Right now, Oracle is indeed selling their own commercial edition of OO.o as Oracle Open Office, but their approach is different from what I had in mind. Most of what Oracle is selling consists of a) support and indemnification, b) bundling of add-ons normally downloaded separately, and c) migration tools for those leaving Microsoft Office behind.
Those are all good things, and I can see them being worth paying for. Indemnification and support, in particular, are probably impossible to provide without paying for. But separating these components out even further and selling them piecemeal allows OO.o to get valuable information about the most important thing: what the users really want.
I know there are a lot of people who find an open core strategy unpalatable. But I think it’s a better compromise than anything else I’ve seen—and one more likely to produce truly useful software that will bring more people to OO.o -- users and developers alike -- in the long run.
Make it a product, not just a project
In the same spirit, OO.o needs to be thought of as a product and not just a project if it’s ever going to make any serious inroads against entrenched competition.
Firefox and Google Chrome, two other remarkably successful open source projects, are successful as products as well as projects. Part of it, I think, comes from a certain degree of separation of one from the other.
In Chrome’s case, the project version (the Chromium project) is kept discrete from the product version (Google Chrome itself). Firefox’s project is Gecko; the product is Firefox itself.
But over and above that, there’s a good deal of attention in both products towards what the user experiences and why. The people responsible for the development of those programs may not charge money for the use of their products, but there is still a currency involved: the user’s investment of time and effort, which is always more precious than money.
That’s where the “product” end of things comes in. With a product, people feel they are using something that has been polished and thought through, not simply created in direct outwards imitation of something else.
There’s been a fair degree of attention paid in OO.o to workflow and productivity, and it’s paid off. But it’s been almost entirely reactive. It’s keyed more to responding to what Microsoft Office is doing lately (e.g., creating their own implementation of an Office 2007-style tabbed interface) than any kind of innovative, independent research in workloads or application interaction.
If OO.o is to truly compete, then its developers need to be as daring about it as any for-pay competitor of Microsoft’s.
The document, the application, or the work?
OO.o needs to be more than just a way to work with documents authored to the ODF standard.
This may sound like an odd stipulation, but one common reason people rally around OO.o is its implementation of, and support for, the ODF standard. The Document Foundation wants to use OO.o as a major flagship for promoting ODF, especially in sectors where openness is crucial—medicine, government, not-for-profits.
The ODF standard is a laudable concept, and I rather like the idea of not being tied to any one particular application if I can help it. The documents we create are always more valuable than the apps we use them in.
But I’d argue that it’s the work accomplished with that document—independent of file format or application—that’s even more crucial. And I’d also argue that the applications that are the most polished, definitive and focused help people get that work done best—and that, sadly, many open source programs don’t behave like that yet because they’re not really built to satisfy those demands.