Every day it seams a new version of someones favourite software is released somegreatphotosoftware version 5.5.5 or thebestmusicplayer version 1,1,01. Little excitement is seen around the world except by the group fanboys and girls of that product waiting for the latest and greatest, checking the new features list for whistles and bells like children crossing off their Christmas present list (and equally frustrated when the one special present/feature is not delivered as expected).
But every now and again new versions of software come along that can affect many people and that can take a product mainstream. The best example of this was probably Windows 95 and both Word and Excel both had landmark versions that saw them over the ‘tipping point. (there are many reasons for the Word and Excel success including price and distribution but both products required to be at a level of maturity and usability for popular widespread adoption).
For many followers of software the upcoming release of OpenOffice.org 3.0 is possibly just such a release and there is a belief that this could be the tipping point for OpenOffice.org leading to worldwide adoption from schools and colleges to homes users and businesses of all sizes.
At this point it is worth explaining what OpenOffice.org is. Without a large marketing budget Openoffice.org is not the most well known. Openoffice.org (sometimes known as ooo the .org is always shown as someone else owns the trademark to ‘open office’) from Sun Microsystems is an open source equivalent suite of products to Microsoft Office or other office suites (yes there are few others still left). Where Microsoft has Word Openoffice.org has Writer where Microsoft has Excel OpenOffice.org has Calc. For many these two programs cover 95% of their software use but Openoffice.org also has equivalent presentation programs and a database. It does not include an email and calendering application although there are many alternatives to Outlook but does offer programs for drawing and mathematical formulae.
For the ‘iPhone generation’ this is not a release full of the latest whiz bang features and cutting edge innovation (c’mon this is office software) but the final product appears a more complete office suite that could have all the functionality for the majority of users. OpenOffice.org has been the office suite of choice for most Linux distributions for some time and a version for Windows has had a reasonable adoption but up until now there has not be a native Apple Mac version, yes you could install it with some messing around or you could even use a Mac modified version called NeoOffice. Now finally with the release of version 3.0 there is a full Mac version (intel only not power pc) and it should not go unnoticed that the most popular software purchased for Mac’s is Microsft Office. Until the recent release of iWork for the Mac there was no popular complete office suite apart from Microsoft Office. With so many new and young users of Mac’s OpenOffice.org have a real opportunity, after spending a lot their money on the hardware not everybody wants to spend more money on Microsoft Licenses.
The other compelling reason to look at OpenOffice.org is formats. OpenOffice.org 2.x could read and produce .doc, .xls and other proprietary Microsoft formats and this should be improved in in version 3.0 plus the addition of being able to read .docx, .xlsx and .pptx (which is more than Microsoft office 2003 user can do as standard) Openoffice 3 will not be able to produce in these ooxml formats but in my opinion that is a good thing. One of the greatest benefits of using open source software is also adopting open formats the default format forOpenOffice.org is ODF (OpenDocument Format) each program has its own ODF format Writer has .odt. Calc has .ods etc. With the release of Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 Microsoft’s own office suite will support ODF. This means that an OpenOffice.org user will be able to exchange documents, edits and updates with a Microsoft Office user all using an open standard format, this really is a great step forward. Of course there are many other products that support ODF, not just the two mentioned, from web applications such as Google Docs and Zoho to office suites including IBM Lotus Symphony and WordPerfect Office.
With full cross platform support, fully open source, really useful open formats supported by the major players and a Firefox-like extensions-ecosystem has OpenOffice.org’s time come? Only time will tell. I hope so.