Will Oracle support Sun’s OpenOffice desktop application suite?

With the Oracle-Sun deal finally approved, will Oracle support Sun’s OpenOffice desktop application suite? One analyst report advises users to hold off until Oracle makes its decision.

An IT consulting firm is advising IT organizations thinking of switching to the open-source-based OpenOffice.org

to hold off until it becomes clear what Oracle’s strategic commitment to the desktop applications suite is.

In a recent report, The Software Improvement Group (SIG), based in Amsterdam, contends that if Oracle were to pull back on the level of resources, both human and financial, that Sun has been pouring into the OpenOffice desktop application suite, the quality of its code could deteriorate quickly.

Decreased development would mean a slower evolution of the product’s feature set, along with diminished technical support. The latter is important, the report notes, because both desktop operating systems and applications tend to evolve rapidly, requiring adaptations on the applications side, either dropping older functionality or taking advantage of new capabilities.

Some user companies that have standardized on Microsoft’s Office but have also deployed OpenOffice.org, mostly among administrative and other support personnel, said they would be concerned with Oracle’s takeover of the product, according to the report. They said, however, that they wouldn’t drop OpenOffice.org unless Oracle makes it clear that it is cutting off all financial and technical support immediately.

“If we get the impression this [OpenOffice.org] has no chance of playing any role in its plans, we’ll have to consider bringing those users back over to Office, which will cost us a bit more money. But I am not expecting them to say that right away,” said Doug Henderson, a purchasing agent with Safety Insurance Inc.

Universities and a variety of government institutions have also shown a preference for OpenOffice.org over Microsoft Office. Several notable private companies have also adopted the suite, including Novell, Bangkok Airways in Asia, and Peugeot Citroen in Europe, the report stated.

While Sun has contributed the lion’s share of the development monies to keep OpenOffice.org going, several other vendors are supporting it with money and technical contributions -- IBM, Novell, Intel and Red Hat among them. Many of these contributors see the product as an opportunity for cutting the costs of commercial suites, the SIG reports states.

Although OpenOffice.org is free, there are costs associated with implementing it within larger companies, including training and the manual review of existing documents and templates that have been converted over to work with the open source suite, according to the report.

If Oracle turns OpenOffice.org into a commercial product, there will probably be no more free support, but it is also reasonable to assume that if the source code of the product is available now, then anyone could support and develop for it. The report states, however, that this is where management, quality assurance and source code maintainability could become an issue for some users.

OpenOffice is the market share leader in the open source world among desktop application suites. The product was first brought to market in 2000 when Sun bought the Germany-based StarDivision. Once Sun purchased the company, it turned StarDivision’s commercial product, called StarOffice, into one that was open source based.

Over the past decade, OpenOffice has evolved into Sun’s central development project for office suites. Over that time, StarOffice, now based on OpenOffice.org’s code base, has contained a number of proprietary components.

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