Can OpenOffice escape from under a cloud?

Can OpenOffice escape from under a cloud?

Summary: Like many adopters, Forrester enterprise clients are starting to wonder what is going on with the once-promising open source alternative to Microsoft Office.


Like many adopters, Forrester's enterprise clients are starting to wonder what's going on with the once-promising open source alternative to Microsoft Office. As one chief technology strategist posited last week: "Oracle has made several strong public pronouncements that their support for will continue abated. This, however, begs the question of the increasing functional and technical gap between standard programs like word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations and the new, all-encompassing view of the desktop being adopted by Microsoft in Office 2010. That being so, is there really any future for StarOffice/ within the enterprise, except as an ever-shrinking niche to support basic, ultra low-cost office document capability on home-use platforms?"

Great question. After 10 years, OpenOffice hasn’t had much traction in the enterprise – supported by under 10% of firms, and today it’s facing more competition from online apps from Google and Zoho. I'm not counting OpenOffice completely out yet, however, since IBM has been making good progress on features with Symphony and Oracle is positioning OpenOffice for the web, desktop and mobile – a first. But barriers to OpenOffice and Web-based tools persist, and not just on a feature/function basis. Common barriers include:

  • Third-party integration requirements. Some applications only work with Office. For example, one financial services firm I spoke with was forced to retain Office because its employees needed to work with Fiserv, a proprietary data center that is very Microsoft centric. “What was working pretty well was karate chopped.” Another firm rolled out to 7,000 users and had to revert back 5,000 of them when they discovered one of the main apps they work with only supported Microsoft.
  • User acceptance. Many firms say that they can overcome pretty much all of the technical issues but face challenges around user acceptance. One firm I spoke with went so far as to “customize” their OpenOffice solution with a Microsoft logo and told employees it was a version of Office. The implementation went smoothly. Others have said that they have met resistance from business users who didn’t want Office taken off their desktop. Other strategies include providing OpenOffice to only new employees and to transition through attrition. But this can cause compatibility issues.
  • Lack of seamless interoperability with Office. Just like third-party apps may only work with Office, many collaborative activities force use of particular versions of Office. Today’s Web-based and OpenOffice solutions do not provide seamless round tripping between Office and their applications. Corel, with its just released WordPerfect X5, probably does the best job, along with Thinkfree, a web-based, low-cost Microsoft alternative. But while it’s possible to open Microsoft Office documents in Google Apps and OpenOffice, there may be features, macros, and formatting missing, and outputting back to an Office format may also result in inconsistencies. This means that iWorkers that need to collaborate on content may revert to PDFs or other more cumbersome approaches to achieve interoperability.
  • Legacy content support.For companies that have a lot of legacy content in Office applications, there is also the potential need to access and manipulate these documents. Most companies Forrester talks to find that only a small percentage of legacy content remains active, usually less than 20%, but if this content supports critical business processes and has macros, links, or other formatting that could be impacted, then it poses a risk of not being usable. Generally this content can be isolated and remediated or recreated, but there’s effort involved to do this. And this content also tends to be core to the business and based on structured templates, like contracts or customer correspondence, which make the effort to redo these materials in an alternative difficult if the alternative doesn’t have the rich functionality needed like mail merge or watermarks, or if there are embedded macros that need to get recreated as widgets.


With all of these barriers it’s no wonder OpenOffice isn’t better represented in enterprises. But there is hope: IBM/Lotus has been investing more heavily in the past few years in its Lotus Symphony suite to add advanced features like pivot tables and better round tripping with Microsoft Office. It’s also slated to be integrated into LotusLive, the online collaboration and email platform, and it may become integrated with IBM’s Project Vulcan. Similarly, Novell could seek to integrate OpenOffice with Pulse and Google Wave, but has other potential distractions with its imminent sale. Oracle isn’t offering much detail on its plans for, but I expect to hear news by midyear. Oracle has committed to making the first industry OpenOffice solution available on the web, desktop, and mobile though has offered no time lines. This would be a giant step forward if it delivers on this promise.

The code bases for Lotus, Novell, and Oracle/Sun are also slated to synch this year, which will help provide more unity between the OpenOffice versions, though there’s still division since IBM’s version is Eclipse-based.

