Saturday December 10, 2005; part of: OOo
I picked a bad day to go off to the West Country and disappear from the net without even time to put up a feedback post for comments on my Guardian thing.
I shall move most of the letters I’ve had below the fold on this post, and comment later, if I ever have the strength.
UPDATE: Counterintuitive but true: the letters sent here are generally much more thoughtful, polite, and better informed than those sent directly to the paper. This comment thread contains remarks made here: the other post is extracts from letters to the Guardian. I'll put below the fold excerpts from one letter sent to me privately, whose author seems to have been unduly impressed by the vehemence of Guardian readers.
Hope this reaches you. Just wanted to say how much I appreciated your article, re: Open Office, in the Guardian the other day. I dropped by your blog at thewormbook.com, however, given the tone of the postings there, I don't really care to expose myself to a stake burning.
Nor do I wish to expose my servers to potential hacking, which, I'm sure, is a possibility, sad as that may be. Your observations about Open Office are 100% correct and they bear themselves out in the real world of real people. I've got major open source solutions deployed at all my client sites, however, these are specifically designed to eliminate problems at the server level and/or remove problematic solutions from the Windows desktop and replace them with server based solutions to eliminate those problems, thereby turning windows into a "thin" client for such applications.
All my sites run:
- Samba Domains
- Apache WebServer Various special applications
This is all rounded-out by utilizing Firefox on the desktop, but as far as desktop applications go, Firefox is pretty much the limit. I generally don't allow my client desktops to run any of the trio of insecure applications that have traditionally gotten Microsoft users in trouble--IE6, Outlook, Media Player. My systems above run day in and day out without incident. My clients don't get viruses or spam and their servers never have to be rebooted. They also don't have to deal with the real hassles of all the hideous web-hosting services out there because they can run their own website. Plus, I manage everything from my office, with few site visits ever necessary, except to deal with the occasional hardware issue. It's pretty much as ideal as one can make things, I believe, today.
The interesting thing about your article is that on Monday of this past week, I put the final nail in the coffin of the Desktop Open Source experiment, with respect to my client base, specifically because of problems with Open Office. Open Office just isn't ready for end users who have vast experience with Microsoft. You can't run your previous merge documents properly, the macros don't work right and formatting is not necessarily consistent when opening existing documents. Things are just too different to make it practical to implement in a real-world situation where you've already got a whole cadre of documents and history with Microsoft (and everybody does).
Likewise, the Linux Desktop is also impractical for the very same reasons. It is absolutely ludicrous to even imagine that average end users (they are all really stupid, let me tell you--I mean all of them, everywhere) are going to suddenly turn tail and start using Linux on the desktop. These people oftentimes struggle just to get around the Windows desktop. What an idiotically stupid, ill-conceived notion a switch to Linux on the desktop would be!
Unfortunately, most open source developers live in a dreamworld. Now, if they wish to live in a dreamworld, this is pretty much all just fine and dandy with me. I don't care to tread on the their hopes and dreams. This is what drives them to create all the great Open Source stuff that system specialists are adopting everywhere to alleviate real world problems, just as I have done. I could not have done what I've done without them. I just wish they'd come down from Cloud 9 from time to time and focus on the the practical realities of everyday people in the field and not waste their energies in fruitless endeavors.
Real businesses are not going to spend real money to retrain their workers to do things differently. These people don't have time to re-learn everything all over again. They can barely do what they do now. I can tell you from experience that change is just not likely to happen on the desktop. In fact, it's probably never going to happen at the desktop level. Nevertheless, that does not eliminate the vast MS problems in this still mostly MS world. Those problems, though, are becoming easier and easier to simply make disappear as I described above.
Posted by andrewb at December 10, 2005 08:29 AM
I use the new OO 2.0
I don't know what you are talking about - it is fantastic.
If you don't like the bugs go and fix them. If you are not a programmer off some cash to have your bugs fixed, you have no idea how that will help get an OS project going in your dorectiosn. For me I am really happy to use it, as is.
I particularly like the PDF and XML facilities.
We are Open Source developers oursleves. We make TurboCASH Accounting. I see OO and a strategic partner for us. I just wish they would stop trying to clone MS OFfice and get on with the developement of a real product. MS Office compatibilty is really good in OO2.
As always there are alternatives. People have to open both their eyes and their mind, and be willing to try something different. Most wordprocessors are used as glorified typewriters. Try Abiword for Linux or Ability Office for MSWindows.
I don't understand if you like it or not. You've "been using this product since long before it was usable", yet you call it "a steaming pile of crap". Your Guardian article claims that in five years "not one contribution to the program has come from amateurs", then goes on to say "There has been a lot of volunteer effort".
