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

Alexander

This entire article, and really the entire “cloud” phenomena, stem completely from a fundamental misunderstanding of computer technology.

There is no cloud.

It is snake oil, plain and simple. There is no cloud; only computers. And on those computers run applications (like web browsers or office suites or video editors). When you edit documents “on the cloud”, you are still using computer programs: as in your web browser, and the server which holds that online office suite. Servers, by the way, are computers — in case you haven’t noticed — and to be a “client application” is only a matter of perspective.

Never-mind the inherent lack of privacy in remote accessed applications (which is a much more accurate term than the marketing-laden “cloud”), the simple fact is that it is a physical necessity that latency over the internet will almost always be greater than when accessing locally stored information. This is less noticeable with editing office documents, but professional image and video editing would be completely impractical via remote accessed applications; the details involved are such that network latency would immediately trump any perceived “benefits” of storing YOUR information on SOMEONE ELSE’S computer. Moreover, many of those same benefits (i.e., safety) are irrelevant, as a much better solution would simply be to use remote backups. Which, by the way, are nothing new.

frodowiz

all i hear from the author is microsoft. note to author- the reason it is noteworthy is because those who use linux don’t give a hoot about microsoft. in my world i have a great choice of word processors, spreadsheets and databases but i would like something in a suite.
oracle is known to gut the open source projects it inherets and developers of oo knew that. just like oracle gutted open solaris, they were simply looking for a suite they could add to their own package and the heck with everyone else. hence the move to the Document Foundation. this is big news, not small. think world, not tiny cubicles forced by licensing to keep using the same old crap.

the sun doesn’t rise and set on microsoft.

Joao Batista

Since years we are waiting for a suite with a simplified single editor for office documents.
I hope this is the moment to implement the concept!
Long life to opensource!!!!!

Rev

Have fun handing over all your data to The Cloud. Enjoy doing the data striptease for Facebook and Google. Your choice. Just stop using the word “we” and stick to “I”. Thank you.

Aidan Karley

Can someone take a baseball bat to the assumptions of these authors. Not all of us live, or work, in an environment where there is connection to the Internet. So we have no choice but to prepare our documents on a stand-alone machine.
Don’t tell us we can use a wireless telephone connection to the ‘Net : firstly it’s a contract violation ; secondly, we’re searched for such equipment and it’s confiscated before we leave the airport ; thirdly, even if we did get any equipment out to the work site, we’d be several hundred kilometres beyond the limit of the last terrestrial wireless network ; and fourthly, since we’re working in areas with an explosive atmosphere present as a normal condition, then rigging up a satellite phone would plausibly kill us and our colleagues.
WTF is this thing about assuming that people will have communications? Very often, you don’t. By design. If there is only communications back to authorised people, then it’s difficult for sensitive data to leak out. (That includes personal phone calls being listened to by your Boss ; not wiretaps – they just sit there in the radio room with you. If you don’t like it, resign and go home.)

Rudolf Rassendyll

Sorry old sport, but you see, lots of people are still desktop-centric. We leave the clouds to, well, Aristophanes and other comic authors…. There are good reasons for this, which I doubt you’d get.

Afterburne

The portions of this article describing what people use these days is so far from reality from a business perspective it is downright scary. How long would the CIO at a hospital who started moving patient information “to the cloud” keep their job? Not very. The lack of understanding displayed in this article on how 90% (or more) of businesses use software is simply stunning.

I would use OO but honestly, it is simply not compatible enough for most business that communicate with very many outside partners. It just isn’t. I wish that were not true. I gave up trying a long time ago. For home use or small businesses it is just fine though.

James A. Ritchie

“We email. We SMS. We Facebook. We IM. Or perhaps we crop photos in iPhoto”

I don’t know who the “we” is in your statement, but while I, and everyone I know, does these things WE also use an office suite. and definitely a word processor, pretty much every last day, and probably will for decades to come.

Evry business I deal with uses an office suite, and a word processor, mor enow than ever before. I think you’re cofusing simple communication with actual business.

Google Apps is nice, Zoho is fine, but both are still a tiny, tiny blip on teh radar screen of bussines, and I see no signs they’re growing. MS Office live, on teh other hand, is making serious inroads into business in my area.

Innovation is usually a very good thing, but too many seem to think that innovation is everything. It isn’t. Millions of people, hundreds of thousands of businesses, still use an office suite as part and parcel, as a key piece of software, and a cheap, open source, usable, friendly office suite is as needed and as necessary today as it ever way, and, as I said, will remain incredibly important for decade sto come.

Don’t confuse the web with business. The web is just another tool most of us use to help support oput business.

Gerald Shields

I don’t get it. LibreOffice looks just like OpenOffice. No innovation, no fresh ideas, just the labels have been changed. The only advantage vs Microsoft Office? Uh, it’s free. Meanwhile, the paid stuff has more and better features and has better polish.

George Shinn

Definitely misses the point. Open Solaris, anyone? Oracle says no. Soon, no more OpenOffice? More than likely.

I agree with Cyndy.

Oh, as for the “Cloud”, I don’t see it having a great effect on me. Call me a Luddite. Same for facebook, twitter, ad nauseum.

