In this fourth in-depth interview focusing on ODF-compliant office productivity suites, I interview Dr. Martin Sommer, SoftMaker Product Manager, of Germany's SoftMaker Software GmbH. Unlike some of the other products profiled so far, SoftMaker Office 2006 currently includes only word processor and spreadsheet functions and is still bringing its product up to full ODF compliance.
While SoftMaker Office is not as well known outside of Germany as KOfiice, another German ODF-compliant software suite, it has a number of interesting and useful unique features, as does each of the other suites that I have featured in this series of interviews. Perhaps most interesting is its availability on mobile devices, and the fact that it has been selected by AMD for bundling with its ambitious "50x15" plan, which hopes to connect 50% of the world population to the Internet by 2015.
And that, of course, is the point of this series of interviews: presenting each competing product in detail illustrates the rich environment of applications and tools that are evolving around the OpenDocument Format (ODF) specification developed by OASIS, and now adopted by ISO/IEC. (The prior interviews can be found as follows: with Inge Wallin of KOffice here, with Louis Suarez-Potts and John McCreesh of OpenOffice.org here, and with Erwin Tenhumburg of StarOffice here.)
Since SoftMaker was not mentioned in the earlier interviews, which invited each respondent to compare its product to those of its competitors, I invited KOffice, OpenOffice and StarOffice to respond to this interview, with Dr. Sommer's permission. Inge Wallin of KOffice, and Louis Suarez-Potts and John McCreesh of OpenOffice took me up on the offer, and their responses appear at the end of the interview. All concerned will have the opportunity to make final comments at the end of the series — and if you have comments to make based upon personal experience, by all mean, please add them as comments to this or any other intereview.
The next interview in this series will describe IBM's Workplace Managed Client. My hope is to present a complete set of interviews, including also Google Writely, Abiword, Novell and Gnumeric. I have exchanged email with folks at Writely and Gnumeric, but do not yet have commitments to be interviewed from either of them. If you have contacts at Abiword or Novell, please tell them that I'd be delighted to run an interview with them as well, as the hope is to provide a complete, comparative picture of the entire ODF ecosystem.
Part I: SoftMaker Overview
The Company/Timeline: SoftMaker is a relatively small German company and focuses its sales activities primarily in Germany. It plans to expand its sales and marketing efforts to cover additional countries in Europe.
1987: Company founded; TextMaker 1.0 for MS-DOS released
1989: TextMaker 2.0
1991: First font collection together, with scaling tool
1994: TextMaker for Windows released; includes spreadsheet (PlanMaker) and database (DataMaker)
1999: Font offerings split: MegaFont for home users and infiniType for designers, printers and publishers
2003: New releases: TextMaker for Pocket PCs; Handheld PCs; Linux, followed by PlanMaker for same platforms, followed by FreeBSD and Zaurus versions of both products.
Current Version: SoftMaker Office 2006 for Windows; includes TextMaker 2006 and PlanMaker 2006; versions to follow shortly for Linux, FreeBSD, Pocket PCs, Handheld PCs, Windows CE.NET, Qtopia (Sharp Zaurus).
Resources: 8 full time developers; 20 freelancers
Market: Predominantly home users. SoftMaker Office is fully localized in 10 languages (including English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese). Font.
Most interesting customer: Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) includes SoftMaker Office on its “Personal Internet Computer” (PIC). The PIC is part of AMD's ambitious "50x15" plan, which hopes to connect 50% of the world population to the Internet by 2015.
Most competitive features (per SoftMaker): Speed, MS-Office compatibility, availability for different platforms; low disk and RAM demands; modular design;
Least competitive features (per SoftMaker): Low market awareness; proprietary; not as suitable for business users
Future development plans: Add Datamaker, Presentations, ODF export, PDF export. Also, a client/server based version of SoftMaker Office (work name: SoftMaker Office Anywhere) is under development
Accessibility: Small size prevents accommodate; customers will need to rely on Windows and Linux based tools.
ODF Compatibility: Has only an ODF import filter; .odf export filter is under development and will be released by the end of the year in an update/service pack.
Cost: SoftMaker Office 2006 costs the same on any platform: US$69.95 or EUR 69.95, respectively, with volume discounts for larger purchases.
Part II: Specific Interview Questions
Q: Rightly or wrongly SoftMaker Office is not as well known as the other ODF compliant software suites, especially in the United States. Why do you think that is?
