In this third in-depth interview focusing on ODF-compliant office productivity suites, I interviewed Erwin Tenhumberg, Sun's Product Marketing Manager, Client Systems Group (Erwin's own blog is called Erwin's StarOffice Tango). This series of interviews, and the other activities I have planned to follow, are intended to illustrate 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. (You can find the previous interview with Inge Wallin of KOffice here, and with Louis Suarez-Potts and John McCreesh of OpenOffice.org here).
Each of these interviews illustrates the unique attributes of each flavor of ODF-compliant software. KOffice is an open source component of the KDE desktop, and thus represents an interesting contrast and alternative to the Office on Windows environment. OpenOffice is also an open source suite, and is the lineal descendant of the code that formed the starting point for the ODF development effort. And StarOffice in many ways is OpenOffice. As you will read below, the same code that represents OpenOffice is utilized in StarOffice as well, which in turn is distinguished by additional value-added features, available support and conversion tools. Like KOffice, StarOffice runs on its developer's operating system — Solaris, representing another alternative to a Windows/Office environment. But unlike MSOffice, StarOffice (and KOffice) will also run on GNU/Linux — and OpenOffice will also run on FreeBSD and Mac OSX.
This series of interviews will include IBM's Workplace as well, which is already in the interview queue. I do not personally have contacts at Google Writely, Abiword, Textmaker or Gnumeric, but if you do — 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.
As the following interview is particularly long, I have posted some of the more interesting points as outtakes just below (I’ll go back and do the same for the other two interviews as well when I have time).
Oh – and one last thing: in case you’re wondering, each of these interviews was conducted using an OpenOffice interview document. If you haven’t used OO yet, give it a try — it’s a no-brainer to use to use, and can be downloaded from this page.
Part I: Interview Outtakes (partial, but verbatim)
Note: None of the following outtakes is a complete answer to any question, so be sure to read the entire answer on each point for completeness and context.
History: StarOffice originally was developed by a company called Star Division….In 1999 Sun acquired StarDivision. In October 2000 Sun donated StarOffice source code to found the OpenOffice.org project. One of the first projects on OpenOffice.org was the XML project which led the efforts around the OpenOffice.org file format, which the OASIS OpenDocument Format Technical Committee later decided to use as the basis for the OpenDocument Format.
Vision: Sun’s vision is the participation age where everyone and everything participates on the network. This obviously includes eliminating the digital divide, because nobody should get excluded from the network. OpenOffice.org is a great example. OpenOffice.org was the first office suite available in languages that typically are not supported by any commercial application….Sun donated StarOffice source code to found the OpenOffice.org project and continues to be a major contributor to the project, because OpenOffice.org and the OpenDocument Format create new open market places for Sun and for other vendors.
StarOffice/OpenOffice differentiation: StarOffice shares OpenOffice.org’s mission, but at the same time StarOffice tries to fill some gaps that are critical to customers. For example, it offers (together with a network of partners) migration tools and services. In addition, StarOffice bundles components, that are not yet available as open source.
Sun’s influence over OpenOffice: …Yes, Sun is still the main code contributor and the main sponsor of the [OpenOffice.org] project, but more companies are joining the community. Among the vendors doing OpenOffice.org development are Novell, Intel and Red Hat. More than 700 companies and individuals have signed a Joint Copyright Assignment indicating their intention to contribute to OpenOffice.org….Today I believe we are headed in the right direction. Sun has a strong focus on OpenOffice.org community participation….
Strong Points: StarOffice and OpenOffice.org probably have the best filters for MS Office outside of Microsoft itself. In addition, StarOffice and OpenOffice.org have a much broader feature set and growing ISV support. The latter is especially important to enterprise and government users. StarOffice also runs on Windows, GNU/Linux and the Solaris Operating Systems. In addition, OpenOffice.org runs on FreeBSD and Mac OSX. …
For Business: The Enterprise Edition of StarOffice includes a migration assessment tool, the Professional Analysis Wizard which analyzes a user’s MS Office files, and a macro migration tool, the Macro Migration Wizard, which converts MS Office macros and allows them to be run in StarOffice [and more]….
For consumers: Consumers like StarOffice because it’s a nice integrated package wrapped in a box that comes with a commercial spell checker, clipart graphics fonts, indemnification, and 60-day free support. The included fonts for example are important for MS Office compatibility.
Weak points: KOffice has the best KDE integration. Due to the strong community involvement, OpenOffice.org is available in more languages and for more platforms….
Performance: First of all, millions of users use OpenOffice.org and StarOffice today without major issues. Thus, even though it is possible to create files which show a slow performance behavior, most users don’t see these issues in their day-to-day work….When ODF became the default file format of OpenOffice.org and StarOffice the internals of both applications did not immediately get optimized for the default ODF file format. This is happening at the moment and we are already seeing significant improvements….
