Does OpenOffice.org Still Matter?

For the past six years or so, my office productivity suite of choice has been OpenOffice.org. In that time, I've watched the suite progress slowly but steadily toward the goal of being "just as good" as Microsoft Office. And yet, for my needs, the free software suite has been Office-like enough since Version 1.0. In fact, considering that I've spent the past six years using a Linux desktop, which Microsoft's Office does not support, OpenOffice.org has been better than good enough. That doesn't mean, however, that I lack for office productivity pain points...

For the past six years or so, my office productivity suite of choice has been OpenOffice.org. In that time, I've watched the suite progress slowly but steadily toward the goal of being "just as good" as Microsoft Office.

And yet, for my needs, the free software suite has been Office-like enough since Version 1.0. In fact, considering that I've spent the past six years using a Linux desktop, which Microsoft Office does not support, OpenOffice.org has been better than good enough.

That doesn't mean, however, that I lack for office productivity pain points. For one thing, I'm not happy with the way that fat-client suites such as Office and OpenOffice.org tend to strand my documents on whatever machine I've used to create them.

I want to be able to start writing a review on the docked notebook at my office, add to it from the desktop I use when I'm in our lab and give it a read-through from my home PC--all without having to install office suites and configure network shares on every machine from which I may wish to access and modify my documents.

Web-based productivity applications, such as those from Google and AdventNet's Zoho, directly address my application and document siloing pain points. The applications work just as well on Linux as on Windows or most any other platform, and they do a good job with Microsoft and OpenOffice.org document formats.

Given the rise of these Web-based alternatives and the progress they're making toward erasing their traditional drawbacks through offline browser support and JavaScript performance improvements, it's worth asking whether OpenOffice.org will continue to matter as we move forward.

I believe that it will, but continued relevance is going to require that Sun Microsystems and the rest of OpenOffice.org's stakeholders shake things up a bit.

When I think back on my Linux desktop circa 2002, OpenOffice.org is probably the least improved, least innovative and slowest-moving major component of the lot.

During that same period, my Web browser went from Mozilla 1.0 to Firefox 3.0, with a major architecture overhaul in between. Today, no one would call Firefox "good enough." Mozilla's browser efforts haven't just managed to pile up user share, they've created a platform on which various other products and projects are now built.

To be sure, through its influence on and implementation of the Open Document Format, OpenOffice.org has played an essential role in the standardization required to make a productivity application platform possible.

Now, I'm looking to Sun and the contributors of the OpenOffice.org project to give themselves permission to blow up the suite and aim its successor not at Office's taillights, but on the fat-client-optional roads that Microsoft is unwilling or unable to travel.

For more on the state of OpenOffice.org, check out my reviews of OpenOffice.org 3.0 and Lotus Symphony 1.1 (registration required).

You can also check out slide shows of OpenOffice.org 3.0 and of Symphony 1.1 (registration not required).