to submit your manuscript in doc format.

Google docs is still grossly inadequate for any extensive document editing. (Besides, there are *massive* privacy concerns involved in keeping personal documents on Google’s servers.)

To my mind, there is still no cloud quite like ssh’ing into a server for a quick bit of mutt and html editing. :)

Ian Bruce /Novell

I absolutely agree with the cloud argument, but today Microsoft Office has about 400 million units in use worldwide. There’s plenty of room for a viable open-source alternative.

jefro

“We email. We SMS. We Facebook. We IM. Or perhaps we crop photos in iPhoto (s aapl) or make movies in iMovie. What we don’t do, or rarely do, is open a Word document to create a stale relic of communication. Business moves too fast these days to open attachments. Again, yes, there are people who live in documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. But these people are not you, most of the time.”

Hi Matt – I’d love to see some studies that show this trend.

My anecdotal experience on the ground is that businesses now create MORE documents, not fewer. There are far more people using mobile devices now to communicate, but I would not be surprised to find that document production has also increased.

john

One cannot expect big changes after just one day of LibreOffice. This action is more ideology oriented that practical. One does not want to be dependent on one big organisation. The web has the future, but not if it is going to be controlled by Google. The pc-software market is dominated by Microsoft, I don’t like it. OpenOffice is open course and that is what is has to be. Hence the action, Oracle is not open source minded, time to go. LibreOffice is brilliant, give it a year, it will!

jhn

This strikes me as pretty wrong. Desktop software is not going anywhere; the fact that there are new things doesn’t mean that the old things go away. Native, locally-executed software still generally brings performance and features you can’t get elsewhere. Cloud apps are often “good enough,” and that’s about it. Furthermore, I can depend on a local app to keep working. With the cloud you have to worry about Xmarks situations–just running a server for the benefit of the Internet, it turns out, is not a sustainable business.

There certainly needs to be an effort to make sure the suite keeps up with new platforms. A free tablet and smartphone office suite would be pretty great. And what we really need from cloud applications is the ability to use more generic instead of application-specific storage: Google Docs should be able to just read and save to Dropbox (or any WebDAV server, preferably).

Cyndy Aleo

I think you’re missing the point. The average person is still using a LOT of documents, and there are a lot of users who want to be able to work offline. Mobile broadband isn’t the norm for the majority of users, and I’m going to hazard a guess that the LibreOffice folks took one look at what happened with Android and realized they didn’t want Oracle in their sandbox if they wanted to develop a system that would work nicely on tablets while still working online. I’d be interested in knowing what sort of conversation went on, but even if it was nothing more than an OS address book, I wouldn’t want to be coding for anything controlled by Oracle, who appears more and more to be focusing on wielding the might of its patent portfolio.

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