Pit

> We email. We SMS. We Facebook. We IM. Or perhaps we crop photos in iPhoto� 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 recon that around mid-90’s “we” used email, SMS, IM, even made own web pages with galleries. And we used Word and Excel.

15 years passed and we basically do the same, so do not get overexagerrated by ‘fast moving business’, just remember:
– email is as old as Internet itself -and somehow IT IS may electronic communication tool
– SMS is as old as GSM and far older then any mobile packet technologies -and income its generates for operators GROWS year-by-yesr
– modern IM’s do not differ THAT much from (forgotten?) IRC
– working locally offline WAS, IS and WILL (for some not so short time at least) be more comfortable then working online in-a-cloud.

I don’t even want to go into issues of business confidentiality, IP protection etc.

In short – if YOU don’t use it, do not assume nobody does.

Regards – Pit

Is

Google Apps and Zoho are utterly useless if your ISP experiences problems or if you don’t have Internet access in a particular location. Having experienced both of those things more often than I’d like, I’ve never understood the allure of the cloud computing model. That and you’re totally at the mercy of companies that could cancel the services they offer at any moment, leaving you completely out in the cold. Plus, who really “owns” content on the cloud?

Because of all those factors, there will always be a vitally important place for “outdated” desktop software.

MoT

I remember long long ago how we were going to have the “paperless” office and how we’d better get used to it. I’m there are a lot of trees who would beg to differ.

Keven

I don’t think Matt is talking about a paperless office- I don’t think it’s even possible to be completely paperless. What the post is about is steering completely away from office software installed on the local hard drive, and using only cloud based software. And, not using documents any more, which I’m still trying to figure out.

Xyzzy

Your post reminds me a great deal of one I ran across several months ago that passionately argued, at length, that everybody should write/code all of their documents in LaTeX. That is, your solution works really well for people that primarily write documents under 15 pages with basic formatting, proofread it, and go. It doesn’t work so well for people (like writers, academics, and graduating/post-grad university students) that need to routinely work with 15-50 pages at a time, perform heavy editing, view past alterations, and keep styles in sync across documents from the same template.

Marco

Wow, I was going to comment to point out what so many other posters had, but I think they’ve covered why this article is short sighted. What astonishes and frankly surprises me is that these comments where written by the COO of Canonical, a company that as is pointed out at the end of the article supports The Document Foundation. I mean talk about horrible PR.
If I hadn’t already tried Ubuntu this article would have completely put me off even bothering. Hopefully Canonical will come to it’s collective senses and find a better COO, one who is actually in touch with what 95% of business users need.

DrAcid

@Marco:
Agreed. I’ve been using Ubuntu for quite a several months now.
I’ve seen some bugs, some problems in the system… Sometimes I would come across some really strange decisions. Some of them were made behind closed doors. Thad made me sad, as those decisions were really BAD. . .
I honestly do not understand why Canonical keeps making these kind of mistakes…
And yeah – the fact that this guy is an executive @ Canonical and instead of working he “texts, IMs and Facebooks”… well – sickens me. I will probably switch to some other distro some time in the future…

P.S.(Matt, You gotta go!)

Anonymous

What really surprises me is that Matt obviously uses Mac OS X, when he’s working for Canonical (used to, anyway). In other posts he also makes it clear.

Shouldn’t the COO of Canonical use Ubuntu? It’s like if Ford’s COO drove a Toyota.

Paul Chapman

I think the author is limited in their appreciation of the real world.

I just returned from Papua New Guinea where I found I would have been lost without an office suite on my Laptop. Trying to send a mission critical document by email to our office in the USA was a nightmare due to a number of factors, not the least of which was a unreliable 3G mobile connection due to our remoteness (about 30KM from the nearest town). Try preparing a 40 page document using cloud services in the highlands of PNG. Or for that matter, in any developing country that has no access to fibreoptic cabling and limited or unreliable access to mobile communications.

For me, a cloud service is great if you live and work in the CBD of a developed nation, but if your work takes you beyond access to fast and reliable broadband, a stand alone office suite is essential.

“Business moves too fast these days to open attachments.”

I previously worked in one of the fastest moving businesses around–the “head hunting” business (ie the Recruitment Industry). Most potential and highly qualified candidates would send us their CV or Resume in a Word document attached to an email. When you’re looking for a potential Project Manager or Engineer for a placement worth $20,000 to you, you would be insane not to open a CV that was attached to an email. Further, I challenge anyone who values their employment career, to feel comfortable about having their complete CV left on a server somewhere in a cloud.

anon

“It’s not that we’re not engaged in “office productivity,” either. We just work differently now.”

Given the rest of your piece, you are emphatically *not* engaged in office productivity.

I’d suggest you were more careful with your use of “we” in future. Real companies are utterly document-centric. Suggesting that you’re not aligned with them is folly.

ghabuntu

“What we don’t do, or rarely do, is open a Word document to create a stale relic of communication.’

That is pure hogwash Matt. You want to see that people DO use and create docs, check MS’s recent financial statements, and see which % of its revenues it still rakes from Office.

The fact that you don’t does not mean it becomes the rule. If anything at all, editing your movie or docs on your hypePhone is rather the exception, than the rule.

If you really believe in that statement, why then don’t you propose Ubuntu ship with Zoho or even a GDocs prism for easy access to the web centric view you propose?

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