A: SoftMaker is a relatively small German company and focuses its sales activities primarily in Germany. We are trying to expand our sales and marketing efforts to more countries in Europe like Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Great Britain or France. Since we currently don't have the manpower in our small sales team to look intensively after the US market, it's rather a long-term target for the future to expand our activities there as we do in Europe at the moment.
Q: Please tell us something about SoftMaker and give a brief history of its founding and evolution.
A: SoftMaker was founded 1987 by Martin Kotulla in Nuernberg, Germany, Two years later it incorporated as “SoftMaker Software GmbH”.
Right from the start, the company has been developing office software. The first release of our text processing tool (TextMaker 1.0 for MS-DOS) was in fall of 1987. The next milestone was the successor TextMaker 2.0 in 1989. Two years later, with the release of the first font collection together with a font scaling tool, SoftMaker entered a new market of computer typefaces.
In April 1994, the first version of TextMaker for Windows was born. The product portfolio was expanded by adding the spreadsheet PlanMaker and the database DataMaker. Furthermore, SoftMaker Office for Windows was published for the first time then.
In 1999, SoftMaker split its font offerings into two products for different markets: MegaFont for home users and infiniType for designers, printers and publishers.
The most important step occurred in the first half of 2003 when SoftMaker launched TextMaker for the first time for Pocket PCs and Handheld PCs, as well as for Linux a bit later, followed by PlanMaker for these three platforms and, again a bit later, by FreeBSD and Zaurus versions of both products.
This major step led to two of the major USPs of the software from SoftMaker: offering the only office suite which is available on all these platforms and offering the only full-featured text processor and spreadsheet for PDAs.
Since its foundation, the SoftMaker Software GmbH has remained an independent company. Currently 17 employees are working at SoftMaker's Nuernberg offices. They are helped by around 20 freelancers around the world.
2. Product and Marketing Overview
Q: Please describe SoftMaker Office — its principal applications, what platforms it runs on, and so on.
A: The new version, SoftMaker Office 2006 contains TextMaker 2006 and PlanMaker 2006, the two flagship products of SoftMaker. It's a high-end office suite with outstanding Microsoft Office compatibility as well as all functions and features that are expected from a modern office suite, plus much more:
- reads and writes MS-Word and MS-Excel files seamlessly
- reads OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, and OpenDocument files
- proofing tools (languages see below)
- graphic tools (incl. built-in vector graphic program), integrated database and database connection for mail merging and single letters (TextMaker)
- MS-Word compatible tracked changes (TextMaker)
- WordArt and AutoShapes compatible effects
- Outlining (TextMaker)
- Easy form creation with with input fields, checkboxes, selection lists etc (PlanMaker)
- Input validation (PlanMaker)
- Unicode support
- and much more
The latest version, SoftMaker Office 2006 is currently available for Windows. The following platforms will be added during the coming weeks and months: Linux, FreeBSD, Pocket PCs, Handheld PCs, Windows CE.NET, Qtopia (Sharp Zaurus).
SoftMaker Office is fully localized in 10 languages (including English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese). Furthermore, it contains a built-in translation dictionary in 5, thesaurus in 12, spell-checking in 17, and hyphenation in 29 languages.
Q: Who does SoftMaker currently sell most of its products to (e.g., home users, commercial users, etc.)
A: Our major market is currently definitely the home user. Nevertheless we deliver our office products also to companies as well as our professional font collection infiniType predominantly to designers, ad agencies, and publishers. Further we partner with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and deliver exclusively the office suite for their so-called “Personal Internet Computer” (PIC). The PIC is part of AMD's ambitious "50x15" plan: Connect 50% of the world population to the Internet by 2015.
III. Common Interview Questions
1. Goals and hopes
Q: What is SoftMaker's vision for SoftMaker Office? Where would you like to take SoftMaker Office from a feature and market point of view?
A: We'd like to provide office software that covers all (really all) purposes a normal user needs on his computer. That means it’s long-term not enough to provide only text processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and database but also contact management (including e-mail, instant messaging, address management, and so on. In other words a perfect one-stop solution with all applications and functions a user needs at his daily work with all the advantages SoftMaker provides already today: technical perfection, speed, compatibility, multi-platform availability. And, of course, this solution should scale from home users through SMB to governments and corporate enterprises.
Q: Has that vision changed over time, or have these always been the project goals?
