Why having more office suites is a good thing

In the recent time I have observed more and more “attacks” on Apache OpenOffice by people that think the developer team and users to should stop “wasting their time” working on it and rather work on LibreOffice. For example in this recent acticle on Unixmen.

That’s not very surprising as that basically the same thing that I hear as KOffice/Calligra developer for the past years. There are continually coming people who ask why I would still work on it and waste time that could better be spend on contributing to OpenOffice. Well there are numerous reasons why I do that e.g. I like to work with the team, I like to work on Krita and time isn’t wasted if you had fun spending it. People think that the is only one way to create an office suite and that everyone should follow it and work on the same project.

So this are the reasons for me as developer. Would it be better for everyone if we all worked on the same project? I don’t think so

Diversity

There is a common thinking that you could just throw together some developers from different groups and they would like to work into one unique direction. If you e.g. take the GNOME and KDE communities and assume you wanted to merge them, it would simply not work as the visions of the desktops are different. In the same way many LibreOffice/OpenOffice users probably wouldn’t like my changes.

I think one of the nicest thing in that people can fork and try new ideas. Some will continue to evolve, some will be merged back and some will die. The same will happen with Apache Office and LibreOffice. Over time each team will put work into different areas, which causes the projects to slowly diverge. Eventually some users will prefer the one and others will prefer the other suite.

One thing I think the Unixmen article confuses is customizability and diversity. Customizability is actually quite limited e.g. no matter how much you customize KDE, it won’t become GNOME and vice versa.

Competition

I guess there has been so little competition between different office suite that people might think that a monopoly is inevitable. Currently everyone is following the approach to put everything into one gigantic suite and approximate in a one size fits all fashion what the users might need. The whole design hasn’t even changed much since the 80s. I think once office suites will get more diverse, we could see that users are going for more specialized suites that fit there needs better.

Best example are web browsers. Just a few years ago we basically had IE that did 95+% of all web surfing. There wasn’t much change in the whole thing before a number of open source browsers emerged. Now we have also Firefox, Chrome etc. and browsers are released every few weeks. One can only imagine how the landscape would look today, if the KHTML developers had joined the Mozilla team and WebKit had never existed.

Interoperability

Remember a few years back there was a label on many website “Best viewed with XY”? Once the browsers got more diverse, that disappeared more and more and the browsers themselves become more and more standard compliant.

Office suite basically have the similar problem, just much worse. A long time every big suite could do what they wanted, without having to watch other. We have come to a point were everything is judged on the basis of some crude ancient binary formats and the compatibility to them. The most important thing is to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself and I think the best way to do that is to have different suites that implement the standard.

Conclusion

Of course I can’t predict the future and say how it will all unravel, but I think Apache OpenOffice could be a nice addition for the open source world.

Even more important in my opinion is that people stop to attack the other teams. Respect the work of other people and don’t accuse them of working for the wrong project, doing pointless work or stealing developers.

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27 Responses to “Why having more office suites is a good thing”

  1. JanKusanagi Says:

    Agreed 100%!

  2. john Says:

    if you knew the reasons of how and why apache openoffice came to be you would be against it too. and it has nothing to do with “too many office suites”

    the reasons of why apache is unnecessary and will fail:

    it will not diverge enough. it’s monolithic and bloated and will continue to be so. ibm has donated lotus symphony to the project and it was one the most bloated/slowest apps i ever tried.

    any advancement of apache openoffice wil be incorporated into libreoffice.

    ibm. right now it exists solely because of ibm and ibm has tendency to just abandon projects. apache knows that. look at apache implementation of java.

    overwhelming anti-gpl prejudice. when you are motivated by anti-something alone you will fail. the way that conversations on mailing lists on apache unravel into orgasmic and hateful insults and character assassinations of GPL/FSF/Stallman is educational.

    Not a community that i want to belong. thank you very much.

    it’s a vanity project by ibm and apache. unnecessary and motivated by “anti” paranoia it’s a better case for psychiatric studies than it’s for software development.

  3. mmj Says:

    I agree with the fact, that it is great to have diversity. Still I think, that the comparison to web browsers does not fit. Web browsers are widely replaceable and compatible, because they all offer a similar feature set and just a different usage taste. Web designers are usually testing their work on more than one browser. This is not the case for Office Suites. They will always differ widely in features. This not just because there is a different amount of developers for each project, but also as the suites will run on very different platforms. The only chance for seamless interoperability is IMHO to teach the user to use the right tools for his work. (no page layout in spreadsheets, no complex drawings in presentation word processors, etc.).