Vendor neutrality: According to the charter of ECMA TC45 and comments by Brian Jones in his blog, Office Open XML tries to by optimized for just one implementation, which is MS Office….ODF in contrast was designed to be implementation and platform independent. It for instance reuses many existing and established open standards like HTML, SVG, XSL, SMIL, XLink, XForms, MathML, and the Dublin Core wherever possible. Thus, ODF does not put any vendor in a advantageous or disadvantageous position with respect to implementing the file format….
StarOffice compared to MSOffice: [StarOffice and OpenOffice both have] very solid PDF export…Quite a few MS Office customers have moved to a server based concept using software like Citrix in order to reduce management costs. With Sun’s Secure Global Desktop software and the Sun Ray thin clients, StarOffice users can have the same benefits, but at a much lower price.
MSOffice compared to StarOffice: For people who are absolutely happy with MS Office today and aren’t concerned with licensing costs there’s probably no reason to switch to StarOffice. This is especially true when an account makes use of the full Microsoft stack and is not worried about vendor lock-in. In addition, users who created a lot of very complex macros might find it difficult to adopt an alternative office suite….
Plugins: Yes, Sun like others responded to the [Massachusetts] RFI. My understanding is that at some point all the responses will be made public by the Massachusetts ITD….
StarOffice Support: …there is a growing network of partners. For example in Germany, where StarOffice has the longest history, we have several StarOffice migration partners who can help with migrations. The number of software vendors supporting or integrating with StarOffice is increasing as well.
Accessibility: Depending upon the user need, the task they are trying to accomplish, their choice of platform, and their language, StarOffice may work equally well as MS Office, or not as well, or it may be a far better choice for them. Since MS Office doesn’t support the range of platforms or languages that StarOffice and OpenOffice.org do, there are many situations in which MS Office isn’t an option for people with disabilities. [Erwin added a very detailed appendix to the interview on accessibility matters]
Cost: StarOffice is available in different flavors. The retail package [60 day support] is distributed via different software publishers who sell StarOffice between $USD 50 and $USD 100. The download from Sun.COM costs $USD 69.95….Schools and universities get StarOffice at no cost…The StarOffice Enterprise Edition is available via volume licensing starting as low as $35 per user….
The Future: …Sun will improve the support for key file formats demanded by the market. For example, the support for PDF will become even better than it is already today….Sun will work with the non-Sun developer community in order to make the project more attractive to new developers. This includes better development tool support and an improved framework for extension development…
Part II. The Complete Interview
A. Questions unique to StarOffice
Q: StarOffice has a long history as a product, beginning with another company entirely. Please describe it briefly.
A: StarOffice originally was developed by a company called Star Division. Marco BÃ¶rries founded Star Division at the age of 16 in a city in Northern Germany called LÃ¼neburg. StarWriter for DOS was the first product. That was around 1985. The development of StarWriter for window-oriented operating systems like Windows, OS/2, Motif and MAC started in Hamburg in 1989.
In 1999 Sun acquired StarDivision. In October 2000 Sun donated StarOffice source code to found the OpenOffice.org project. One of the first projects on OpenOffice.org was the XML project which led the efforts around the OpenOffice.org file format, which the OASIS OpenDocument Format Technical Committee later decided to use as the basis for the OpenDocument Format.
2. StarOffice and OpenOffice
Q: StarOffice also has a unique development relationship with OpenOffice.org. Please describe which team does what, and how their activities are coordinated.
A: Except for the development work for the components that only ship with StarOffice, all of Sun’s StarOffice development is done on the same code base as OpenOffice.org. Thus, a feature that goes into both OpenOffice.org and StarOffice is implemented once. This also means that most StarOffice developers are also OpenOffice.org developers.
Q: How does Sun see StarOffice in relation to OpenOffice.org from a strategic point of view? In other words, why fund two development teams instead of just one?
A: First, there is just one development team, not two. All StarOffice engineers are OpenOffice.org developers as well. Only a small number of StarOffice components are developed outside of the OpenOffice.org code repository. For example, this is the case for components that include licensed commercial third party technology like the spell checker in StarOffice.
Sun’s vision is the participation age where everyone and everything participates on the network. This obviously includes eliminating the digital divide, because nobody should get excluded from the network. OpenOffice.org is a great example.
OpenOffice.org was the first office suite available in languages that typically are not supported by any commercial application. For example, OpenOffice.org was the first office suite available in Catalan, one of the official languages in Spain. OpenOffice.org is also available in eleven South African languages, and millions of Hindi and Tamil versions of the software have been distributed or downloaded in India.
In addition, for many people OpenOffice.org is the only affordable office suite, because some people may have to decide between buying food or software.
