Monday, 29 December 2008

Is Open Office dying?

This is something rather unexpected. One of the traditional assumptions about open source software is that there would be an effectively infinite supply of developers who would be contributing, especially to something as visible as Open Office.

But it seems that this is not the case:

it should be clear that OO.o is a profoundly sick project, and worse one that doesn't appear to be improving with age.


Eek!

Crude as they are - the statistics show a picture of slow disengagement by Sun, combined with a spectacular lack of growth in the developer community. In a healthy project we would expect to see a large number of volunteer developers involved, in addition - we would expect to see a large number of peer companies contributing to the common code pool; we do not see this in OpenOffice.org. Indeed, quite the opposite we appear to have the lowest number of active developers on OO.o since records began: 24, this contrasts negatively with Linux's recent low of 160+. Even spun in the most positive way, OO.o is at best stagnating from a development perspective.


I wonder why this is? Are people becoming disillusioned with maintaining open source? Is the novelty wearing off, are the zealots moving on to "proper jobs"? Is the cachet of being an open source developer becoming too diluted now that there are so many millions of open source projects going?

Whatever it is, it's an interesting and somewhat worrying development. Because if it can happen to Open Office, surely it can happen to any open source project? The death of such a visible flag-bearing open source project would probably chuck a bucket of ice cold water over any IT manager looking to move towards open source software for anything.

11 comments:

TBRRob said...

Unless you just assume openoffice has no future. Maybe it's cos a lot of OS software is moving online.

Anonymous said...

Could it possibly be because, you know, like, someone has to pay the bills?

And those guys can't make the money they need in two days a week or whatever it was back in the day, so now they need to do paying work all the time?

fwiw I always thought free software would end like this. Giving your highly-skilled work away for nothing just is not a viable business model.

Anonymous said...

And once the credit crunch reaches the UNIX geeks you can expect to see something similar happen to Linux.

Unless they really can live on air.

Dennis said...

"I always thought free software would end like this. Giving your highly-skilled work away for nothing just is not a viable business model."

Agreed. (Sad But True, Episode 75,296.)

Kryptikmo said...

OpenOffice is controlled almost entirely by Sun Microsystems, as it is a spin off from their proprietary StarOffice suite. This makes it extremely awkward to have your changes approved, and lots of people don't bother. That's issue number one.

The code is ugly, complicated and absolutely not fun to work on. I know this, because I downloaded it with an intent to developing a couple of interesting features for myself and gave up in despair. That's issue number two.

Thirdly, there is almost not thrill in writing code for an office suite. I can write device drivers for QDCs and TDCs for a high energy physics experiment, and see the data come in and the pretty blinkenlights flash. Or I can implement a "make all the first letters of words in a sentence become capitalised" feature for dimwits who want an office suite - something I almost never use. *YAWN*.

There is a valuable business model in there somewhere. See the number of 'security consultants' who have a copy of nessus and fuck all else. See the dominance of the apache server for websites and the premium commanded by those who understand it. If you think of FOSS as a software-university movement that expands the resources available to everyone, which benefits society enormously, then it is not only useful, but essential to the development of information technology.

Unless you're an accountant, of course. Unless you're a lawyer, or want to become so. Unless you think that there should be something mystical about what you do, unless you want a high barrier to entry for your field. Unless you got where you are now, and want to pull the ladder up.

Then I could understand wanting software to cost enormously, and restrict computers to becoming something that only Certified Professionals know about. But I like the idea that someone who is smart, and has a second-hand computer can get to understand the internals, and code something useful. Maybe I'm just sentimental that way.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

Then I could understand wanting software to cost enormously, and restrict computers to becoming something that only Certified Professionals know about.

I've never found Certified Professionals to know anything more or less than anyone else.

But I like the idea that someone who is smart, and has a second-hand computer can get to understand the internals, and code something useful. Maybe I'm just sentimental that way.

Uh ... yeah, sure, that's great, but let's face it, writing applications that provide a significant useful result require immense amounts of work. And if you do it, then it's not unreasonable to expect some money for your efforts.

I mean, unless you're a Breatharian or something, open source isn't really a viable business model.

Kryptikmo said...

I've never found Certified Professionals to know anything more or less than anyone else.

No, me neither. But if you can't examine the source code of a program to see how it works, you won't get a full understanding of what you need to do to enhance/replicate/fix it. If the source is not freely available, then you restrict the opportunity to examine it to a small subset of people who can/will invest the money to go on programs - much like Certified Professionals have done. Usually sponsored by massive corporations, mind. In that case, the bedroom hobbyist is more or less shut out of any significant development.

Uh ... yeah, sure, that's great, but let's face it, writing applications that provide a significant useful result require immense amounts of work. And if you do it, then it's not unreasonable to expect some money for your efforts.