If you want something perfect for you, you'll have to pay for it (as everyone does, be it in cash or effort) instead of exhibiting "perversity, stinginess, and vague anti-Microsoft sentiment". If, on the other hand, you'd like to help improve the FREE software you love-hate, why not donate or even contribute some bugfixes?
Come on in; the community's lovely.
[moved by acb from another topic]
My apologies in advance, for this is hugely OT. I'm looking to comment on your article about OpenOffice at The Guardian.
There's only one question I have: isn't the article generalising Open Source and Open Source projects a bit too much based just on facts and statistics about OpenOffice.org?
Also, since you're focussing strongly on the point that OOo is largely developed by companies: Open Source software is not the same as Free Software.
When you're basically living in the FOSS world there's not many people around you who write good critizism about the software you're using throughout your day -- I'd honestly like to hear your opinion on these matters.
Raphael J. Schmid
spaces typed at the end of a line won't show.
Could this be because you have the "Ignore double spaces" item checked in Auto Correct/Options?
Not a bad article, but Im not sure if you intended to bash OO, or just failed to close the circle that you had drawn out.
Erics hypothesis doesnt apply to users, it applies to programmers. A user doesnt make a bug easier, a programmer fixing the bug makes it easier. When source is closed a limited number of programmers are available to fix bugs. When it is open that number is no longer limited by the source. OO obviously presents some problems ( very large, complex codebase, contract to sign to contribute ). The result is that the number of developers available to fix bugs is limited to whart Sun supplies, which, I suspect, is far fewer that MS have working on office.
I dont think you make this clear in your article. The many hands makes light work isnt what has failed. OO has failed to attract the hands needed. One suspects that Sun prefers it this way ( but things do seem to be changing at Sun ).
Thank you for a very interesting and thought-provoking article (I read the version in the Guardian) that raised questions well beyond its initial theme.
As a software developer and publisher of Cardbox I found that the article made me think through a lot of our assumptions and I've responded with a blog entry How to improve OpenOffice’s blood supply.
I don't agree with you that Sun and IBM are going for open source because it "is the cheapest way to gang up on Microsoft, because it means they need spend nothing on support" - you'll have to see the blog entry to find out why, and how, I disagree. The entry also has some suggestions for how outsize projects such as OpenOffice can grow and thrive - the title gives a clue. I hope it will interest you and your readers and, with any luck, start a discussion of its own.
Like others posting here i'm not sure of the point you're trying to make in your guardian article.
Are you saying no one should attempt to provide an alternative to MS Office? So there's 5000+ bugs in OOo - how many are there in MS Office?
I'm sure 99% of MS Office users wouldn't notice the difference if you installed this instead. The two bugs you cite are trivial.
You've obviously got in-depth knowledge of the product so why don't you help out?
'spaces typed at the end of a line won't show'
How is this a bug? It's just a different way of displaying text. Is a printer in error because it doesn't visually show you there is a space at the end of each line? No. There's no reason why it should have to show a space at the end of the line. That's you being very pernickety, not a bug.
I think there are two problems with OpenOffice that doesn't allow it to rise to the levels that you say should be associated with Open Source projects. One of course is the complexity that OpenOffice incorporates which in itself is not really a damning thing against it being a good open source project but in conjunction with the lack of a community it does dampen its prospects. The point of having many eyes looking at code doesn't always inflect that there are tons of programmers but instead that there are tons of volunteers. OpenOffice has never made an effort to build a community the way say Mozilla has done and has not made a grand welcoming of new and fresh blood and ideas as say the way the Linux kernel is structured. While OpenOffice is not hostile it is quite inhospitable to new people jumping in. Communities tend to help simply because they are part of a group. Hanging out around projects like Firefox and Ubuntu you get an inclination to help just by being around other people who are a mix of those who are lost and those who want to do more. The communities have layers of those deep into the code and those who are light hackers on such things as scripts/macros/extentions/themes and those who simply observe from the outer fringes and complain or comment. All have their own uses but what makes them succesful is working as a community instead of individuals or bands. I'm certain that if OpenOffice were to make some time to make the structure of code and code addition more friendly instead of being a club of people who "know" and everyone else along with a flow of input and feedback from those on the outer bands with options for them to take incremental steps towards the middle (or away while still offering aid) the project would end up much more effective even though it would change the face of the entire project. The core would still be done by well... the hard core developers but some soft core problems would be more easily solved and annoyances could be rounded up and handled by the hacker community who would have their own little eco system for paving over the rough spots till it got a more balanced or permanent fix. There are two articles that help to over all deflate your arguement that a suite isn't suited to Open Source . Some more pointed than others
It's a fair good point though and I'm thankful that it was brought up.