So, if IBM, Novell, and Oracle can successfully integrate OpenOffice into their collaboration and content management solutions, OpenOffice could see sunny days ahead as it becomes blended with the Information Workplace experience of these vendors. This suggests OpenOffice is more likely to make its way into enterprises surreptitiously than as a conscious choice for a low-cost alternative tool set. So, yes, I do see a future for OpenOffice in the enterprise -- one that’s closely tied to integration with collaboration, content management, and business processes and facilitated by the likes of Oracle and IBM. But even then, it likely serves still as a complement to Microsoft Office, not a replacement for those 20-30% of iWorkers requiring the richer capabilities of Microsoft Office for the foreseeable future.

Topics: IBM, Collaboration, Microsoft, Open Source, Oracle, Software

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  • Open Office Review Is Off Base

    I don't know who to believe in these reviews anymore. It wasn't but 2-3 months ago, I read a review in a leading trade journal that listed Open Office as a leading alternative/contender with Microsoft Office, leaving out WordPerfect from the list entirely. Now, you give it this negative review. I have switched almost entirely to Open Office and find it to be a fantastic product and, as long as Microsoft continues with their anti-open source, proprietary BS, I will continue to use it. Independent review? Hmm. Makes me wonder.
    • Oracle is a for-profit company

      ... and they'd be excused if they drop whatever they deem unsustainable.
    • Re Open Office Review is Off Base (Not!)

      There is nothing negative about the post. Open Office has the challenges and shortcomings listed in the article. Enterprises continue to predominantly utilize MS Office for the reasons listed in the article.

      Congratulations on your transition to Open Office. Now, how many thousands of other people within your organization have made that transition?

      There is a difference between an individual, a small and medium size business, and an enterprise. Each has different use cases and business requirements. Quite frankly, my organization with 35,000 users would not be able to function as productively with Open Office.
    • What leading trade journal?

      The author didn't know what they were talking about. O-O has very little penetration.

      And as long as Writer doesn't do outlining I won't switch to it.
      • The leading trade journal that omitted WordPerfect ....

        ... is clearly not the leading trade journal you thought it was.

        As others have pointed out, OO is fine for simpler environments who don't need to exchange documents with customers and partners, who don't need integration with corporate SharePoint infrastructure, don't need integration between Communicator, Email, LiveMeeting, etc.

        OO is a great free alternative, but anyone who believes that it competes with MSO for more sophisticated environments is deluding themselves.
  • RE: Can Open Office escape from under a cloud?

    There are two things that will prevent me from ever
    switching completely to Open Office. 1) No true grammar
    check on OO word processing, 2) No OneNote. Sad, but
    OneNote has become indispensable in my writing and
    • True, but InfoPath and Visio too

      Surprises me as well - you would think an XML form designer and an XML diagramming application would be high at the top of OO's list, right below an XML based note-taking application.

      The article talks about collaboration, content management, and business processes - but I don't see any of that coming out of OO. A seamless implementation of these features integrated with the office suite would be pretty compelling.
      • Implementating those ideas may likely be

        a costly endevour in terms of man hours on the project, something that they may not recoup given OpenOffice's price.
        • But isn't free software the future?

          I mean, who wants to pay for their software? Who wants to pay for its support, maintenance, improvement and ground-breaking new features?

          Who in their right mind would pay approximately one day's salary for a copy of the leading Office suite that offers a well integrated, tested, supported, feature-rich set of features?

          Who, indeed ;)
          • One day's pay for an office suite?

            I don't know too many people who earn $150 to $500 per day. That said, I have both Open Office and MS Word on my computer, since I recently reverted to XP/Linux Mint duo boot. I do not have MS Office but the unwanted stepchild, Works Suite 2006. That cost me $99 when I bought it. It does qualify me for using Office upgrade. Unfortunately, MS is dropping the Works/ Works Suite packages. Too bad. This was the most cost effective way to get MS Word, for only $50 more than the old Works Suite. Plus all those other fun things. Like Money and Encarta. You know, other things MS has dropped. Things that used to be loaded into off-the-shelf systems. Something I have not bought in 12 years. Now, I DIY and buy recycled. Saves money and resources.