A: Yes and no because it was not a simple change but a gradual evolution. 15-20 years ago, when SoftMaker began to develop software, the goal was to provide an alternative to Microsoft Word for DOS. At that time only a few people cared about spreadsheets and since “graphical interfaces” simply didn’t exist yet, nobody then needed a presentation tool. Once graphical systems had been developed for the PC, those tools became more and more popular so SoftMaker's vision to create integrated feature-rich high-end solutions evolved over the years.
Q: How many developers does SoftMaker employ that work on SoftMaker Office?
A: 8 full-time employees, 20 freelancers
3. In what ways is SoftMaker Office different from KOffice?
Q: In what ways is it better?
A: Koffice has made good progress and the developers added many features compared to earlier versions (I tested 1.4.1). It has a range of import and export filters, with one extremely annoying issue: Kword is not able to save as .doc (although Kspread can, for whatever reason, write .xls). Further the compatibility is not really good. Thus, it's more or less unusable for everyone who needs to exchange documents with customers/friends/business partners, It doesn’t matter if you like it or not, but .doc is still the dominant file format in the business world.
Further I ran into stability issues with Kword during my testing, so I think they still need to work on the code so that users can trust it more.
From a functional perspective, Koffice is not as feature-rich as SoftMaker Office. Features such as comments that can be applied to a range of text, AutoShapes, and Tracked Changes are an absolute must for many advanced and not-so-advanced users. We added them in TextMaker 2006, and as we know how hard it was to develop them so that they are fully compatible with Microsoft Word, we expect the Kword developers to have some significant development work ahead of them.
The Koffice team integrated the three major KDE graphics tools into Koffice: Krita, Karbon and Kivio but the integration is inconsistent since after installation of the whole Koffice package, these tools appear in the “Graphics” menu of KDE (where they belong to IMO) instead of the “Office” menu although they are listed as part of the Koffice suite. However, these tools are somehow used as plugins in Kword and Kspread. This behaviour is quite confusing. In my view SoftMaker's way to have a fully integrated vector drawing in the word processor is the better and more user-friendly way.
Q: In what ways is KOffice ahead of SoftMaker?
A: I can see two significant advantages of Koffice: better integration into the KDE environment and the fact that it's open source. From a feature perspective, I can't see real advantages currently. Only Krita, Kivio and Karbon, the graphic tools of Koffice, have no equivalent at SoftMaker's software. On the other hand, I'm not sure whether independent complete picture processing, vector drawing, and flow chart tools are really necessary components of an office suite (see my last answer above).
4. In what ways is SoftMaker Office different from OpenOffice?
Q: In what ways is it better?
A: There are four major points where we think that we are far ahead of OpenOffice.org: the size, the speed, the MS-Office compatibility, and the availability for different platforms. SoftMaker Office needs only a fraction of the disk space for the installation as well as a fraction of the RAM that OpenOffice.org needs.
SoftMaker Office is modular so you run TextMaker and PlanMaker independently from each other. It doesn't only start much faster, it also opens and saves documents many times faster than OpenOffice.org does.
Unlike the opinion given in the “StarOffice 8 Interview” I can definitely claim that SoftMaker Office has by far the best MS-Office compatibility of all Office suites. Charts, object frames, WordArt, AutoShapes, tracked changes, text and table formatting, and many more things are imported flawlessly — much better than in OpenOffice.org or any other non-Microsoft office suite for that matter. Erwin, are you ready for The Grand MS Office Compatibility Shootout between OpenOffice.org and SoftMaker Office?
Q: In what ways is OpenOffice ahead of SoftMaker Office?
A: OpenOffice.org has “momentum”. People looking at alternatives to Microsoft Office start by checking out OpenOffice.org, and it is “good enough” for many of them. “Free” is quite an irresistible proposition. However, issues like (lack of) speed, (large) memory footprint, and (not so stellar) compatibility with Microsoft Office file formats mar the new-found love affair with OpenOffice.org. I hope that people look further, for example to SoftMaker Office, instead of returning to Microsoft Office.
5.In what ways is SoftMaker Office different from StarOffice?
Q: In what ways is it better?
A: Regarding the advantages of SoftMaker Office compared to StarOffice, there's no difference to OpenOffice because the advantages primarily base on technical differences, and technically StarOffice and OpenOffice.org have no difference.
Q: In what ways is StarOffice ahead of SoftMaker Office?
A: Since StarOffice is stronger in the business market, SUN offers support contracts for business/government users. These contracts give the feeling of reliability to these users so they imagine their organization is on the safe side.