Why pay good money for MS office when OO can do so much?
It is slower to start up, has no grammar checker, and a larger download, BUT ( that is a big but), I use both , all the time - Work has MS Office and I use Open Office/Star Office at home.
The complexity of the tasks I do in each are roughly equivalent.
I have had more un-recoverable errors in MS office than in OO. The problems were in doing things like cutting and pasting tables in Word; insertions into numbered lists causing numbering to fail, multi-page spreadsheets failing to open.
I and others at work now copy documents in MS Office leaving a trail of previous versions around mainly for recovery purposes, and limit the complexity of our MS documents. I have had far fewer losses of documents to OO and have used OO to salvage MS Excell files that would not open in MS ExcelL.
I do miss the larger supply of templates for presentations that you get in the MS product but OO and Star Office make it look overpriced and of poor quality. I pay very little for a much lower bug rate.
And then there is data-formats. I'd rather my documents were saved in an open format . I'd rather my government, (UK), save our documents in an open format that I can freely access.
> Where's the support desk for OpenOffice?
It's at many of the links on here: http://bizdev.openoffice.org/consultants.html
Where's the support desk for MS Office?
Interesting article. I agree with most of it. The only thing I would say is that OpenOffice is quite an atypical Open Source project. Most are much more open, and willing to let others in. For instance, I've dealt with Samba and Postfix in the past. I've had an annoyance, submitted a bug and had it patched in to the next release, with no problems. So it's not all as bad as you make it seem.
Do you not read german articles or reviews?
OOo has been put to the test next to MS-Office and some other suits.
It was concluded that both can do about all the jobs you want to do with an office-suite.
No one was more buggy then the other except for the corel-wordperfect-suite that had some minor bugs.
Now I have not read about tests from you so what is your opinion based upon?
As one of the supporting forum-members said: it is not the question if OOo can do this or that but how.
I hope you do your research a bit better next time.
I agree that OO users are not likely to be able to fix OO bugs. OO is an application, not a tool; ideas of user contributions may make sense for "Less", but not for an app that is designed for low-skill users.
So, yes, there is a problem with the open-source model. But I wonder whether things will change if OO is adopted by cities that have skilled IT departments that can be directed to fix THOSE PARTICULAR bugs, or to make THOSE PARTICULAR enhancements, that are of importance to THAT PARTICULAR city? I can imagine city council directing the IT representative to get the bug fixed and to report back at the next meeting. Within a couple of meetings, either the bug will be fixed or the city will drop OO. This is a tight feedback loop that involves skilled workers.
The main problem I had with the article was the fact that you criticised OpenOffice for being buggy but you then also stated that you had to use it instead of MS Office because MSWord couldn't handle your 60000-word document and crashed instead.
Sounds like the alternative to open source is even worse. Maybe the point you are making is along the lines of Open Source is bad but it appears to be the best way of producing software as the alternative was even worse?
Remember that the spine of openoffice is purely commercial. It's accidental that anyone can read the code.
I think that open source works for some things and not for others. Essentially it works for engineers' tools and not for stuff aimed at ordinary users. Look at this another way. In any program there is an exchange between the writers and the users. The writers offer code. What do the users offer in return?
If your target users would rather contribute money than expertise and time to the project, then it should probably be commercial and closed source. Closed source because that way the programmers might make money out of it.
I agree that free/open source works best for tools aimed at other coders. Mainly, because the audience is highly technical and has the tools and knowledge to look at the code and potentially fix it.
However, the success of Firefox, The Gimp, KDE, Gnome, etc show that even end-user software does not need a commercial company behind it. End-Users can be useful in other ways, eg by contributing constructive bug reports, donations or even just emails of thanks to the developers.
Furthermore, these end-users might turn into coders and contribute code. This might be unlikely, but at least with Free/Open Source code there is that possibility whereas with closed/proprietary code there simply isn't.
Well done, Andrew. You have now discovered the truth about the open source movement. While there are some genuine and talented people involved out there, it also has its fair share of nutters who will bombard you with hate mail for daring to suggest that something like OO is less than perfect. Their objective is to scream you into silence, so that no honest, independent criticism of open source software takes place anywhere. Welcome to the jihad...
FWIW I think you hit OO spot on. It's OK - nothing more - as an everyday word processor for people who write one page documents or letters. This is no mean feat - it probably covers 80 pc of the users out there. But if you do anything more complicated, such as write books or other long documents, it's just not robust enough. If you write for a living, you need something you can depend on. Having tried just about everything, on Windows and the Mac, I still come back to Word (even in preference to the excellent Mellel - www.redlers.com which comes damned close to tempting me away).