Sun’s mission is to create the technologies, products and services that power the participation age. Sharing creates communities, and communities create value, i.e. new markets are created by shared technologies.
How useful was the very first fax machine? Fax machines only became useful and valuable when more and more companies used them. What about sending short text messages or pictures to cell phones? This only works if many people own cell phones. Thus, sharing technologies creates new markets.
Sun donated StarOffice source code to found the OpenOffice.org project and continues to be a major contributor to the project, because OpenOffice.org and the OpenDocument Format create new open market places for Sun and for other vendors.
OpenOffice.org is the basis for a variety of desktop solutions and is developed by multiple vendors and volunteer individuals. The OpenDocument Format for the first time in many years opens the office productivity market place, so that new players get a chance to participate. Just look at the growing list of applications implementing and supporting the OpenDocument Format which includes, as you know, OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, IBM Workplace, KOffice, Google Writely, Abiword, Gnumeric, and Textmaker.
Q: Stated another way, what is Sun’s vision for StarOffice as compared to OpenOffice.org?
A: OpenOffice.org’s mission statement is “To create, as a community, the leading international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide access to all functionality and data through open-component based APIs and an XML-based file format.”
StarOffice shares OpenOffice.org’s mission, but at the same time StarOffice tries to fill some gaps that are critical to customers. For example, it offers (together with a network of partners) migration tools and services. In addition, StarOffice bundles components, that are not yet available as open source.
Overall, in this open market place created by OpenOffice.org and the OpenDocument Format, Sun strives to be the best solution provider with the best solutions and highest quality of services.
Q: There has been some criticism that Sun controls OpenOffice.org too tightly. How are development (current and future direction) decisions made today?
A: Every open source projects works differently. When OpenOffice.org was founded, open source development was very new to the StarOffice engineers. Thus, the first years have been a learning exercise for everybody.
Today I believe we are headed in the right direction. Sun has a strong focus on OpenOffice.org community participation. For example, we recently hosted a one-week meeting in Hamburg with developers from contributing companies like Novell, Intel and Red Hat. Most discussions focussed on making OpenOffice.org more attractive to developers.
Everything is not yet perfect but the growing number of companies and individuals doing OpenOffice.org development shows that we are on track. Initially there was just Sun. Today, there are multiple companies doing development for OpenOffice.org including Novell, Intel and Red Hat. In addition, OpenOffice.org has several projects participating in Google’s “summer of code” (http://code.google.com/soc/).
Q: Are there any plans for the governance of OpenOffice.org to change in any way in the future?
A: The majority of the non-Sun people contributing code believe that the status quo is good from a governance perspective. These developers are more interested in some process changes.
B. Questions asked to each developer
1. Goals and hopes
Q: What is the Sun’s vision for StarOffice? Where would you like to see StarOffice go from a feature and market point of view?
A: Sun’s vision is the participation age where everybody is connected to the network, and where sharing technologies creates new communities, and communities create new markets. Sun has always said “the network is the computer”.
OpenOffice.org and the OpenDocument Format create new market opportunities for Sun and other vendors. Sun will try to be the best player in this open game by fostering the OpenOffice.org community and providing interesting value-add components as well as unique services at the same time.
This includes offering StarOffice together with other Sun products such as the Secure Global Desktop software or Sun Ray thin clients. Customers migrating away from the Microsoft stack might also find the Java Enterprise System portfolio and the Solaris Operating Systems attractive. Sun offers very attractive hardware as well.
StarOffice will improve the support for standards like the OpenDocument Format, XForms and PDF. In addition, interoperability gaps are being addressed and will be closed, based on customer demand. StarOffice and OpenOffice.org will also become more attractive to open source developers and independent software vendors by providing better developer tools and frameworks. The performance will be optimized as well.
Q: Has that vision changed over time, or have these always been the project goals?
A: Not really. Sun has embraced an open and community oriented approach. Sun shared key technologies like NFS, setup the Java Community Process, drove the creation of the Liberty Alliance Project, and founded key open source projects like OpenOffice.org, NetBeans, and OpenSolaris. Thus, playing an open game and creating new markets is in Sun’s DNA.
Q: How many developers are involved in the whole StarOffice community (including OpenOffice.org)?
A: Sun does not disclose the number of people working on different projects, but Sun employees participated in the development of the majority of the features of OpenOffice.org 2.0.
However, that does not mean that Sun is doing all the work! The OpenOffice.org community which includes other vendors is very active, especially in language and platform development. OpenOffice.org is available in more than 60 languages, and runs on platforms like FreeBSD and Mac OSX as well. In addition, there are also more than 60 native-language projects providing help and information in the various languages. These numbers show how powerful the community is. The OpenOffice.org community has taken office software into completely new areas.
