February 19, 2003

Interview: OpenOffice.org is gaining momentum

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -
NewsForge recently had a pleasant (IRC) chat with OpenOffice.org publicist/activist Sam Hiser. This article is a lightly-edited transcript of that conversation. It sounds like the already excellent OOo is getting even better -- and more popular -- every month.NewsForge:
I'm using OpenOffice.org 1.0 and it's working fine. Should I upgrade to 1.0.2 or wait?

Hiser: OOo 1.0.2, which came out in late Jan, brings some noticeable bug fixes, Help improvements, and faster load-times that I have personally noticed on both Windows (2000 Pro) and Linux. Recommended for you.

NewsForge: How about installation hassles? Can I just run the installer and automatically upgrade, or do I need to delete things first?

Hiser: I'm told it's ok to just run. Personally, I REMOVE first out of habit because I am obsessive-compulsive about avoiding CRUFT from my Windows upbringing ;)

NewsForge: I see the Mac OS X version is coming along nicely. Is it "ready enough" in its current final beta stage that my Mac-using friends can start running it as their daily word processing and general office program?

Hiser: Yes it is coming nicely. We're very proud if it. No question it's ready for daily use--I have been using it this week on my new 12" G4 ;-))).

But the Community is keen to empasize that it's only X11 / Darwin -ready and that the roadmap clearly states that the Aqua build is expected to be ready not until early 2004. We're low-key until then because we, as loyal MAC users ourselves within the OOo Community, expect the MAC Community to be really excited when the full Aqua integration is delivered. Not until then, though. Isn't Aqua DELICIOUS?!

NewsForge: When I was in Mexico, OOo was being touted like mad by F/OSS advocates. I'm seeing a similar emphasis on OOo as the "key" to switching to FOSS -- and Linux -- at an upcoming conference in Trinidad/Tobago, among others. Are you seeing large numbers of downloads from third-world countries? Or are download numbers in countries where most people have slow net connections meaningful? I ask because in Mexico I saw a lot more CD-swapping than in the U.S., where a lot of people casually say, "Oh, just go download it," whatever "it" is...

Hiser: Now what I feel is really snide about this mortar we have is that it's really useful in transitioning groups out of Windows, if their leaders are sufficiently enlightened to see the benefits of DEFENESTRATION. Now transitions are difficult. There's a lot of inertia to THE SWITCH. But OOo makes it possible for an enterprise to have a long, phased transition that may take from 6 months to over a year with ZERO disruption to file management--in fact bringing immediate IMPROVEMENT to file managment. Having OOo first go on all the Windows machines and managing users ACCLIMATIZATION to a new suite for a few weeks; then, once they're used to the app suite, you put them on Linux. Voila! No user revolts and everyone comes out about 10 times more productive at the end. ESPECIALLY the blue-hair gals. ESPECIALLY them because they really depend on the desktop as a productivity tool.

I must emphasize that everything great here about OOo's open XML file format and cross-platform compatibility is also true of StarOffice 6.0 (although SO6 will support fewer OS platforms and language localizations than OOo in the long-run). That's key because there are significant value adds for the enterprise market that Sun continually develops into SO6 that frankly dont get the deserved attention. So in this respect OOo1 and SO6 are Siamese Twins, joined at the hip. In fact, they now share the very same single development trunk--a new move that the F/OSS community is not entirely aware of and which signals Sun's commitment to playing as a good open source citizen.

So you asked about our sense of Emerging Market uptake. We dont track downloads that precisely, in part because we use an extensive mirror system to distribute the software. Any open source project that uses mirrors will tell you that tracking on such a distributed infrastructure is like herding cats from a bicycle. I would like us to track better because it'snot clear if what we ARE seeing on OOo's CollabNet servers are 70% or 20% of activity.

NewsForge: Yup. :)

Hiser: We do have some interesting User Survey data that our Romanian Marketing Project country lead, Cristian Driga, has made a superb commitment to providing for the Community. Among that data-set (we have over 80,000 responses since Oct. 29, 2002) we can see the pan-nationality of the OOo project. For example, the English version of the User Survey has respondents from literally all over the world [I may have a graph for you on that]. But there is nothing too revealing about that spectrum, since the graph looks like a GDP- or PC's-per-Capita graph in The Economist magazine. I think what you surmise is correct, from the excitement you see on the ground. I'm not sure they only have slow net connections everywhere -- if Costa Rica or parts of SE Asia are a factor where everything is broadband and went almost directly to wireless.

You'd be surprised how popular CD's are at LinuxWorld where everyone sheepishly admits they have no use for broadband. Hey, if you're on the command-line that's about right. This, too, reminds me of one encouraging meme in the emerging markets: that many of the countries/ regions will go straight to *nix and FOSS without suffering the indignities we "First World" users put ourselves through with the alternative ;-).




Hiser: You had asked about download stats. The run-rate today of downloads of OOo binaries has settled back down to over 1/2 a million per month after a great spike in the Summer months of '02 around release 1.0. That's as expected, and as the user base continues to gradually grow, our "popular data problem" is going to demand that we look seriously into a P2P publishing solution, which I have been looking at since Christmas.

Our point-zero releases are going to be interesting -- in a roadkill sense -- unless we think fast on P2P. My best guestimate is that we have 2-5 million users worldwide. We will be discussing this in depth as a Community this Spring.

Conference announcement:

The First Annual OpenOffice.org Conference is in Hamburg, Germany Mar 20-21, 2003. Sam Hiser will be there. Will you?


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