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An open letter to the OpenOffice.org contributors

Congratulations! The Open world is seeing the return of one of its proudest products. You may be able to argue the role of other larger OSS projects, but not OO.org. GNU/Linux is the utility tool of us GPL Junkies ™. Sometimes it competes against Solaris. Sometimes it competes against Windows. Yet other times it competes against OS X. Hell, it even competes against Symbian, WebOS, iOS and Windows Mobile.

This is not so with OpenOffice. The project takes square aim at Microsoft’s Office product line.

Even the name was chosen with solid intent. The name is a combination of Who they are (Open) and What they do (Office). And just today it has been announced that the corporate jail that had snatched OO.org up has seen fit to give it a pardon. With this exciting development I issue the following challenges to the OO.org team:

FAST! OpenOffice.org is one of the slowest applications I run. Gimp flies by comparison. Users don’t like waiting. On modest hardware OO.org should shock me with it’s load speed. I should never need to WAIT when I am simply BOLDING some text.

Focus on Windows. This one is going to make some waves, but extra efforts need to made in the Windows world. OO.org needs to feel good to the end user. Sure, I don’t care if my word processor or spreadsheet looks like a native product. My boss does though. Jill in sales sure does. These people run Windows and want their application to look and feel like an extension of they computer. Not a kludged on like an afterthought.

KISS! Keep It Simple, Silly. I am a huge fan of Pages from Apple. Even Office 2007/2010 is decent. They strip away much of the UI and expose just those super-common controls. Advanced controls are both still available and able to be selectively added to the UI via a number of methods. OO.org still looks largely like a product from the 90’s. Right here is the chance to really innovate and do something unexpected. I would propose stripping the UI down to a sub-Google Doc’s interface. Minimal, minimal, minimal. If nothing else, at least catch up to the state of the industry.

Chrome does it right. Firefox is even getting on the wagon. Update often and release often. Why not have a rolling-release? This is NOT a trivial goal by any means. This one goal might be the push that gets OO.org on top of the heap. I would suggest a very visible way to disable this feature though, as some users don’t like waking up to a new experience every day.

Resist the WebApp Rush. Everyone and their brothers roommate is working on web-based productivity suites. They are the Lamborghini Diablo of the Application world though. You want to be seen driving them, but nobody LIKES driving them. Focus on the things that those core users really need. Like Jill over in sales. Remember Jill?