OpenOffice.org has reached a significant anniversary. Earlier this month, OO passed the five-year mark as the only office software on my laptop computers, first installed when I bought a Windows 2000 machine in 2002, reinstalled a couple of months ago on a replacement laptop running Windows Vista and Ubuntu Linux. With open-source Apache Tomcat, Cygwin, Firefox, MySQL, Python, R, and Thunderbird to keep OO company, there's been no looking back. Instead, given diverse project-health indicators such as the release of IBM's new Lotus Symphony, the reported assignment of 35 programmers to the project by IBM, and the continued evolution of the NeoOffice native version for MacOS X, I'm looking forward to my next five years of OpenOffice.org.I haven't abandoned Microsoft Office. For what I do - typical writing, presentations, and light spreadsheet DB and analytics work - the Free and Not office suites are essentially interchangeable. OO's difficulties with MS Office file formats are a memory, and Word's superior handling of styles is balanced by OO's ability to save anything to a PDF. And I especially don't need all the MS Office meshugas that hammers a small-office user like me, from Groove to marginally functional plug-ins to file formats that won't open in MS Office 2000 on my home machine. I may be an analytics guy, but I do try this stuff out, whether I'm in Why Not? mode - my Office 2007 desktop installation was courtesy of the free MSDN subscription I get as a Jolt Awards judge - or because my business partners rely on it and expect me to use it.
IE Editor-in-Chief Doug Henschen observed earlier this week that "the familiarity of the Office suite has a way of breeding contentment," yet Microsoft has destroyed that familiarity with the leap to Office 2007's visually unbalanced ribbon interfaces. I find the ribbons a detriment. They force extra clicking around for routine work and make it hard to find less frequently used functions.
OO has always been an MS-Office imitator, and in many ways it is now more faithful to traditional MS-Office than Microsoft's keep-'em-guessing crew. And because OO upgrades are free, there are no aging-installed-base compatibility issues as there are with users of older MS Office versions who choose not to buy upgrades.
(For a quick look at Lotus Symphony, check out this review.)
I wouldn't anticipate similar disruptive moves from OO's backers; open-source development has never been motivated by a change-to-lock-out-competitors imperative. My worry is whether OO will be on the Web by the time I'm ready to move my office work there myself. The day isn't far off when I'll succumb to the on-line allure of the likes of Zoho or Google Docs. Well, OK, Google's offering is as-yet pretty primitive, with extremely limited support for styles and layout functions. It lacks tables and more than the most basic text formatting. Zoho does much, much better, but perhaps most notable is that the software feels like the Web-native application it is and not like a misguided Web porting of a desktop app.
Will OpenOffice.org products be there when I'm ready to move my office work on-line? I don't know, although I'll observe that in today's software world, considering both technology and business models, open source implies agility. OO is not a native Web app but it is mature and healthy and its stakeholder base continues to grow. For me, I can tell you: MS Office is passé. OpenOffice.org is the standard against which I judge office software.