OpenOffice.org has officially rolled out the second version of its open-source productivity suite, and its backers are hoping that new features and support from government agencies will give the application the boost it needs to take on Microsoft Office.
The latest version, available for free, has been under development for two years and is compatible with Windows, Linux, and Solaris. The software takes advantage of open-source code developed by Sun Microsystems and first released in 2000 as the OpenOffice.org project. The code also is behind Sun's StarOffice 8, which is sold commercially.
Recent attention from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts could give OpenOffice.org a push. State officials, arguing that documents should be based on open-source formats rather than proprietary ones, have become staunch supporters of OpenOffice.org and the OpenDocument format.
Good Reason To Switch
But OpenOffice.org needs to provide people with a compelling reason to make a shift from Microsoft, said Laura DiDio, a research fellow at Yankee Group.
"Microsoft has been doing everything it can to ensure that customers are comfortable with its product," DiDio says. "People need a reason to move to a new product. They don't need a reason to stay with an old one."
New features of OpenOffice.org include a redesigned interface, a database application, and wider compatibility with Microsoft Office document formats and export-to-PDF components.
Hurdle of Familiarity
According to Didio, OpenOffice.org needs time to build up adequate technical maintenance, service, and support systems, especially when it is trying to replace a nearly ubiquitous product.
"Who do you call if you need a fix? With Microsoft you can call your hardware manufacturer, who will be familiar with the product and any known bugs and can then offer a fix," she said.
In the case of free software, DiDio said, warranties are not good and seldom improve. Governments might be looking at getting out from under Windows license agreements, but still they risk paying for similar services, she said.
"Governments who think they can cut costs by switching to Linux and open source distribution are not considering that this is a relatively immature market that does not have as many applications built for it and is without a structured mechanism through which users can receive help when the technology goes south."