Yes, Sun is still the main code contributor and the main sponsor of the project, but more companies are joining the community. Among the vendors doing OpenOffice.org development are Novell, Intel and Red Hat. More than 700 companies and individuals have signed a Joint Copyright Assignment indicating their intention to contribute to OpenOffice.org.
Q: How many of these developers are paid by Sun?
A: Sun does not disclose how different projects are staffed.
Q: How many paid developers are not part of the OpenOffice.org team?
A: All StarOffice developers are also OpenOffice.org developers. Since most development is done on just one source tree, there is no real distinction between a StarOffice developer and an OpenOffice.org developer at Sun. The only exceptions are components that are exclusive to StarOffice like the migration and management tools or the licensed third party technologies.
3. In what ways is StarOffice different from KOffice?
Q: In what ways is it better?
A: StarOffice and OpenOffice.org probably have the best filters for MS Office outside of Microsoft itself. In addition, StarOffice and OpenOffice.org have a much broader feature set and growing ISV support. The latter is especially important to enterprise and government users.
StarOffice also runs on Windows, GNU/Linux and the Solaris Operating Systems. In addition, OpenOffice.org runs on FreeBSD and Mac OSX. My understanding is that KOffice is still more or less GNU/Linux-only.
Q: In what ways is KOffice ahead of StarOffice?
A: KOffice has the best KDE integration.
4. In what ways is StarOffice different from OpenOffice.org?
Q: In what ways is it better?
A: Businesses prefer StarOffice for the features found in the Enterprise Edition. Note that these features are not found in OpenOffice.
The Enterprise Edition of StarOffice includes a migration assessment tool, the Professional Analysis Wizard which analyzes a user’s MS Office files, and a macro migration tool, the Macro Migration Wizard, which converts MS Office macros and allows them to be run in StarOffice. Both these tools make migrating from MS Office easier. In addition, StarOffice ships a management tool called the Java Desktop System Configuration Manager which allows organizations to administer user configuration data for hundreds of StarOffice users in a network. For StarOffice we also have more options to provide product patches and hot fixes, and for some customers we can offer complex customizations.
Consumers like StarOffice because it’s a nice integrated package wrapped in a box that comes with a commercial spell checker, clipart graphics fonts, indemnification, and 60-day free support. The included fonts for example are important for MS Office compatibility.
Q: In what ways, if any, is OpenOffice.org ahead of StarOffice?
A: Due to the strong community involvement, OpenOffice.org is available in more languages and for more platforms. OpenOffice.org is available for more than 60 languages, and even runs on platforms like FreeBSD and Mac OSX. OpenOffice.org also has a lower cost of acquisition, since there is no licensing fee attached.
StarOffice often has an even lower TCO than OpenOffice.org, even though it costs some money, since StarOffice includes the migration and management tools, and some customers require special customizations.
5. In what ways is StarOffice different from IBM Workplace Managed Client (to the extent you can tell so far)?
A: Like most people I haven’t seen a lot of information about IBM Workplace, yet. Thus, I can’t really comment.
According to the statements in the press, IBM Workplace uses code from an old OpenOffice.org version. Thus, I’m not sure if and how IBM integrates the latest OpenOffice.org features and improvements like bug fixes and performance optimizations.
6. How will any of the above change on a comparative basis when the next release (or interim release) of StarOffice is scheduled to issue?
A: The OpenOffice.org community including Sun is working on modularization and performance improvements. In addition, there is a stronger focus on increasing developer participation, and a framework for extension development is being implemented.
These changes will make OpenOffice.org more attractive to both users and developers. As a consequence OpenOffice.org, which is the core of StarOffice, will develop much faster.
At the same time, Sun will continue to fill gaps with StarOffice and other Sun products in order to provide the best OpenOffice.org and OpenDocument Format solutions available
Q: What types of users would StarOffice be right for? Anyone from a home user to an office user, or for more selected audiences?
A: StarOffice is right for everybody and there are user groups which are particularly attracted by StarOffice. These are people who want to eliminate or at least reduce the vendor lock-in that they are experiencing today. For many users the lower licensing costs of StarOffice can help them to save a lot of money. Just see what Bristol City Council has done.
Some users also want to use different operating systems like GNU/Linux or Solaris. For example, they want to increase security, or use software that runs best on GNU/Linux or Solaris systems. Many companies also use Linux or Solaris on technical workstations and just want to use the same software with the same file formats on all the different platforms.
A key benefit, which from my experience everybody likes, is the very solid PDF export in StarOffice and OpenOffice.org, and the fact that the two office suites use open standards like the OpenDocument Format and XForms. Open standards support becomes more and more important especially in the government space. Just look what is happening in Brazil, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, France, and Denmark.
