OpenOffice.org reveals marketing ambitions

The organisation behind the cross-platform office suite has released a marketing plan which explains how it plans to promote its open-source product
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor
The developers of OpenOffice.org, the open-source office productivity suite, have unveiled details of a major marketing push to coincide with the OpenOffice.org Conference, which has been taking place in Berlin, Germany, this week.

The plan, published on the organisation's Web site this week, looks at target markets and lays out OpenOffice.org plans for penetrating these markets. It also looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the software.

John McCreesh, who helps to run the marketing for OpenOffice.org, told ZDNet UK on Friday that it is essential for the organisation to think about marketing as well as coding if it is to succeed in the marketplace.

"The world is filled with lots of good technologies that failed due to bad marketing," said McCreesh. "On the reverse side, there are bad technologies that are doing well due to good marketing."

McCreesh added that marketing is particularly tricky for OpenOffice.org as it has no definite marketing budget.

"Microsoft, our major competitor, has a marketing budget of five to 10 billion US dollars, while we have 25 cents in a PayPal account," said McCreesh.

Microsoft was unable to supply ZDNet UK with any figures on its marketing budget.

Instead of a big-bucks campaign, OpenOffice.org currently relies on word-of-mouth marketing.

"Out in the wider world there are hundreds of thousands of satisfied users of OpenOffice. The people who are using it are our best ambassadors. We are encouraging them to duplicate or lend their OpenOffice CD to friends and employers," said McCreesh.

According to the OpenOffice marketing plan, the main markets for the office suite are government offices; education establishments; public libraries; small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); not-for-profit organisations (NFPs); own equipment manufacturers (OEMs) building PCs with pre-installed software; and Linux distributions looking for an office suite to bundle.

For each target market it lists the potential routes to market. For example, for SMEs it lists the routes to market as "local business development agencies, education establishments providing 'start your own business' courses and SME networking organisations".

One section in the document lists the strengths and weaknesses of OpenOffice.org. It says that Sun Microsystem's backing helps because it gives the support of a professional development team, but can also be a disadvantage as it can cause suspicion among some potential supporters in the open-source world.

Other weaknesses include a lack of integration with other software such as email and Web browsers, and a lack of macro compatibility with Microsoft Office which can hinder the migration of power users. Advantages listed include the fact that it is free to acquire and distribute the software, its file compatibility with other common office products, and ease of translation into different languages.

McCreesh said that migrating users from Microsoft Office was an issue. To help resolve this, OpenOffice.org has run usability labs in the US, in which Microsoft Office users of various levels were given a series of tasks to do. It found that users had various problems with using OpenOffice.org, including difficulty among Word users in creating tables and problems with the length of drop-down menus for users working on some screen resolutions.

This issue, and others, have been fixed for version 2.0 of OpenOffice.org which is due for release in March 2005, according to McCreesh.

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