Kudos for the Guardian’s Andrew Brown (“If this suite’s a success, why is it so buggy?”) for pricking a hole or two to the long-running myth of open source software somehow being intrinsically better than commercially-produced applications!
This whole open source mania reminds me of the True Believers of the 1970s and 1980s that refused to acknowledge what was obvious to everybody else: that the Eastern Bloc—or the Second World in general—wasn’t faring very well. But since the zeitgeist was what it was, to say anything contrary to the prevailing ethos would have been tantamount to a treason.
I truly hope the open source advocates would take an impassionate look of the battered battlefield, and recognize the patent truth: it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice, as Deng Xiaoping said on the aftermath the previous True Believers left behind.
I think you've made some valid points. I'm not sure buggy is the correct term to be using in all cases. The word wrap problem may or may not be a bug. It could be just a feature that OOO doesn't have. I seem to remember when MS Excel didn't do word wrapping for cell notes either. When the cell notes (comments) feature was first added the programmers didn't think anyone would write notes long enough to warrant word wrapping in a cell. They found out they were wrong. For a long time Quattro Pro had a feature where you could color the tabs in a spreadsheet. We used MS Excel at work which didn't have this feature. With every updated we would wish for this feature. It took them for ever to offer this feature, seemed like years. In fact there was a lot of features that Quattro Pro had that MS Excel didn't have for the longest time. Corel took over Quattro Pro and removed some of the features to make it more like MS Excel. After complaints they added back some of the removed features. None of these things are really bugs, it just there way of setting up the program.
One thing that could speed up new features for OOO would be for someone to publish a side by side comparison of features compared to MSO. One could even rate which features should be added or updated first.
I will at some stage return to the OOo vs MSO comparison. I have gone back to using MSO for a while, and it is incomparably slicker and quicker, even though it has faults of its own.
I think there are two sorts of bug in OOo at the moment.
There are the bugs in the latest verson of the program itself, which stem from its being rushed out. See IZ and ongoing discussions for those.
There are the lasting flaws in the project from which many of the program's flaws arise. These all come down to the near total disconnect between users and decision makers. One symptom is the way that features very frequently demanded, like proper comments, don't get put in for three or four years. Another is the ghastliness of the web site and the opacity of the process. Note that in this respect, MS Office is now rather more open -- if I have a thought about OneNote, I know where to find a developer's blog and can expect a public, reasoned answer there to a complaint or a suggestion from someone who actually has the power to do something. While this is also true of the OOs database module, I still don't know who is in charge of the OOo writer module, which is the one I actually use. I do know who is in charge of the web site. I have long since given up expecting action from them.
The english language mailing lists on which these things are discussed are quite astonishingly silly for the most part; the IRC channels are just developers talkig about the problems of building the thing as if this were a self-justifying enterprise.
Thi sis only going to change if and when Sun puts someone in charge of the whole thing whose job it is to open up the process so that it works properly.
I find it rather unlikely that MS-Word should work better for producing quality documents. "Slicker and quicker?" Please... MS-Office 2003 is just bulky, takes exactly as long to load as OO, while many most useful features, such as style management for example, seem to go from bad to worse as the version numbers increase.
MS-Word is designed for amateurs, with flashy "features" and not much else to back it up (I'm not even going into footnote layout, and last-line cloning in consecutive pages bugs...) Having had to typeset and layout a large book in MS-Word, I can assure you that it was largely a nightmare. Switching to OpenOffice (1.1.4) was a blessing in its own right.
(Obviously, this comment is not directed at the open-source development itself, but at the "bugs" you seem to say exist with OO but not with MS-Office... I think I can live with the space at the end of lines not showing, however random crashes resulting in loss of work, and layout glitches impossible to correct, that I cannot tolerate. Other issues stated in other comments here involve OO's compatibility with MS-Office, which is rather a moot objection, considering re-doing documents in OO from scratch invalidates the point.)
Please take a look to the "nice" answer I got when I noticed a strange behavior of OOo that is very different from MS-Word:
"If you want MS-Word, then use MS-Word.
It is good that OOo is not a clone and that sorting-mechanism is consistent
within OOo. Changing this is not worth the effort.
Furthermore the current behaviour is straightforward. Changing it would make
sorting of only parts of a table impossible. You can sort the whole table
without much effort: either select nothing or select all.
Please accept the decision that the behaviour won't be changed. Feel free to
find a programmer that changes this behaviour and use a customized version of OOo.
Closing wontfix again."