Consumers who choose StarOffice over the free sibling OpenOffice.org do so because they prefer a fully integrated and commercially supported product that is shipped in a box.
The enterprise and government users who select StarOffice and not the freely available, OpenOffice.org do so, because they prefer the additional migration and management tools, indemnification and the variety of services that a vendor like Sun can provide. These customers want to have a close vendor relationship in order to get the support and the customizations that they need.
Q: What types of users might be happier with MS Office?
A: For people who are absolutely happy with MS Office today and aren’t concerned with licensing costs there’s probably no reason to switch to StarOffice. This is especially true when an account makes use of the full Microsoft stack and is not worried about vendor lock-in. In addition, users who created a lot of very complex macros might find it difficult to adopt an alternative office suite. However, StarOffice includes migration tools, and Sun together with migration partners offer a broad set of services, which can make a migration much less complicated.
Some StarOffice customers tell us that their users received their first training in office productivity software during the migration to StarOffice. Since these users were trained for the first time how to use an office suite effectively, they are now more productive with their work.
Q: Will this change much with the next Sun release?
A: Sun will continue to fill gaps that exist in areas like compatibility with MS Office. In addition, StarOffice will extend its leading position with respect to open standards and PDF support. Thus, the answer is definitely, yes!
StarOffice also fits nicely into Sun’s overall product portfolio. Quite a few MS Office customers have moved to a server based concept using software like Citrix in order to reduce management costs. With Sun’s Secure Global Desktop software and the Sun Ray thin clients, StarOffice users can have the same benefits, but at a much lower price.
Finally, due to the success of OpenOffice.org, StarOffice and the OpenDocument Format more and more third party software vendors will start to support StarOffice and the OpenDocument Format. Thus, gaps that won’t be filled by either Sun or the open source community, are being filled by other vendors.
We already see this happening today. For example, O3 Space provides a solution similar to MS Sharepoint. Evernote can be compared with MS OneNote.
Q: Who (if anyone) besides Sun provides support for StarOffice today? Do you expect the support community to grow, and if so, where and how?
A: Sun is a key provider of services, support and customizations for OpenOffice.org and StarOffice. In addition, there is a growing network of partners. For example in Germany, where StarOffice has the longest history, we have several StarOffice migration partners who can help with migrations. The number of software vendors supporting or integrating with StarOffice is increasing as well.
For some distributors and partners we are even offering back line support, which means that they accept the support requests from their customers, and we help them when they need bug fixes or answers to complex issues.
The fast growing OpenDocument momentum definitely encourages many companies to start supporting StarOffice and OpenOffice.org.
Q: How does Sun compare with MS-Office with respect to accessibility for those with disabilities?
To compare StarOffice and MS Office with respect to accessibility, one must do so in the context of user needs with specific sorts of disabilities, on specific operating systems, doing specific sorts of tasks; and in specific languages. Depending upon the user need, the task they are trying to accomplish, their choice of platform, and their language, StarOffice may work equally well as MS Office, or not as well, or it may be a far better choice for them. Since MS Office doesn’t support the range of platforms or languages that StarOffice and OpenOffice.org do, there are many situations in which MS Office isn’t an option for people with disabilities.
OpenOffice.org is available on platforms and for languages that are not supported by commercial software like Microsoft Office, and thus OpenOffice.org is the only available option for both people with and without disabilities. Examples are probably some Indian and African languages. OpenOffice.org was also the first office suite available in Catalan, one of the four official languages in Spain. There is a huge need for accessibility solutions worldwide among people that aren’t at all served by commercial accessibility offerings. Those offerings simply aren’t available in any of the languages they speak. So for them, there is no comparison between StarOffice/OpenOffice.org and MS-Office – the only accessible offering for them lies with StarOffice/OpenOffice.org.
One cannot simply say that “a is more accessible than b” and leave it at that. For many, StarOffice/OpenOffice.org is just as accessible as Microsoft Office. For some more, for others less. The accessibility environment isn’t just the office suite, but the office suite in combination with a 3rd party assistive technology. Where that 3rd party application provides more features specifically written for MS-Office (and not yet written for SO/OOo), the combination of that 3rd party AT and the office suite better serves those users.
I do not want to minimize the importance of any specific group of users. For example, for someone who is blind in Massachusetts and has achieved a high level of proficiency and efficiency using a product like the JAWS screen reader with MS-Office, a significant decrease in functionality they might experience today moving to using JAWS with StarOffice (which JAWS doesn’t support as well today as they do MS-Office) might have a very large impact on their effectiveness in their job. This is the crux of the accessibility issue in Massachusetts, and one we are addressing. However, we must not loose sight of the fact that the student at the University of Toronto composing their term paper with a single switch device and the GNOME On-screen Keyboard in UNIX is far more proficient and efficient than they were when they were limited to the functionality offered in MS-Windows with MS-Office.