  4. MPomme Says:

    Hi,

    If I may indulge myself in a bit of constructive (i hope) criticism:

    Your article list various advantages of having several different projects instead of a single one, and gives concrete example in the past to illustrate these reasons.

    I may be wrong, but the way it is written suggest that these reasons apply equally well for explaining why it’s a good thing Calligra exists although LibreOffice also does. and why it’s a good thing Apache OpenOffice exists although LibreOffice also does. But the article falls short of showing how they apply to those specific cases, it looks like you’re saying that those general principles will apply in any situation.

    It’s really not trivial that it is the case. For example, if discussing Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice, one might argue:

    Diversity: “The split doesn’t help diversity, because the two projects do not have different visions for what an office suite should be. It appears the only difference is what license should be used, and in the case of Apache vs GPL, it really doesn’t matter for office suite users.”

    Competition: “As any changes done in Apache OpenOffice can be reimported in LibreOffice, competition is not at work here”

    Interoperatibility : “At the start, LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice are 100% interoperable, as they’re based of the same code. Either they stay this way, hence do not really change the ecosystem interoperatibility, or they become slightly incompatible in some subtle way, which would clearly be a loss of interoperability”.

    Writing this comment I would get to the conclusion that the Calligra story and the Apache OpenOffice story do not have that much in common, and I’m a bit surprised that you would claim their “raison d’être” are rooted in same principles (but do you ? I can only your article strongly suggest that, that is your opinion)

  5. slangkamp Says:

    @mmj: The major advantage is that the file format is not written by humans, which lowers the amount of breakage. Beside the standard functionality that is nice, but not essential for editing e.g. image editing might be outside of your word processor and things like that.

    @MPomme: The vision isn’t drastically different, but individual decisions will lead diversion between both projects. Apache OpenOffice wants to merge code from Symphony which by itself is different from LibreOffice. That will lead to diversity, we don’t know how much that will be in the end.

    For now changes could be merged back. But sooner or later that will become more difficult, once the codebases diverge. There will probably also features that won’t be merged back. At least older project show that it’s kinda limited e.g. KHTML/WebKit.

    If you look back at how ODF support changed in the past, it reasonable to assume that differences will appear over time and they need to actively work on that. Previously they didn’t have to deal without ODF from other applications.

    The thing that Calligra and Apache OpenOffice have in common is that they are currently have an underdog reputation. Beside that there isn’t much in common from the historical or technical side.

  6. Inge Wallin Says:

    I can only applaud you.

    But I think that it should be emphasized even more the importance of interoperability through an agreed and openly standardized file format.

    The difference between the suites is not in what they do but in how they do it. Currently LO has the most features but has a rather old-fashioned user experience. AOO has a more modern user interface (or at least will when Symphony has been merged in) but at this time is lacking some features. But for some people the added benefit from the modern UI outweighs the benefit of the new features. Unfortunately both suites are based on very old, inflexible and clumsy code.

    This is where Calligra comes in: Currently it has the least features of the three (let’s ignore the added applications for the moment) but it has the most modern and configurable code. Hence it can be used in places where flexibility and light memory and CPU footprint are important, e.g. on smartphones, where none of the others have a chance. Both are just to heavy and too locked into their UI code.

    But all of them can still be used together because they share the same file format: the Open Document Format, ODF. This is what is missed by many of the people who criticize the AOO effort. We are all in this together and what we should be doing is fight against closed formats and user lock-in.

    @john: Can you point me to a couple of threads where “overwhelming anti-GPL prejudice” is obvious? I haven’t been following the AOO mailing lists but if it’s anything like what I see in open forums, it is often a case of the AOO people defending against attacks. But I would like to find out so I’m open to proof of the countrary.

  7. Markus S. Says:

    @John & @MPomme:
    It is simply not true that all AOO improvements will end up in LO. LO already has a rewritten text layout engine. Some ODF documents render slightly different because of this and two different engines make it impossible to simply import all AOO code into LO.

    AOO has a pretty clear GUI vision for the AOO 4.0 release and I like its vision. LO has nothing. Their plan seems to be to always use the same old crappy GUI for all eternity.

    For my simple needs Calligra works best but I obviously have LibreOffice installed for documents I receive.