Miguel: yes, well, developers telling you to go away is part of the experience of software :-)
Garfae: I haven't tried writing a book in any recent verion of MSO so I wouldn't know. My impression is that OOo handles styles better than OOo -- but of course, MSO has proper outlining. David Hewson, elsewhere, has no trouble writing books in Word. And Word certainly has better bibliography tools available. I'll do a proper comparison in a little while.
Issue: Formating, Enhancement to word processor inserted notes (comments).
Andrew, I reviewed the bugs or issue reports to OOo to my surprise no one has really reported the word wrapping as a problem related to inserting notes (comments). The rules related to reporting bugs (issues) is that only ONE problem is allow per report or issue. A lot of people may have added their comments which are suppose to be related to the one problem being discussed. In the comments some people have stated all kinds of different issues like word wrapping, this is not the same as reporting them. Bottom line I issued a new issue 59762 reporting the word wrap as an individual problem for you. I got back a quick response from the OOo team stating that in fact the inserted notes do in fact already word wrap. So I check again and I believe they are correct. If you hold the cursor over the note icon the text will appear with the words wrapped. Please respond to me or better yet to issue 59762.
Update OOo has changed the status to issue 59762 to NEW which means they've accepted it for further review. Hopfully they will accept it and START it and RESOVLE it.
Thanks for taking the trouble. But an issue with the status "New" can remain that way for -- quite literally -- years. I don't expect the notes to get properly fixed for another eighteen months, if then.
Just for the hell of it I ran a query on issues with the status "New" and the owner "Requirements" -- there are 1147 of them; the oldest is #635, from April 2 2001. The complaint that notes can't be wordwrapped is from June 2002; and the first complaint about them is from October 21 2001 and this particular problem seems to have been reported at least eight times since then.
Word Wrapping OOo:
The Word Wrapping problem is logged in now currently again as a separate issue for better or worse and it's list as a formating problem. I think it's a formatting problem so maybe the formatting people will see it. Formatting people may not even look at items listed in other categories. Funny reading the other issues reported about viewing the OOo notes one lady begs them not to change them to the current MS Word implementation. She say the current way MS Word does notes drives her crazy. Has to do with those balloons popping up all over the place. Says she switch to OOo because of the way MS Word does them. The Los Angeles Times did a long article on writers and what programs they used awhile back. None of them used MS Word or OOo they all used industry word processors that I never hear of. They said they wanted word processors with the least amount of bell and whistles. They claim that all those extra goodies just get in the way of their writing. Most of these industry word processors where more like text editors. It's like those writers that use that Alphasmart.com Dana Wireless writing machine for it's simplicity.
I have followed this discussion with some interest, if not knowledge, and I suppose that is the point I wish to make. I am a user, I am a professional, but not an IT professional, I do not know how a computer works electronically nor do I know how the software does what it does. I use Microsoft products at work, Word, Excel, Outlook, Explorer, Project et al, because that is what I am supplied with and obliged to use, and at home I use Open Office, Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird and other open source software because of the price and because of my dislike of any near monopoly, I donate to the various organisations because I believe that you don’t get anything for nothing, or if you do you won’t value it.
I wouldn’t know a ‘bug’ if one bit me, things go wrong when I am using all of the above software but my assumption is usually that it is I who am the bug not the software and my usual reaction is to play around with the piece of work until I find a way of making the software do what I want, or near enough, anyway, even if I were convinced that I had identified a bug I probably wouldn’t have the language to describe it to a programmer in order for him to fix it.
My point is that we ‘users’ of which you all speak, but not seem to know, are very grateful to all of you for the wonderful products that you have produced and are honing towards perfection, but we, and you, know that nothing is perfect and perhaps you should all stop beating each other up over what appears to the uninitiated to be very small beer and instead take our thanks and go to the pub and have a large beer.
Textile formatting works here. Double hyphens are automatically converted to en dashes, quotes are automatically smartened. You can put dashes and asterisks around text to make
and other silly effects easily.
- Text wrapped in Asterisks which * will be bold. The asterisks must touch each end of the bold text. There must a space before the first and after the last.
- Text wrapped in underscores - _ - will be italicised. The underscores must touch each end of the italics. There must a space before the first and after the last.
- Paragraphs starting bq. will be block quoted. There must be no space before the "b" and one space after the full stop.
- A hyperlink is made by wrapping the link text in double quotes, followed immediately by a colon, then the URL. If there is a question mark in the URL, wrap the whole lot in square brackets.
- I use two classes to mark up text that deserves it. sane text looks like this. loony text looks like that. The syntax for those is %(sane)[space] sane text %; loony is left as an exercise to the reader.