An interesting test case for open source boosterism is provided by the release of OpenOffice.org 2.0 this week. I have been using this product since long before it was usable, out of a mixture of perversity, stinginess, and vague anti-Microsoft sentiment. When I started, MS Word 97, which was what I had, simply could not print out a 60,000 word manuscript without crashing, and I still think OOo may be better for books.
I have written a bunch of macros for it which people find useful, including the word count for version one. I have done bits for QA, not only submitting my own bugs but testing other people’s. So I am in a position to judge at the complete uselessness of the open source “community” that has gathered around it.
I now know of simple, hugely irritating, unfixed bugs that are four years old. I’d give links to the examples, but the site is unusably slow this morning. But notes (or comments, as Word users call them) don’t have word wrap; and for reasons I can’t begin to understand, spaces typed at the end of a line won’t show.
Most depressing of all, I have watched new bugs being introduced, then going either unfixed or unnoticed. Take outline numbering, something which was badly designed in version one , with a hugely confusing interface that took me a couple of years to learn.
In version two, the interface is still the same, slow, clunky, and confusing. But there have been changes under the hood, so that it now doesn’t work. There are 28 bugs outstanding against outline numbering, the oldest first reported in June 2002; and work has started on only one of them, an ugly problem where new toolbars appear and displace the text. 26 of them have appeared since a change was made last autumn. Things actually got worse a couple of months ago, and, though I have made an effort to reproduce the three unconfirmed ones, the behaviour is at present so random that I get quite different failures.
I know why they’ve shipped it. It’s six months late. There are only about 100 people working on it, and they had, at last count, 5,721 bugs outstanding. They have got to ship something. But if any commercial company, let alone one in Redmond, were to ship a steaming pile of crap like this, they would be derided all round the world, and rightly so.
UPDATE: Finnish readers, see here