What moving to an open standard that can be implemented by anyone (including all open source projects and applications) does over the long term is guarantee that we are able to serve the needs of all of these different users. Because if the University of Toronto had standardized on MS-Office, that student with Multiple Sclerosis would have a very hard time with her term papers. And if the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, or the many of the regions of India, or the folks in Catalan were to standardize on MS-Office, then they would have no assistive technology solutions.
With respect to legal requirements around accessibility, and specifically the accessibility standards in U.S. Section 508 – there are a number of specific Section 508 measures which StarOffice is nearly unique in addressing. If these specific measure are important to a user, agency, or organization that is deploying an office suite, then StarOffice is the better choice than MS-Office. The set of accessibility features in StarOffice & MS-Office do not completely overlap (especially when you include 3rd party assistive technologies in the equation.) For a very large number of users and specific needs, both are an equally fine choice from an accessibility point of view.
Q: Do you expect that Sun will become as accessible as MS-Office?
A: In a number of instances StarOffice is already more accessible than Microsoft Office. Sun as well as the larger OpenDocument community are working with customers and accessibility tool vendors in order to close gaps where the combination of Microsoft Office and third-party assistive technologies is the preferred choice today. In addition, Sun is a key contributor to several of the open source accessibility tools. In particular, the Orca screen reader is improving rapidly – already a number of blind Orca users find their access to certain tasks as good as, if not better than, what they had with commercial screen readers for Windows.
There will likely always be specific features of specific assistive technology products that are available for use with Microsoft Office but not StarOffice; as well as the reverse. It will likewise probably remain the case that much of the world won’t find an accessible solution for use with Microsoft Office that works in their language, or in an environment they can afford . It is our goal that functionally users with disabilities will be as productive and efficient using StarOffice and OpenOffice.org as they are using Microsoft Office, whatever their disability.
9. What is the road map for StarOffice going forward?
Q: Are there any ways in which StarOffice is not fully compliant with ODF? If so, what is the plan for addressing this?
A: StarOffice is fully compliant with ODF. StarOffice was the first commercial office suite that used ODF as the default file format. Due to its history and its close relationship to OpenOffice.org, full ODF support is a priority.
I’m not aware of any ODF features missing in StarOffice, but any missing ODF features would be considered a bug. In addition, Sun and the OASIS OpenDocument Format TC are working hard on ODF compatibility between different ODF implementations. Thus, if KOffice identifies issues, we will fix them and vice versa.
Q: What differentiating features can we expect in StarOffice in the future?
A: StarOffice has been leading with respect to open standards support in the office productivity area for some years. Thus, StarOffice will improve and extend its support for open standards like the OpenDocument Format and XForms. In addition, Sun will improve the support for key file formats demanded by the market. For example, the support for PDF will become even better than it is already today.
In order to accelerate the overall development of the OpenOffice.org platform on which StarOffice is based, Sun will work with the non-Sun developer community in order to make the project more attractive to new developers. This includes better development tool support and an improved framework for extension development.
Based on customer feedback, StarOffice will continue to improve the migration experience by increasing Microsoft compatibility and interoperability. In addition, Sun is trying to fill gaps from an application point of view. For example, the database component will be enhanced significantly.
More details about the OpenOffice.org and StarOffice roadmap will probably be available during the OpenOffice.org conference in Lyon in September.
Q: Please describe the licenses under which StarOffice is made available, and whether there is any reason to expect any variation on this answer in the future.
A: When comparing licensing costs, StarOffice is significantly less expensive than Microsoft Office.
StarOffice is available in different flavors. The retail package is distributed via different software publishers who sell StarOffice between $USD 50 and $USD 100. The download from Sun.COM costs $USD 69.95. These consumer versions include three free support incidents during the first 60 days from the date of purchase.
Schools and universities get StarOffice at no cost. Students get StarOffice for free as well, but they have to get it via their school or university.
The StarOffice Enterprise Edition is available via volume licensing starting as low as $35 per user. The Enterprise Edition includes the migration and management tools. Support is not included, but is available via Sun’s software support contracts.Also, StarOffice employs a more flexible user-based licensing policy where a user can install StarOffice on up to five of his or her machines. This allows a user to run StarOffice on their desktop, laptop and home computer without having to pay additional licensing fees.
11. ODF and StarOffice
Q: What did the release of the ODF standard mean for StarOffice? Was there no question that Sun would wish StarOffice to support it?
A: There is no question that StarOffice would support the OpenDocument Format. Sun has been a founding member of the OASIS OpenDocument Format TC. In addition, Sun contributed the OpenOffice.org format specification which was used as the basis for the OpenDocument Format.
