First, let me start by congratulating the global OpenOffice.org community for setting version 2.0 free to the world – you have my heartfelt congratulations (but you were a day early for having a great birthday!). With 50,000,000 downloads and counting, we have all clearly established OpenOffice.org, and its enterprise supported cousin StarOffice, as the most popular cross platform app suite the world’s ever seen – for academics, individuals, developing nations, and enterprises looking to save millions.
But Sun’s announcement with Google seems to have fueled a ton of speculation about what happens next with OpenOffice – speculation that seems to end in “now they can rewrite OpenOffice.org in AJAX.” So I’d like to talk about why we’re not driving the community to simply rewrite OpenOffice.org in AJAX.
Before I receive 2,000 email critiques, you should know my roots are in desktop software. So lest you think I’m coming at this from the perspective of a knuckle dragging big iron computer guy, that’s not me.
As a software guy, here’s a simple (though often irritating) rule behind user oriented software: The language in which a product is written has nothing to do with the value it conveys. Coming from the company that produced Java technology, that probably sounds a little odd. But it’s a simple truth, especially when it comes to users: if the app’s no good, it’s no good, even if it’s implemented in Java. Or PHP. Or Rails.
For whatever reason, the first internet boom led a very broad developer audience somewhat astray with opportunity – no end of new software products were produced that were, in essence, simply old products either rewritten, or built to run through a browser. Granted, many succeeded. But at least as many (actually, way more) failed. Why?
Because rewriting an app simply to use a new toolkit isn’t creating value for consumers. Creating an application or service that delivers unique value is what captures users. And the internet gave some developers a tremendous opportunity to deliver unique value – by radically simplifying basic networking, enabling connectivity and community on a truly global scale.
First, note that none of these apps are written as browser based applications – but all of them are focused on capturing users and delivering unique value through the network. Could they be rewritten in AJAX? Sure. But why? They’re all capturing users and delivering value today. (I included Firefox for a reason – to point out that some things just wouldn’t make sense rewritten in AJAX.) Could an AJAX interface be used to extend some portion of their functionality? No question, yes – the diversity of requirements on the internet is giving services an opportunity to project multiple user experiences (thus, the app to upload your photos is different than the service that let’s you browse them).
Could these apps I mention, above, be enhanced with better network connectivity, more collaboration, and better integration into your daily life? Absolutely.
So if you want to know what the future portends for OpenOffice.org, that’s a fine place to start (and AJAX will likely play a role).
But the single biggest achievement of the OpenOffice.org community is that they’ve driven broad global adoption, in the face of a competitor not known for being gentle. It’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask, “so what’s next?” But it’s also important to note how OpenOffice got to where it is – by focusing first, and foremost, on delivering value for users. Not picking a technology to highlight (although there were plenty to pick from).
There is a rich and fruitful future in front of OpenOffice.org, based upon focusing on user experience and creating value. A point with which BusinessWeek clearly agrees.