6. In what ways is SoftMaker Office different from IBM Workplace Managed Client (to the extent you can tell so far)?
A: As I've never seen the IBM tools, I can't say anything about it. But according to the information found on the web, the office applications are only one part of this client/middleware system, and many more different services are integrated. Further it's targeted more or less only to companies. Thus, I would say, it's not comparable at all with a stand-alone Office suite like SoftMaker Office as it is today.
7. How will any of the above change on a comparative basis when the next release (or interim release) of SoftMaker Office is issued?
A: The major goal for SoftMaker is to add those most requested features that are still missing compared to OpenOffice.org and MS-Office. These are mainly Datamaker, Presentations, export, PDF export. Moreover we will of course keep on focusing our development efforts to our USPs to remain ahead of the other Office suites, esp. MS-Office compatibility as well as availability and unrivaled feature richness on Pocket PCs and Handheld PCs.
Further you may have heard that we've begun to develop a client/server based version of SoftMaker Office (work name: SoftMaker Office Anywhere). Once the development of it reaches an alpha state, we can probably tell more about how it compares with other server/client systems such as IBM’s Workplace.
Q: What types of users would SoftMaker Office be right for? Anyone from a home user to an office user, or for more selected audiences?
A: Everybody! It's easy-to-use, fast, powerful, inexpensive, compatible. Thus, there's no reason to not use it, neither in the office nor at home! I hope I kept track of the negations in the previous sentence... :-)
Q: What types of users might be happier with Microsoft Office?
A: Those who have already paid the high prices for the MS software and who are satisfied with the feature set and think they don't need any upgrades in the future. Further all those guys who use pirate copies of MS Office on their computers and never care about legally purchasing software.
Q: Will this change much with the next SoftMaker release?
A: I hope and I think that this will change a little with every new SoftMaker Office release. I know that there is a large number of people that are looking for inexpensive and good alternatives to Microsoft programs and monopolies.
Q: Who (if anyone) besides SoftMaker provides support for SoftMaker Office today? Do you expect the support community to grow, and if so, where and how?
A: We want to open up SoftMaker Office in the interoperability arena, by offering an OLE Automation API similar to Word’s and Excel’s. This will enable third-party vendors to port their Word and Excel add-ons rather easily to SoftMaker Office. Some of the foundations for this technology have been laid already, but we still have a way to go before this is complete.
Q: How does SoftMaker compare with MS-Office with respect to accessibility for those with disabilities?
A: We would like to develop some of our own solutions to improve the accessibility of our applications but currently we are not able to do that by ourselves due to very limited (human) resources. So users need to use the accessibility tools that are offered by/for Windows and Linux.
Q: Do you expect that SoftMaker will become as accessible as MS-Office?
A: Yes. This is not on the short-term list of things to do, but medium-term we know we have to tackle this area.
10. What is the road map for SoftMaker Office going forward?
Q: Are there any ways in which SoftMaker Office is not fully compliant with ODF? If so, what is the plan for addressing this?
A: Yes, the current version of SoftMaker Office has only an import filter but we are working on the export filter and it will be released by the end of the year and made available then as an update/service pack.
Q: What differentiating features can we expect in SoftMaker Office in the future?
A: Release of DataMaker 2006 and Presentations 2006, and adding them to the SoftMaker Office 2006 suite. Further, as mentioned, odf export, pdf export, and, middle-term, we want to add language proofing tools that are much better than what is offered by any word processor today.
Q: Please describe the licenses under which SoftMaker Office is made available, and whether there is any reason to expect any variation on this answer in the future.
A: For closed-source software, we have very liberal licensing terms. Remember the old “use it like a book” mantra by Philippe Kahn? That’s what our license basically says. No activation, no forced registration, no copy protection. I hate this in software (Adobe? Can you hear me?) and don’t want to inflict it on our customers.
SoftMaker Office 2006 costs the same on any platform: US$69.95 or EUR 69.95, respectively, with volume discounts for larger purchases.
12. ODF and SoftMaker Office
Q: What did the release of the standard mean for SoftMaker Office? Was there no question that SoftMaker would wish SoftMaker Office to support it?
A: In the past, MS-Office was the only “quasi-standard” format. Therefore we spent many years to perfection our format compatibility with .doc. With the start of the ODF, we saw that this would become an additional standard in the future and, for the first time, a real competitor to the MS format monopoly. So it was just logical and no tough choice to start the implementation of OpenDocument into TextMaker.
Q: How would you like to see the ODF standard evolve in the future? What would you like to see added to it?
