Like many OpenOffice.org 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 OpenOffice.org 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/OpenOffice.org 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:
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 OpenOffice.org, 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.