Does OpenOffice's speed even matter?

The open-source productivity suite of applications has its problems. Speed of performance is far from the most prominent, when you think of its Web-based rivals. Ninja has posted an interesting analysis for anyone who has found themselves complaining that OpenOffice is slower than frozen honey on a frozen three-toed sloth's frozen right nostril.

The spoiler? It's getting slower all the time. is generally getting slower with each release. However, some parts of are getting faster, the performance losses are relatively small, advances in new computer hardware are more than making up the losses, and continues to mature with new features.

I'm not sure if this is supposed to count as advocacy for the open-source productivity suite, but it hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement. Of course, there's more to this report than immediately meets the eye.

The author tries to downplay OpenOffice's alleged sluggishness by saying, "It's unrealistic for software to be faster over time: newer software does more work. When a newer version performs more quickly, it generally means the previous version was inefficient."

All true. But perhaps we should be expecting OpenOffice's inefficiencies to be rectified and improved over time.

I find the latest version of NeoOffice (which trails OpenOffice in popularity by a bit) to be at least as fast (or "as sluggish," if you prefer) as Microsoft Office, and I strongly prefer its presentation functionality over Microsoft PowerPoint.

It may not matter, however. OpenOffice is a noble effort, but with Google Docs, Zoho, and other Web-based Microsoft Office alternatives providing just enough functionality, OpenOffice may end up winning the "best desktop alternative to Microsoft" battle while completely losing the larger war, which is not about developing the best desktop productivity suite at all. Rather, it is about productivity applications developed for the desktop versus those built for the Web.

Given how much of my life is spent in e-mail and browsers now, I think the war is already over, and Microsoft has lost. "Losing" this war, however, will continue to bring in billions of dollars of profits to Microsoft for many years to come, so it can be excused for not breaking out the eulogies quite yet.

As for OpenOffice, it's too big and too slow, but the comparison is no longer vis-a-vis Microsoft. It's against Google and the new crop of Web-based office suites. In that war, it's not even a private.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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