A: I hope to see more and more companies at ODF Alliance.org and press news like “This government and that Company Inc. have decided to switch to the new OpenDocument format...”. This is definitely the way how ODF will become the real standard document format of the digital world in the future and how the format specifications can get improved and perfected. Furthermore, this is the only way how old monopolies can be broken long-term, and, frankly speaking, I hope that will happen.
13. Recent News
Q: What effect do you expect the approval by the ISO/IEC membership of ODF to have on the fortunes of ODF supporting software in general, and of SoftMaker in particular?
A: It's definitely a “must” for many governments worldwide to have/use ISO certified software. So the fact that ODF is ISO approved helps ODF to go the way described above in the last answer. And, the more organizations think about switching to the new standard, the more SoftMaker has an opportunity to be seen as an alternative to Microsoft Office.
But this does not only lead to more organizations thinking about switching to software that supports ODF, it will also lead to more and more software manufacturers to implement ODF support into their software.
Q: The one criticism that seems to be most frequently leveled against ODF compliant software is that it is "bloated" and slow. At least one reviewer claims to have performed tests in which an ODF compliant office suite performs poorly against MS-Office, supposedly relating to what must be loaded in connection with certain functions. Recently, Microsoft's Alan Yates began to make the same comments. Do you think that this criticism is warranted, and to the extent that it is, is there a plan to address this in the future?
A: This is fortunately no issue for SoftMaker Office since it is very fast in loading and saving documents. It might be that it needs a split second longer to load an ODF document but it will still be that fast so nobody using SoftMaker Office will care about that.
Q: The Massachusetts ITD has issued an RFI asking for information on plugins to facilitate conversions between MS-Office documents and ODF compliant software. Does SoftMaker have any plans to develop and/or bundle any such tools? Did you respond to the RFI?
A: No. On the one hand, we don't have the resources to develop such tools. On the other hand I find that this could become counterproductive (for OpenOffice and StarOffice as well) since once such a tool is available people/governments using MS Office may see no longer any reason to think about a switch because they are compatible now to ODF because of that tool. In my opinion it's not a good idea and it should be a job done by Microsoft if they want their software/formats to become compatible. What we will soon release however, is “TextMaker Viewer”, a read-only version of TextMaker that can be distributed freely and that can open, view, and print documents in Microsoft Word, OpenDocument, RTF, HTML, and TextMaker’s own file format.
Part IV. KOffice and OpenOffice Respond
1. In what ways is SoftMaker Office different from KOffice?
Sommer: Koffice has made good progress and the developers added many features compared to earlier versions (I tested 1.4.1). It has a range of import and export filters, with one extremely annoying issue: Kword is not able to save as .doc (although Kspread can, for whatever reason, write .xls). Further the compatibility is not really good. Thus, it's more or less unusable for everyone who needs to exchange documents with customers/friends/business partners, It doesn’t matter if you like it or not, but .doc is still the dominant file format in the business world.
Wallin: This is one of the two main weaknesses of KOffice (the other being not running on Windows), so I have to acknowledge that interoperability with MS Word is not very good. However, that KWord cannot save in .doc is no big problem since it can save in .rtf. MS Word itself saves in RTF format when you ask it to save it in a doc file for another version than the one you are running at the time. The only difference is that MS Word calls the file .doc (even if it is a .rtf) and KWord does not. Most likely, we will change this in the future to make this confusion go away.
Sommer: From a functional perspective, Koffice is not as feature-rich as SoftMaker Office. Features such as comments that can be applied to a range of text, AutoShapes, and Tracked Changes are an absolute must for many advanced and not-so-advanced users. We added them in TextMaker 2006, and as we know how hard it was to develop them so that they are fully compatible with Microsoft Word, we expect the Kword developers to have some significant development work ahead of them.
Wallin: What he means here is that KWord is not as feature-rich as TextMaker. KOffice itself is, of course, much richer than SoftMaker Office since it only contains a word processor and a spreadsheet. At least, that's what I can see when I read the website.
Sommer: The Koffice team integrated the three major KDE graphics tools into Koffice: Krita, Karbon and Kivio but the integration is inconsistent since after installation of the whole Koffice package, these tools appear in the “Graphics” menu of KDE (where they belong to IMO) instead of the “Office” menu although they are listed as part of the Koffice suite. However, these tools are somehow used as “plug-ins” in Kword and Kspread. This behaviour is quite confusing. In my view SoftMaker's way to have a fully integrated vector drawing in the word processor is the better and more user-friendly way.
