OpenGoo is no competition for Google Docs (Update)

This open-source suite provides too much source (code) and not enough Web (office) in its attempt to rival Google Docs.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
3 min read

There are times when I think open source is an unstoppable force. And then there's OpenGoo.

OpenGoo declares its mission to be to "make the best Web Office. Period." But then it proceeds to undermine every benefit that a true Web office productivity application, like Google Docs, provides to its users. Like the Web, for starters.

That's right. The first thing that struck me when trying to use OpenGoo (aside from its rather unfortunate name, which is yet another reminder that marketing is an essential function, not an afterthought, for open-source projects) was the download page.

Download page?!? I thought this was a Web office productivity suite. Why would I want to download an application?

I never found out. Once I had downloaded and unzipped the file(!?), I was greeted with this:

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I tried finding the application launcher, but couldn't. More pertinently, why should I? It's a Web application, right?

I finally gave up and used the demo, instead. It works fine, though it's nowhere near as polished as Google Docs, and still left me wondering, "Why do I care, as a lay consumer, that this is open source?"

Yes, there is value in having access to source code should OpenGoo go down (particularly as it appears one is meant to install and run OpenGoo inside the enterprise firewall, which sort of defeats the purpose of it being a "Web Office," but...). But would open source make OpenGoo a more resilient service, in the way that some are (wrongly) claiming open source would make Twitter more impervious to denial-of-service attacks?

Of course not.

The OpenGoo site brags that by using OpenGoo, "you are free of vendor lock-in." But I would gladly trade a little lock-in for some ease of use.

There is tremendous value in open source, but the OpenGoo developers have mistaken where it begins and ends. Open source should be invisible to the end users that care about a Web-based office productivity suite. By making it a feature, OpenGoo demonstrates misunderstanding of its audience.

Zoho also uses a lot of open source, but it doesn't sell open source as a feature. This is probably why you've heard of Zoho but, until this article, you likely hadn't heard of OpenGoo.

UPDATE @ 12:12 PT on 8/18/09: My post above was written in some haste, which prevented me from adequately explaining my points. I apologize for the confusion. I understand (and clearly implied) that OpenGoo is not a direct competitor to Google Docs, as it's meant to be run behind the firewall (i.e., it's an on-premises installation, not a cloud application).

But this, as I noted, is its biggest deficiency (well, after the name). It is neither fish (locally installed Microsoft Office) nor fowl (cloud-based Google Docs), and so it's unclear what value, if any, it provides, simply on architecture/installation alone.

No one is going to beat Microsoft Office with a light upgrade in deployment options, least of all OpenGoo, which I continue to find underwhelming in its UI and feature set. Open source is unlikely to improve on this. Given how much OpenOffice has struggled to attract significant development from outside Novell and Sun, in part because the development community isn't interested in rebuilding Microsoft Office (why would it? I doubt many developers have a Microsoft Office "itch" to scratch).

So, OpenGoo isn't Google Docs and doesn't want to be. What does it want to be? The premier Web Office, according to its website. It's not, as I note above and underline emphatically here, because it's light on Web and not innovative in its approach to Office.

I apologize for my hastily written post, but OpenGoo doesn't get any better on further reflection.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.