I need a favor. I don’t have an address for the Open Source Community’s corporate communications department — would you mind forwarding this to them for me? Thanks!
To: The Open Source Community
From: Bob Lewis
Subject: WAKE UP!!!!!
I’m writing to inform you that you’re about to blow the opportunity of a lifetime. With Microsoft’s announcement of its ever-receding and shrinking Vista, there’s an opening in the marketplace through which you could drive a large truck, if you happened to own one and had any interest in, for example, succeeding in the marketplace.
Vista is late, getting later all the time, and is getting less interesting as it does, proving what many of us suspected all along — that Longhorn is the new Cairo, long on press releases extolling how great it’s going to be and short on working code that does anything important. Read commentary by people who claim to speak for you and you’ll find no shortage of gloating about it.
What I haven’t read is any commentary about the lateness of OpenOffice 2.0 — not as late as Vista, to be sure, but not an exemplar of predictable delivery either. Which is too bad, because desktop Linux’s future depends entirely on this one suite.
OASIS notwithstanding, Microsoft Office defines the standards that matter for word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents. If you sum it all up, American businesses store approximately 6,957,901 terabytes of unstructured data in MS Office formats.
More or less.
If you want to replace more than a tiny fraction of the installed base of Windows desktops you need to give enterprise buyers the ability to read and write those terabytes seamlessly: No tweaking, no fiddling around, no readjusting margins, headers, footers, frames, text boxes, footnotes, lions, tigers or bears.
Either you launch OpenOffice, open an MS Office document and it renders perfectly or you aren’t in the game.
OpenOffice 1.x isn’t in the game. Supposedly, OpenOffice 2.0 will be. If it ever shows up. Right now, all we know is how great it’s going to be. Sounds a lot like Longhorn to me.
Why is OpenOffice so important? Imagine you’re a CIO. How do you decide on your standard desktop? Only two factors matter. Avoiding headaches is one. Reducing your costs is the other.
Add one more Windows/MS Office machine to the ones already in place and no worries, mate. Add a Linux/OpenOffice 1.x machine and you have migraine after migraine.
Employees live in MS Office. Yes, you can run it through Citrix but what’s the point? It makes employees dependent on the network, you have to buy the same number of licenses anyway, and you have to buy and manage Citrix. You can run MS Office on Linux desktops using Crossover Office, too, but does that really solve anything? I like the folks at CodeWeavers, and being able to run MS Office XP is terrific. But for your average CIO, once you commit to MS Office you might as well run Windows.
Solve the office suite and the rest of the challenge of integrating desktop Linux falls into place fairly easily. Increasingly, enterprise applications use browser-based clients. Crossover Office or Citrix solves much of the rest, and the pricing and license terms of open source software has great appeal to your average CIO.
Once you stop causing headaches.
Now I know open source isn’t about understanding customers. It’s about programmers scratching their personal itches. That’s the greatest strength of the open source movement.
It’s also the movement’s greatest weakness. If anyone was focused on succeeding in the marketplace they’d be investing heavily in OpenOffice, they’d set deadlines and design targets, offer bonuses for defect detection and resolution and otherwise do everything they could to take advantage of the current opportunity.
Heck, I’d think IBM would spend the chump change necessary to get this out the door just to get its revenge for Microsoft’s duplicity about OS/2. Guess not.
It’s a shame. Here’s a huge opportunity, just waiting for someone to take advantage of it. Corel isn’t going to go after it — it gave up on Linux even before Microsoft bought its 25% share. Sun Microsystems has the biggest stake in this, since it owns StarOffice, which is the same as OpenOffice except for where it isn’t.
Oh, never mind — for Sun, the desktop is an afterthought. It cares about servers. And for the kids at OpenOffice.org, the whole project is a labor of love, not a matter of profit. That means that in the end, desktop Linux will only succeed by accident. Windows, in contrast, succeeds because the sharks who run Microsoft want it to.
I know where I’d place my bet. It’s too bad too — I was rooting for you.