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Changing Perceptions of Open Source Software: OpenOffice.org, Mozilla Firefox, and More

Moving Beyond "You Get What You Pay For"

“You get what you pay for.” It’s an adage we all know, understand, and probably agree with. But is it true for computer software?

Those of us in the tech industry would say no, as our experience with Linux has informed us to the possibilities of open source software. But what about the broader consumer market? Until recently, open source software has been more associated with “freeware,” “shareware,” and other similar applications. Compared with their commercial counterparts, they have generally been inferior in quality. Until now.

OpenOffice.org, Mozilla Firefox and others have been leading a wave that is bound to change broad conceptions about the quality of open source applications. Bringing the value of community innovation and collaboration, mass adoption and pricing disruption to consumer software will, in the end, stand to benefit both consumers and the tech industry alike.

One of my favorite examples is Gaim, a powerful multi-protocol instant messaging application, that released its 1.0.0 version on September 17, 2004 and notched a 300% spike in downloads. According to Sean Egan, one of Gaim’s lead developers, Gaim is used by hundreds of thousands of users worldwide and is the de facto standard instant messaging application in virtually every Linux desktop, including Sun’s Java Desktop System.

Firefox’s recent 1.0 Preview Release netted over a million downloads in its first week and brought praise from the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg, one of the world’s toughest consumer technology critics, who recommended dumping Internet Explorer for Firefox. He noted that “it’s not only more secure but also more modern and advanced, with tabbed browsing and a better pop-up ad blocker.”

OpenOffice.org, which Sun Microsystems open sourced four years ago, has combined with StarOffice for over 40 million downloads worldwide, largely due to its high quality and exceptional interoperability with Microsoft Office file formats. It is far and away the number one Linux platform office suite and has been making significant inroads on the Windows platform as well. These massive worldwide deployments actually inform a larger point: consumers matter.

Few large-scale technology projects can survive and progress without a dedicated user base. As Sun promotes the OpenOffice.org Conference in Berlin, Germany this week, it is worth noting that Microsoft asked for and received a presence at the show. This is remarkable in and of itself, but in the end it happened because Microsoft saw that a large ecosystem of OpenOffice.org enthusiasts have developed across the world in addition to the millions of consumers who use it everyday without a second thought.

The arrival of quality open source applications for consumers portends a massive shift in the economics of consumer software. Once consumers come to expect that their most basic applications should be affordable, high quality and developed in the open to mitigate security risks, communities of developers and enthusiasts will continue to converge. For example, how long will it be before Adobe Photoshop feels the pressure from GIMP, the open source graphics editing software?

At Sun Microsystems, we heartily endorse the idea that consumers should have a choice in their desktop applications and encourage them to try OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Gaim, GIMP and others. We also encourage companies and open source organizations to work together on defining open standards for interoperability and expect that our futures will be better off because of it.

More Stories By Manish Punjabi

Manish Punjabi is responsible for marketing StarOffice and OpenOffice.org products, and speaks frequently at trade shows and industry conferences on network computing trends.

Prior to his current role, Manish was responsible for marketing Sun's Network Identity, Communication and Portal Server products to key industry verticals and OEM markets.
Before joining Sun Microsystems, Manish launched a venture capital backed venture, Quamba. Quamba delivered remote managed testing and monitoring services to high-traffic Web sites. Earlier work experience includes various software development positions encompassing the design and implementation of X-window applications in the Unix environment.

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Most Recent Comments
Support 00,org 09/22/04 08:28:33 AM EDT

Anyone see NewsForge thougn where after the uproar surrounding Sun 10k filing that the LinuxElectrons seem to think is "probably as close as Microsoft can legally get to buying OpenOffice.org," Sun has come out stating that it is *not* selling out OpenOffice.org?

Here's the statement:

"Sun is strongly committed to OpenOffice.org. The patent protection indemnification is a common, standard practice among software corporations."

How's the OO.org conference going, everyone, in Berlin?

jbolden 09/22/04 08:13:58 AM EDT

Sun contributed greatly to the open standards movement and they got a great deal of credit. Among the major workstation vendors of the 1980s Sun probably outsold them on servers combined. So they had the support and it translated into sales.

Their support for open source has been much more up and down. They never supported the GNU tools in the early years. They've attacked Linux, BSD... in unethical ways. They've been completely unwilling to open source old technologies which would be valuable on which they are no longer making money (for example they own a very innovative office suite which would be GNUStep/Windowmaker compatable).

Were it not for open office you could almost put them in the hostile camp. How have they been big supporters?

Say What? 09/22/04 04:42:46 AM EDT

Here's what the columnist D Berlind had to say over @ ZDNet:
Dave Rosenberg asked the most prolific
CxO-cum-blogger in the tech industry--Sun President and COO Jonathan
Schwartz--why he hadn't yet graced his own pages with an articulation of Sun's
position now that the legalese had come to light. In an uncharacteristic bit of
flaming, Schwartz rose to the occasion with a blog that refers to conspiracy theorists as
"bizarro numbskull anti-Sun lunatics."

sterno 09/22/04 04:37:53 AM EDT

MS Office for Linux is not going to happen. Microsoft's power comes through control of the desktop platform. If they ran office on Linux, a lot of people would lose their only reason for sticking with Windows. Besides, the vast majority of people using OOo are using it on Windows, not Linux.

Sure their desktop is under assault from Internet malware but has this eroded their market share in the slightest? No. As long as the applications people want to run only run on Windows then Microsoft will continute to dominate the market. I hate Windows but I run it at home because the games I play don't run on Linux. As for Malware, I'm behind a firewall, and I don't use IE or Outlook so what do I care.

ites 09/22/04 04:35:27 AM EDT

Microsoft make money from exactly TWO products. Windows, and MSOffice.

Windows is under fierce attack from internet malware on the consumer desktop, and Linux in the enterprise. MSOffice is being eroded by the unbreakable OOo.

I said this a while ago when Microsoft and Sun announced their happy settlement: the goal is to squash OOo. SCO and Lindows demonstrated that lawsuits are not just about recovering damages: the mere threat of litigation is enough to kill a product.

OOo will not survive a SCO. It's not got enough grip yet. Microsoft must realize this.

So: they will use a stick and a carrot. The stick: lawsuits against prominent OOo developers for patent infringement. The carrot: MSOffice for Linux. I predict within the next 6 months, since every day that OOo is free makes it harder for MS to squash it.

And then... patents to make sure no-one can ever write a free office application again.

"Illegal software" is going to take on a whole new meaning by this time next year.

alewis 09/22/04 04:28:10 AM EDT

Its in their Microsoft's interest for 3rd parties to be able to (easily) use the Office file formats, just as it is in Microsoft's best interest for 3rd parties to (easily) develop Windows software. Office is a very extensable package.

They lay it all right out there. I've done work in the past that required me to integrate with Office (i.e. web app needed to make current data from a DB available in Office formats) and their guide to the XML format not only made it possible, it made it really easy.

Helmut 09/22/04 02:56:24 AM EDT

Ha! By attending the conference, MS doubtless hopes to learn more about OpenOffice.org and - according to a Microsoft spokesperson - "to discuss important topics related to open standards."

Chances are that what Microsoft will get instead is an ear-bashing from developers here in Berlin over their implementation of XML support in Office 2003!!

TyGrok 09/22/04 02:52:06 AM EDT

Fine, but everyone here in Berlin is of course wondering...what about the provision in the Sun-Microsoft settlement saying that Microsoft can sue OpenOffice.org users and developers over copies of OpenOffice.org installed after April 1, 2004???