The move to an XML format for OpenOffice.org and StarOffice began at Sun even before OpenOffice.org was founded in 2000. Thus, Sun and the StarOffice team have a very long history with XML file formats. Right from the beginning, Sun had the vision to create an open, vendor independent and interoperable file format that can be implemented by multiple vendors. I believe the success of the Java technology influenced the decision. Other vendors moving to support XML only validates Sun’s vision of XML and office productivity.
Q: How would you like to see the ODF standard evolve in the future? What would you like to see added to it?
A: First of all, I would like to see ODF get adopted and supported by even more software vendors, government users and enterprises. The fact that the ODF Alliance has already more than 200 members including organizations like BBC, EDS, EMC, GNOME, IBM, KDE, Mandriva, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat, Software AG, Sun Microsystems, and the City of Vienna is already amazing. However, I would not mind getting a few more names added. On the government side, I hope that more governments have the courage to demand truly open standards in order to establish an open office suite ecosystem where multiple vendors can successfully participate.
From a specification point of view, ODF will get more elements for accessibility enhancements. The OASIS ODF accessibility sub-committee just submitted their first results. In addition, we can expect enhancements with respect to meta-data handling and digital signatures. The more people start using and implementing ODF, the faster it will evolve and the more solid it will get.
12. 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 StarOffice in particular?
A: The ISO approval definitely increased the visibility and attractiveness of ODF. Everybody knows ISO, and ISO approval is important to many governments. Apparently Gartner comes to the same conclusion in their recent document “ISO Approval of OASIS OpenDocument Is a Blow to Microsoft”.
I believe more people will take a closer look at the OpenDocument Format and the different applications implementing the format. Some of them will stick with Microsoft, but an increasing number will also decide to move to products like StarOffice and OpenOffice.org, which is good for Sun.
I also expect more organizations to join the OASIS ODF TC, the OASIS ODF Adoption TC and the ODF Alliance. The ODF Alliance has already more than 200 members, and the number is likely to increase significantly over the next months. At the same time more software vendors will start adding ODF support to their products.
I’m convinced that ODF has reached the tipping point. ODF will win significant market share.
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 StarOffice performs poorly against MS-Office, supposedly relating to what must be loaded in connection with certain functions. This week, 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: First of all, millions of users use OpenOffice.org and StarOffice today without major issues. Thus, even though it is possible to create files which show a slow performance behavior, most users don’t see these issues in their day-to-day work.
The performance comparisons Alan Yates has been referring to only looked at OpenOffice.org and MS Office. However, there are multiple applications implementing ODF and each of them has different unique performance characteristics. Thus, calling ODF slow based on test results for just OpenOffice.org is not fair to ODF. Instead one would have to analyze the performance metrics for StarOffice, IBM Workplace, Google Writely, KOffice, Abiword, Gnumeric, and Textmaker as well.
Even more, as Marino Marcich from the ODF Alliance correctly pointed out, Microsoft does not have a product shipping yet that supports the Office Open XML format, and we will probably have to wait until early next year for the final product. ODF files get created in production use by shipping products today.
One has also to take the different approaches of ODF and Office Open XML into account. According to the charter of ECMA TC45 and comments by Brian Jones in his blog, Office Open XML tries to be optimized for just one implementation, which is MS Office. Thus, it is easy to get optimal performance results if you create a file format that is optimized for your implementation. However, that also means that for other vendors it will be much harder to implement such a specification, and it must not be taken for granted that other implementations of the file formats have the same performance characteristics than Microsoft Office. A really fair performance comparison of ODF and the Microsoft Office file format therefore must also take different implementations of these formats into account.
ODF in contrast was designed to be implementation and platform independent. It for instance reuses many existing and established open standards like HTML, SVG, XSL, SMIL, XLink, XForms, MathML, and the Dublin Core wherever possible. Thus, ODF does not put any vendor in a advantageous or disadvantageous position with respect to implementing the file format. No vendor has to deal with optimizations that were done for another implementation. It’s a level playing field.
There are currently no indications that ODF itself contains definitions that cannot be implemented reasonably fast, but if it would turn out that ODF could be optimized for performance, it can be assumed that the multiple vendors that are members of the OpenDocument TC would agree with these optimizations.
OpenOffice.org came to life based on StarOffice source code. Thus, both OpenOffice.org and StarOffice have a legacy, or previous life, of binary default file formats, just like Microsoft Office. When ODF became the default file format of OpenOffice.org and StarOffice the internals of both applications did not immediately get optimized for the default ODF file format. This is happening at the moment and we are already seeing significant improvements.
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 Sun have any plans to develop and/or bundle any such tools? Will you respond to the RFI?
