Stay away from OpenOffice.org until Oracle shows commitment, analyst says

Oracle must invest in the open-source suite, says Software Improvement Group

A European IT consulting firm is warning large enterprises and government entities not to deploy OpenOffice.org until Oracle Corp. shows proof that it will invest as heavily in the development of open-source productivity suite as project champion Sun Microsystems Inc. did.

According to a 12-page report published earlier this week by Amsterdam-based Software Improvement Group, the main risk is that OpenOffice.org's code may get buggier if Oracle, after it finalizes its acquisition of Sun , pulls personnel and resources from OpenOffice.org.

Though spun out to the open-source community in 2000 by Sun, OpenOffice.org's development and marketing still relies heavily on paid Sun employees, such as OpenOffice.org community manager (and overall boss), Louis Saurez-Potts.

"There is a fairly advanced QA mechanism in the OpenOffice.org project," said Tobias Kuipers, CTO of the 50-person consulting firm, in an interview. "It involves 30-40 man-years [of developer time], which is fairly expensive and not something you can maintain in your attic."

Kuipers said the report from SIG, which counts ABN Amro, ING Bank, DHL and the Dutch government among its clients, was self-funded. He said the other risk is that Oracle, in its zeal to beat Microsoft , diverts resources for OpenOffice.org toward a commercial version (see PDF) or "fork" aimed at tackling Microsoft Office in the enterprise .

"It all hangs in the balance depending on what Larry Ellison and Oracle do with OpenOffice.org," he said.

Sun already sells and supports a version of OpenOffice.org, called StarOffice. It has had less success pulling users from Microsoft Office than its entirely free sibling, OpenOffice.org.

Kuipers added that the risks mainly apply to large entities adopting OpenOffice.org, due to the switching costs, not to individuals and small businesses. He also said that the risks do not apply to companies adopting Lotus Symphony, an IBM-led fork of OpenOffice.org, because of IBM's backing.

Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an e-mail, John McCreesh, OpenOffice.org's marketing lead (and a non-Sun employee), called the SIG report "pure speculation."

"The OpenOffice.org community is very grateful to Sun for creating the community in the first place, and for it's ongoing generous support. But it's not dependent on any single sponsor for its continuing existence," McCreesh said. He dismissed fears that OpenOffice.org users will find themselves bereft of support.

"If there is money to be made from offering commercial support to governments, etc., then market forces will ensure that the support will grow out," he said.

Meanwhile, development for Openoffice.org continues. A second release candidate for OpenOffice.org 3.2 was released last week. New features include faster startup times, better support for OpenDocument Format and Microsoft Office Open XML documents, improvements to Calc (the Excel-like spreadsheet program), and more.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld . Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai , send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed .

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