Wallin: KOffice version 2.0 is in the works right now, and we hope that it will be released in late Q1 2007. KOffice 2.0 will contain a unified graphics approach that will be able to mix all kinds of shapes and effects into all kinds of documents. This includes those kinds of documents that SoftMaker cannot handle at all, like presentations, vector graphics, and layered pixel graphics.
Comments and/or change management is currently planned for KOffice 2.0 or 2.1. There is a Google Summer of Code project currently in action that will implement document versioning, which also implies change management.
See my comment about the integrated graphics approach for KOffice 2.0 above. If you want more technical details, search for "Flake library" in google. There is already a demo application for Flake that shows off it's abilities.
Regarding the menus, that is the choice of the Linux distributors and not something that the KOffice team can decide. There is also an integrated workplace called koshell that integrates all the Koffice applications into one.
Q: In what ways is KOffice ahead of SoftMaker?
Sommer: I can see two significant advantages of Koffice: better integration into the KDE environment and the fact that it's open source. From a feature perspective, I can't see real advantages currently. Only Krita, Kivio and Karbon, the graphic tools of Koffice, have no equivalent at SoftMaker's software. On the other hand, I'm not sure whether independent complete picture processing, vector drawing, and flow chart tools are really necessary components of an office suite (see my last answer above).
Wallin: I might be blind, but I cannot find any SoftMaker equivalent of KPresenter, the presentation program, or Kexi, the MS Access like database program of KOffice. Neither does there seem to be any equivalent to the project planning application KPlato.
Regarding the use of graphics processing as their own applications, I'm sure that a graphics designer would prefer to have the same well-known interface both for his or her graphics needs as well as for ordinary wordprocessing. Simple vector drawing or image processing can well be done inside the wordprocessor (which KOffice 2.0 will fully support), but for real work most people would prefer not to have the menus of their photohandling software be cluttered with "Bold", "Italic", and "Underline".
2. In what ways is SoftMaker Office different from OpenOffice?
John McCreesh: I confess I haven't come across or used SoftMaker Office - it didn't register on our radar last time we did a competitor survey. As far as I can see from their website they only provide a word processor and spreadsheet, so I guess they only just qualify for your consideration if they only read .ods and .odt files and don't write any ODF at all.
So I'm afraid I can't comment on whether "SoftMaker Office has by far the best MS-Office compatibility of all Office suites", or whether as Dr.Sommer claims "SoftMaker provides already today: technical perfection..." (we don't claim that for OpenOffice.org).
The issue with MS-Office compatibility is that virtually all Microsoft file formats are unpublished, so we can only measure compatibility by empirical tests. Microsoft's own track record in exchanging files between versions of its own software is nothing to be proud of - users tell us we are often better. In practice, tens of millions of users find OpenOffice.org does the job of reading and writing in MS-Office formats day in day out.
As I said in our last conversation about ODF: "The standard also needs an independent certification authority which can ratify software for compliance." When we have achieved that, we will be able to make genuine comparisons between products. OpenOffice.org is open software - we have nothing to hide, nothing to fear from open comparisons.
Why settle for anything less?
Louis Suarrez-Potts: I agree with John. I'd be quite interested to see the level of support for ODF that SoftMaker has. It's one thing to claim support, another to create usable documents. The same can be said of any supposed plugin: that it exists is not in itself a sufficient condition; it must also satisfy user demands. We really do need compliance standards so that consumers can fairly evaluate what they are buying.
* Having a panoply of ODF implementations is great, especially if many of those can read/write MS Office files. My argument for OOo is that it gives everyone equal access to productivity tools. The ODF makes this possible, as it is an open standard, and open source makes it real, as it is free for all. Imagine then a scenario where some proprietary implementations are used by a few to create documents promulgated to the many. All benefit, even StarOffice, even, SoftMaker, even the source projects (which happen to produce great binaries) OpenOffice.org and KOffice.
* Support and services are not to be dismissed. One key advantage held by OOo and StarOffice that was not highlighted in this interview is that uses and consumers have easy access to professional and community support (in *many* languages) and professional and community services. This is not a trivial point. OOo doesn't just have momentum behind it. It has a burgeoning ecosystem of support and services organizations interested in leveraging OOo's huge popularity. What is more, increasing number of companies that provided extensions for MS Office are now turning to OOo. They see how the grass is growing, and it's growing faster and greener on our side than theirs.
Thanks for this series and for giving us the opportunity to stand on boxes of soap.
For further blog entries on ODF, click here