Writing an application from scratch, yes, again I agree. But changing the underlying code slightly, tweaking behaviour and making it better is something just one person can do easily. It absolutely is not unreasonable to expect to be paid for your work. It is also not unreasonable to document what you did to fix it, in the hope that other people will improve your improvement, or just learn from it. The easiest way of doing this usefully is to make the source available.

No-one is saying that you have to do that. But if you are going to use the fruits of other people's work in that region, e.g. FF, apache, gcc or glibc, then it is not unreasonable to give something back.


I mean, unless you're a Breatharian or something, open source isn't really a viable business model.

That comparison is slightly trollish!

There's a market for bespoke solutions, bespoke improvements and you should be able to do whatever you like with your work. If a plumber fixes your pipework, should he not put up diagrams for how to do that in a general case on the internet too?

My concern with your original post is two-fold: you can't take OO.org as a typical FOSS app - it isn't. It is massively sponsored by a controlling company in order to replicate an existing suite of applications rather than a garage-enterprise style do-one-thing-and-do-it-well typical UNIX application. In this regard it is as special as special cases get.

Second is the idea that FOSS is not a viable business model. I think that it is, because I don't think that you should be paid twice for the same work and that closed source software is more or less an artefact of our legal system where time spent on IP is vastly more rewarded than time spent on creating other forms of property. I suspect that this is because lawyers are creators of IP...

An awful lot of proprietary software is an off-the-peg cut, and is sold like it took way more effort to make than it actually did. Just like legal boilerplate, pop songs, clip art, etc. The actual work is in making that software solution work for you - and that is where the reward should be, not in writing something once, and getting rich from it for the next 20 years. If you can swing that, then good for you! But it shouldn't be enshrined in law that you have the right to stop anyone looking at how you did it, and copying your technique.

Obnoxio The Clown said...

If the source is not freely available, then you restrict the opportunity to examine it to a small subset of people who can/will invest the money to go on programs - much like Certified Professionals have done.

I don't know of any Certified Professional programs that allow you to look at the source code, but then I don't really know all that many Certified Professional programs.

The easiest way of doing this usefully is to make the source available.

Well, if you say so. I've written a lot of bespoke software in my time, and my clients would have been exceedingly fucked off with me if I'd published the source.

And I'm afraid that there are a significant number of people who have developed software over the years specifically because they thought it would make them rich or who believe that this is an equally valid model. I'm one of them. In fact, I'd argue that much or most of the innovation in the software market comes from closed source software.

That comparison is slightly trollish!

How do you troll your own blog? :o)

But it shouldn't be enshrined in law that you have the right to stop anyone looking at how you did it, and copying your technique.

That's your opinion and you're entitled to it. But then do you also feel that musicians should not be able to copyright their songs or that authors copyright their books? Is there no right to intellectual property at all?

Kryptikmo said...

I don't know of any Certified Professional programs that allow you to look at the source code, but then I don't really know all that many Certified Professional programs.

I am thinking along the lines of MS's shared-source program - but also the fact that it can be difficult to obtain a job without certification from MS or Cisco (just examples) which means spending literally thousands of pounds on courses that may or may not be useful and are nothing that you couldn't replicate yourself at home. Things like these schemes raise the barrier to entry. As does closed source software.

And I'm afraid that there are a significant number of people who have developed software over the years specifically because they thought it would make them rich or who believe that this is an equally valid model. I'm one of them. In fact, I'd argue that much or most of the innovation in the software market comes from closed source software.

I don't disagree with coding in order to get rich - I am not trying to force anyone to do anything. I disagree with the idea that the right to get paid twice (or several million times) for the same work should be enshrined in law. The revenue should come from the application of work - not (partly) from the 100th million pressing of a CD.

I'd argue the point about innovation in software being mostly about closed source. Innovative techniques from open source software get used in the closed source world, but these techniques aren't reciprocated. I don't think that you can really put metrics on that.


I do think that copyright laws are massively skewed towards large corporate interests...partly because the laws are written by people who have little to no foresight of their consequences, and partly because, as can be seen in the States, established money talks in these cases.

I have no problem with someone making money form their innovations - which was the original intent behind copyright laws. The other intent was to benefit society, as the laws encouraged artists and producers to put their inventions into the public domain after a certain length of time. I believe that the balance is skewed massively towards the holders' interests and against societies. I don't think that anyone can seriously say that Sony BMG need to be richer, nor Intel or Google.

So, whew! After all that my original point was intended to be that FOSS as a business model exists and that taking too much from the story of OpenOffice would be a mistake!

Anonymous said...

OpenOffice, rest in peace.

And now let´s switch back to MS Office.

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