  8. mohammad Says:

    Let’s be honest with you,

    We are in Unix-Like distributions & environments developers a small community and have the smallest percent of OS market-share. In addition huge commercial software companies don’t provide their products to our System such as (M$ Office, adobe products……etc).
    we are as small community need to build our own (Programs , DEs, drives…etc).Now if we ( as small community with small financial resources ) put our effort in different projects which aim one functionality (office suite) then we are wasting our Time. And we well never ever as good suite as M$ Office because put our effort in different project and they all fail in competition.

    If it is only related to the UI we could have the base but with our flavor in UI . A good example here is (unity, gnome shell and ciammon ) which are all different flavor to Gnome.

    regards

  9. lamefun Says:

    I think you haven’t got the point. I think that people who attack diversity imply that diversity lowers our chances in competition with proprietary software. Diversity is good, but only if free software is dominating. It allows for new qualities to emerge at the price of slowing the quantity progress of each project down. We can’t afford to be diverse now, when proprietary solutions are dominating. We need to join our efforts to outperform proprietary solutions and get some significant market share and then and only then we can afford to be diverse.

  10. sebsauer Says:

    Well written. Thanks 🙂

  11. ben Says:

    @lamefun

    But should “getting some significant market share” really be the main goal of FOSS projects?

    If a bunch of developers have fun creating their own competing application, and thousands of users enjoy using it, does it really make sense to say “screw it, if its not hundreds of millions of users, it isn’t worth it”?

    Personally, I like the diversity that the Linux / open-source world offers me. I see this as a real benefit for myself as a user.

    Whether the software I use happens to have a high market-share (or similar abstract economic numbers) associated with it doesn’t really provide me with any real benefit.

  12. lamefun Says:

    We need to have some influence on hardware developers. If free software is insignificant from point of view of corporations, they’ll come up with hardware that will lock out all the software except the corporate software and free software will go EXTINCT!

  13. lamefun Says:

    Today it’s matter of survival of free software and digital freedom, not matter of fun.

  14. lamefun Says:

    We can only afford to start creating diversity when we are really really really sure that we are going to survive it. (and sorry for triple-post)

  15. JosefJ Says:

    No one (some masochist probably do…) do free software development on their spare time if they don’t think its fun. Its the most important factor. As I see it, to get market share and user is not the goal with it. Its maybe a side effect.

  16. slangkamp Says:

    @lamefun: Once anything is dominating, it’s very likely to late to think about diversity. The goal isn’t world domination.

    There is a trend to more and more lock things up. But I think the more users will be locked in, the more they will strive for open solutions.

    @JosefJ: Well there are also the people who are annoyed by something and scratch the itch, but they don’t do it for fun. Although they are really rare.

    Especially in the open source office suite there are lots of paid developers.

  17. italovignoli Says:

    @Marcus S. – We have never published any plan about the UI, and in fact we are evaluating the integration of the Symphony interface once is properly released under the Apache License (something which is still not true at the moment). In addition, we are developing a touch interface for Android, which might lead to some good ideas for the desktop version of LibreOffice.

    @Inge Wallin – Most emails from Pedro Giffuni on Apache mailing lists are bashing GPL and LGPL, to the point that he has written a paper on “GPL evilness”.

    Pedro is a permissive license crusader, to the point that he says in another message (http://markmail.org/message/ke636hrmfd23ozgi) that he would suggest MS Office over LibreOffice, as any “real true free software advocate” would do.

    As far as Apache people being “attacked”, you should read some posts from them (take Rob Weir as an example), who have started the discussion – if you can call it a discussion – attacking TDF with no reasons at all, just because we consider the copyleft license a better license than the Apache License.

    Before saying that Apache people are defending themselves from attacks, you should read the entire story, starting from Rob Weir blog.

  18. lamefun Says:

    @slangkamp: There is a trend to more and more lock things up. But I think the more users will be locked in, the more they will strive for open solutions.

    Considering users accept Windows 8’s ability to remove programs, it’s very unlikely that they want openness. They only want access to Facebook.

  19. lamefun Says:

    *remove programs remotely by Microsoft

  20. Inge Wallin Says:

    @italovignoli: Thanks. I will check it out.

  21. lamefun Says:

    @slangkamp: ” Once anything is dominating, it’s very likely to late to think about diversity. The goal isn’t world domination. ”

    Diversity is rare in proprietary world only because it’s blocked by copyright, vendor lock-in and patent threats. If the dominating thing is free software, diversity WILL happen, sooner or later. Besides, even if it doesn’t happen, it’s OK, since the dominating thing is free and people can modify it as they wish.

    And the goal is to gather enough influence on proprietary hardware and software developers so they have monetary incentive not to block free software from running.