A: Yes, Sun like others responded to the RFI. My understanding is that at some point all the responses will be made public by the Massachusetts ITD.
Part III: Appendix: Additional Detail on Accessibility
For users with a range of mild vision impairments who need the user interface rendered in a high contrast or large print theme, StarOffice works as well or better than MS Office running on Microsoft Windows. StarOffice also does an excellent job to support theming, and specifically high contrast and large print themes, on Solaris, GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, etc. under the GNOME desktop – an option that isn’t available to MS-Office.
For users with a range of mild to medium physical impairments, who must operate their computer exclusively from the keyboard or with the built-in aids like StickyKeys and BounceKeys and the like, StarOffice again works just as well as MS Office. Everything in the user interface can be done from the keyboard, and we make liberal use of keyboard mnemonics for menus, menu items, and dialog box controls. These keyboard mnemonics are available to assistive technologies for the blind and low vision community, and those assistive technologies which support StarOffice will speak these mnemonics to the user. And as with theming, this support is available on all platforms that StarOffice and OpenOffice.org run on, so UNIX users with these sorts of disabilities have full access to an office suite via StarOffice and OpenOffice.org.
Users with more severe vision impairments who use third- party software magnification tools like ZoomText, HAL, MAGic, Gnopernicus, and Orca will find that many of these tools work with StarOffice. ZoomText, HAL, and Supernova, which are screen magnifiers and screen reader combinations that run on MS-Windows, all support StarOffice in addition to supporting MS Office. In all cases, today their support is more featured with MS Office than it is with StarOffice. Magnification assistive technologies for UNIX systems do a good job with StarOffice; however today these UNIX applications aren’t as mature, and don’t have all of the features that their Windows counterparts offer. On the other hand, these products have been localized in far more languages than their Windows counterparts, and so are options for much of the world that aren’t at all served by offerings in Windows.
Users who are completely blind, or have so little usable vision that magnification isn’t really an option, use third- party software screen reading tools like JAWS, WindowEyes, Supernova, Gnopernicus and Orca. As with screen magnification, these users will find that many of these tools work with StarOffice. JAWS and Supernova, two screen readers that run on Microsoft Windows, support StarOffice. The JAWS support in the current release has difficulty reading parts of the StarOffice user interface, and JAWS doesn’t offer the wealth of custom scripts and specialized behaviors for StarOffice that they have developed specifically for MS Office. The Supernova screen reader and magnifier does a pretty good job supporting StarOffice; though like JAWS, they don’t offer the custom behaviors for it that they have developed for MS Office. In the UNIX environment, both Gnopernicus and Orca support StarOffice and OpenOffice.org. In particular, Orca contains a growing number of custom script behaviors to improve the efficiency and productivity for blind and low vision use of StarOffice. And, as with screen magnification, any of the screen reader users who don’t speak one of the handful of languages supported by the commercial Windows world will find they have an option in UNIX. This is especially the case in Braille, where the development of a software text-to-speech engine isn’t needed. Also, the UNIX screen readers support a wider number of refreshable Braille displays then their Windows counterparts.
Users with severe physical disabilities generally use one of two access techniques: switch, head or eye tracking technologies; or voice recognition technologies, depending largely upon whether their physical disability impacts their muscle control of speech. For the first group, the third- party Windows tools aren’t very sophisticated and work equally well with StarOffice as they do with MS Office. However, in the UNIX world we have an extremely sophisticated tool in the GNOME On-screen Keyboard (GOK), which provides dramatic efficiency and productivity improvements when compared to all other options in MS-Windows; and GOK works very well with StarOffice. For the second group – speech recognition users – the basic functionality of third- party offerings in MS-Windows works with StarOffice and OpenOffice.org. However, these applications provide custom behaviors around specific applications – essentially voice-macros – and these have not yet been developed for StarOffice, while they have been developed for MS Office. There aren’t yet any voice recognition assistive technologies for the UNIX world.
Finally, users with a variety of learning disabilities use products like TextHelp in Microsoft Windows to aid them in reading and creating documents – especially text documents. TextHelp specifically hooks into the MS Word toolbar, and provides context sensitive help as well as document reading functions like highlighting words as they are spoken. TextHelp provides this toolbar for a few other applications, but doesn’t yet do so for StarOffice. There aren’t yet any such reading and composition assistants for the UNIX environment.
There are also specific accessibility features in StarOffice that are informed by accessibility requirements from Section 508 of the U.S. Federal Rehabilitation Act. For example, StarOffice will optionally display and support a text selection cursor in read-only text documents, as required by Section 508. Also, StarOffice will optionally use the system color settings for document page previews and the content region of the document. And StarOffice has options to turn off graphic animation, and text animation. I don’t believe all of these options are available to the MS Office user.
For further blog entries on ODF, click here