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Fixing OpenOffice and the value of open source

Open source provides a host of benefits, not the least of which is a truly competitive marketplace around projects.

I've always liked Michael Meeks. He's Novell's point man on OpenOffice, and is a core committer to that project (which is saying something, since he doesn't work for Sun :-). Michael gives a good interview to ZDNet that uncovers some of the interesting usability work he's been doing with OpenOffice, among other things.

Michael on IBM's involvement in OpenOffice and the value of multiple suppliers:

I think IBM brings real credibility to OpenOffice.org and, of course, huge resources. There are a lot of perspectives around this and mine is that a purchaser really wants multiple suppliers. They don't really want multiple implementations. It is no problem having multiple implementations, but it means rewriting the same thing again and again.

This is an important point, one that made me think twice. There is little value in a "standard" that has only one supplier. In terms of open source, the value for customers goes up the more suppliers of the same (or essentially the same) project goes up. Service fungibility is the reason. You want to be able to pit suppliers against each other to give you the best deal if you're a customer.

Open source does this somewhat imperfectly today, but does it reasonably well in community-led projects like Linux, Eclipse, and OpenOffice. One of the great things about Linux is that you can get essentially the same thing from Red Hat, Ubuntu, Mandriva, Microsoft (err, Novell ;-), etc. Each of these vendors wraps its own value around the Linux core, but the core is the same. This gives customers a real, competitive Linux marketplace. That's a good thing.

Michael also commented on "Clippy" and the customer value in having control of source code:

Free software gives you the freedom that, even if you are a one-man shop, you can have it fixed if it is annoying you enough. The example I like to give is "Clippy" -- remember? -- that whipping boy of journalists. You couldn't turn it off and it came on and you had to talk to it before you came on.

Now turning Clippy off, in my estimation, is a single line of code change. With Microsoft you just couldn't do that. You couldn't get into their software, find the piece of code and ...just fix it. If you think about the software cost of some catastrophic blunder, often it would be way cheaper if you could just get in and fix it. I think that is a huge benefit of the free-software industry.

Freedom from stupid vendor tricks. Freedom to hack. That's open source.