  22. slangkamp Says:

    @lamefun: So far Windows 8 isn’t even released, so we don’t know how users would react exactly. Many users might not even know, as it’s rather new. I think most people don’t even notice it, the rest jailbreaks.

    Unless the dominating software is so big, monolithic and complicated that nobody can easily fork it. If you have a project on this scale, you already need a very big team to fork it. Also smaller projects have trouble to find users and developers as everybody strives for the big popular ones.

    Domination isn’t generally ok if a project is open source e.g. my example with the browsers. If Firefox was so dominating that no other browsers would be developed, there might be no WebKit.

  23. lamefun Says:

    slangkamp: Unless the dominating software is so big, monolithic and complicated that nobody can easily fork it. If you have a project on this scale, you already need a very big team to fork it. Also smaller projects have trouble to find users and developers as everybody strives for the big popular ones.

    Does it NEED to be forked then? We have Linux Kernel for example, and no one ever thinks of forking it, since the kernel does it job already and no one wants to waste the time on reinventing the wheel. And if the software is too monolithic, it will likely to eventually be refactored or to collapse on itself.

    slangkamp: Domination isn’t generally ok if a project is open source e.g. my example with the browsers. If Firefox was so dominating that no other browsers would be developed, there might be no WebKit.

    Why would we need WebKit anyway?

  24. ben Says:

    @lamefun: “Why would we need WebKit anyway?”

    Because the Firefox development team has no interest in making their Gecko rendering engine easily reusable by other projects. They like to keep it tightly intertwined with the Firefox browser itself, and also not care about backwards compatibility etc.
    And that’s perfectly fine, it’s their choice.

    However, there is is big need for an open-source modular web browser framework / rendering engine (with front-ends for different programming languages and toolkits) that can be used to bring HTML/web viewing capabilities to all kinds of desktop and mobile applications.

    That’s where WebKit comes in.

    For a list of some of the apps that use it, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WebKit#Use

  25. Inge Wallin Says:

    @italovignoli: Thanks for the link. I have checked out the thread, and while I don’t agree with Pedro Giffuni about the GPL, I cannot see that it means there is any “overwhelming anti-GPL prejudice” from the project. Can you point to me where it’s not just one person (that the other people don’t even agree with) but actually a group of people, preferrably core people of AOO?

    @john: Or even better, can you point out such an example?

  26. italovignoli Says:

    Pedro Giffuni is one of the top committers to Apache OO (the number is so small that is easy to become a top committer), and one of the top attackers. He is backed by people like Eric Bachard, Claudio Filho, Fernando Cassia, Claudio Albino Neto, and several others.

    In any case, the most sophisticated attacks come from IBM people, and they are directed more to TDF than to GPL (being GPL a way to attack TDF).

    Sam Ruby: http://intertwingly.net/blog/2011/06/01/Apache-OpenOffice (being a founding member of TDF, I find this rant as personally offensive).

    Rob Weir (please read the comments, because some of the worst attacks are in the comments): http://www.robweir.com/blog/2011/06/apache-openoffice.html, http://www.robweir.com/blog/2011/06/openoffice-libreoffice-and-the-scarcity-fallacy.html, http://www.robweir.com/blog/2012/02/ending-the-symphony-fork.html, http://www.robweir.com/blog/2012/04/free-software-marketing-community-metrics.html (this is directed to me, and is full of FUD, nonsense and wrong information, but this is the style of the guy).

    Arnaud le Hors: http://lehors.wordpress.com/2012/02/03/libreoffice-should-declare-victory-and-rejoin-openoffice/ (another offensive post, as seen from a TDF founder POV).

    The ooo-dev mailing list is full of messages against everything, and especially TDF. As an example, you can look at this thread about our relicensing efforts (please separate true ASF people from AOO people, who are there just because AOO is a way to go against TDF and LibreOffice): http://mail-archives.apache.org/mod_mbox/incubator-ooo-dev/201205.mbox/browser

  27. Kevin Kofler Says:

    The usefulness or uselessness of having both LibreOffice and Apache OO needs to be compared with the usefulness or uselessness of having both Calligra and KOffice, not with the usefulness or uselessness of having both Calligra and LibreOffice. (They’re forks of the same codebase, not independent office suite projects like Calligra and LibreOffice.)

    IMHO, neither the continued KOffice (as opposed to Calligra) nor Apache OO are useful projects. The community (which includes the distributors) has decided for Calligra and LibreOffice, respectively.

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