OpenOffice to Own Small Biz Market?

By Thor Olavsrud | Posted October 03, 2003

OpenOffice.org took another step in its quest to secure a place in the office productivity suite space this week with the release of OpenOffice.org 1.1.

The new version, which has been in beta since March, is an open source challenge to Microsoft's dominance in the space, though it faces an uphill battle with Microsoft owning more than 90 percent of the market.

The suite includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation application (analogous to PowerPoint), and other components — all built around the extensible markup language (XML) file format. Unlike Microsoft's Office suite, OpenOffice.org does not contain an e-mail client.

The project, an open source community created by Sun Microsystems, is charged with creating an international office productivity suite that will run on all major platforms and "provide access to all functionality and data through open-component based application program interfaces (APIs) and an XML-based file format."

OpenOffice.org spokesman Sam Heiser said the two most significant enhancements in version 1.1 of the suite are faster load times — one of the primary criticisms of earlier versions of the suite — and a modernized, contemporary look and feel.

The new version also introduces a number of enhancements, including native one-click export to Adobe System's PDF format, Macromedia Flash export for presentations and drawings, enhanced compatibility with Microsoft Office files, and accessibility support.

The suite is a descendent of code that Sun was developing for future versions of its StarOffice software. Sun released that code to the OpenOffice.org community when it created it. StarOffice now uses OpenOffice.org source, APIs, file formats and reference implementations.

"New features like the native PDF export and the support for assistive technologies will accelerate the fast growing, worldwide adoption of OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, as well as more secure, alternative desktop environments," said Curtis Sasaki, vice president of desktop solutions at Sun. "We've seen community members work for days on end to make OpenOffice.org one of the leading open source projects today."

One of the project's most important strengths, aside from its native support for XML and cross-platform support, is the international nature of the project, Heiser said. Localization projects have made the suite available in about 30 different languages already, and Heiser said OpenOffice.org has about 60 ongoing projects to localize the suite. At launch, version 1.1 supports English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean and Japanese. It is also available for the Windows (98/ME/NT/2000/XP), Linux (x86 and PowerPC) and Solaris operating systems.

"This is a sign of the health of the project," Heiser said.

It also points to some of the groups where acceptance of OpenOffice.org has been making the biggest inroads.

"Right now, what we see is it's a government crowd outside USA," Heiser said. "Right now it's the geeks and sophisticates, the desktop cognoscenti. That's who we've been serving downloads to. It's Munich and the nine German municipalities which just announced migration to Linux. It's Massachusetts, which just announced a plan to migrate [to Linux]. That's significant because it's a kind of tipping point of its own in the U.S."

Heiser also pointed to Malaysia, which he said has been making "very big statements" about sparking a tech economy with open source software. South America has also become a strong point for OpenOffice.org, Heiser said, noting that "they're Linux crazy in Columbia and Brazil."

"The governments are using this now, very energetically," he said.

The project considers a Linux win anywhere to also be an OpenOffice.org win, because all the major distributions — including Red Hat, SuSE and Debian — now bundle the OpenOffice.org suite with their software. But it would be a mistake to equate OpenOffice.org with Linux, Heiser said.

In fact, at last count, more than 60 percent of OpenOffice.org downloads are served to Windows users, he said, though he noted that "quite a few of them" utilize multiple platforms, not just Windows. But the project is looking to take more Windows users.

"That's our market," he Heiser said. "The 40 percent to 60 percent of Microsoft Office users who are using legacy versions, who did not pay, who aren't that involved with the software acquisition process, who don't really care about their toolset and use whatever is in front of them. These are intelligent people, but they don't care much about the software. They use whatever is around. OpenOffice is what's around."

Heiser predicted that OpenOffice.org will become the dominant desktop productivity standard within the next 10 years, "and I stand behind that." The project is especially trying to drive home its message to small business users, especially if the state of the economy continues to add pressure to contain costs.

"It's a small business certainty," Heiser said. "We're going to own the small business. We're going to have 110 percent of the small business."

The project sees 1.1 as the next step in that drive, with version 2.0, slated for next year, as an even bigger step. At the moment, Heiser said the goal is to continue enhancing the platform and smoothing out the rough edges to make it more palatable to the common user.

An access module to interface with databases is on the table for the next version, as Heiser conceded that is an area where the suite is lacking.

The project saw 1 million downloads in the first week after it released version 1.0 in May, 2002. Heiser said there were about 5 million downloads that summer, through September. He estimated that the suite has between 5 million and 10 million users worldwide at this point.

Adapted from internetnews.com.

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