    • OneNote FTW!

      I'm like you, I simply can't live without OneNote!

      It has taken time but the OneNote following is almost a cult these days.
      • Isn't it odd that OneNote is not included in most versions of office

        Only the Home and Student version (and the ultimate version) have OneNote included. The Standard, Small Business and Professional versions all omit OneNote. Strange.
  • RE: Can Open Office escape from under a cloud?

    I don't understand. In my experience, compatibility of Open Office with Office documents is very good.

    On the contrary, I tried ThinkFree but I find it really cumbersome to use. Opening a small size document is really very long. I just tried a simple Word document at random (330 Ko, no Macros, simple formatting), and it fails to open in ThinkFree with the message "Sorry. This document is not viewable because an error occurred during the conversion. Please download this document to view it.". But it opens fine with perfect formatting and content in Open Office.

    Not a long time ago, I had problems to open a big Word document with a lot of diagrams in Word itself (7 MB), it took ages to open in Word and I wanted to convert it in PDF. I simply opened it in Open Office, Did not lose any formatting, and converted it in PDF without any problems. I also could made some modifications in OO, but kept the Office Word format, and could open it in Word without any problem. So what?

    What I suggest is not reading praise for any apps concerning Office compatibility, but try by yourself. In my experience, ThinkFree is completely unusable for Office compatibility. End of story.
  • Until there is a quantum leap over MS Office, ...

    just imitating it, even if 'free', offers no real incentive for enterprises to change.

    It costs an enterprise more than several years MS licence fees just to look at possibly changing, let alone do something about it. It would not matter what software it is, even just looking at a new version, the enterprise dynamics are the same. Test, test, test and test to make sure it doesn't break the business processes - that is very expensive.

    That is why most businesses stayed with XP and MS Office 2003, even though more competition appeared.

    So an office pack, that may have some superficial compatibility with MS Office is a big gamble.

    Now, if someone comes out with something that does offer business a quantum leap in functionailty, plus simplified implementation within business processes, so that current functionality provided by MS Office programmed solutions is easily duplicated and improved, then business may consider mass change. Until then, non MS Office apps are just also rans, vainly trying to emulate a flawed, but highly embedded product.
    • I would disagree

      [i]a flawed, but highly embedded product[/i]

      That sentence would indicate that you have allready dismissed the possiblity alltogether that the reason people do not change is because MS Office is not flawed, instead doing exactly what it was intended for, without issue.
      • too many flaws...

        I've had every app in the ms office suite lock up and/or crash on me. that to me indicates there are flaws.

        I've also had ms office apps fail to correctly convert their own previous version documents correctly. that indicates additional flaws, as doing this correctly 100% of the time is one of the selling points.

        however: I've also had conversion compatibility problems with OO too, and significantly more of them than I've had between MS office versions.

        so, while i do use OO nearly exclusively at home, and have had noticeably better stability from OO than from MS office, everything i send to other people from OO is exported as a PDF or image file first unless i already know the recipient is also using OO.

        With these incompatibilities and shortcomings that OO has [i]specifically when compared with MS office in a corporate environment[/i], for the foreseeable future i will remain with MS office in the corporate world.

        MS office is not perfect, but in the corporate environment, it is currently much closer to perfect than any of its rivals.
  • Best of both Worlds

    I use OpenOffice for several years and also use Google
    Docs and Zoho. The Extension OpenOffice.org2GoogleDocs is
    awesome and makes my work easy. This give me all the
    advantages of the Cloud and 'Mother Earth'

    I don't 'need' to use MS Office anymore.
    • Good for you ... but you're in the minority

      Most businesses derive enormous value from office for what is, after all, a nominal fee.

      Again, OO is fine for simple documents. OO is fine when you don't need to exchange documents with others. OO is fine if you don't need to collaborate on documents with others. OO is fine if you don't want or need to integrate your office suite with corporate document storage and retrieval systems like SharePoint.

      Remember, OO is free - this is a good thing for those that have simpler needs, but free is too expensive for those with more sophisticated needs.
  • RE: Can Open Office escape from under a cloud?

    Loverock Davidson
  • Someone just stick a fork in it.

    THat turkey is done.