August 2009


We’ve all seen the news about the waning use of the GPL open source license. It’s also becoming clear that a handful of OSI approved licenses are going to win out over the sixty-plus OSI approved open source licenses.  Which licenses are winning, why, and which license should you use for your open source project?  Great questions.  Go ahead and ask them here.  They’ll get answered by three open source luminaries on August 31st.

The Free and Open Source Software Learning Centre (FOSSLC) has arranged a live debate (in Ottawa and on free webcast) to discuss the GPL, the Eclipse Public License (EPL) and the BSD license.

Alfresco’s Matt Asay will be defending the GPL.  The Eclipse Foundation’s Executive Director and Mike Milinkovich will be backing the EPL.  Finally, Coverity’s Open Source strategist and BSD board of director will be representing the BSD.

Go ahead and submit your questions before the event attend virtually or in person if you’re in Ottawa, Canada.

My pragmatic nature says that the smackdown will end in a three-way tie.  Deciding between the GPL, EPL, BSD or other open source license should be a result of which license best helps attain your business goals.  It’s also important to consider the ecosystem around your product.  For instance, it’s no coincidence that the latest incarnation of the JBoss messaging project uses the Apache license, not the LGPL which most other JBoss projects use.  The project team felt that the Apache license would ensure that the project’s code could be more easily included into products from the ecosystem. Being pragmatic, it’s not just for Canadians anymore.

News that paravirtual drivers for Windows on KVM have been released by Red Hat isn’t, and shouldn’t be a big deal.

In the virtualization wars, it is clear that every hypervisor will strive to support Windows and Linux guest operating systems at the very least. Yes, it was news when Microsoft added drivers to the Linux kernel to help Windows Hyper-V better manage Linux guest operating systems. But this was more about the GPL code contribution and the following controversy.

Second, it doesn’t look like the KVM drivers for Windows are ready for prime time. Even the original blog post from Hadyn Solomon states:

“Paravirtual block drivers for windows has been very low key and known to be unstable.”

He goes on to ask:

“With Redhat expecting to release it’s Enterprise 5.4 version in September , maybe they’ve got windows paravirtual block drivers in working order?”

Who wants to bet that the stability, or lack thereof, of the Windows drivers is the reason that Red Hat has been “low key” about the work? There is virtually no way that Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.4, due out in September, will have working, enterprise ready Windows paravirtual block drivers. Will that change in the future? Absolutely. Will it be news then? Sure, because it’ll mean that Red Hat isn’t happy to just be a guest in a Windows world.  Fight! Fight! Fight! ;-)

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Terracotta, an open source Java caching vendor, announced it has acquired EHCache earlier this week.  This is interesting for two reasons.  No, it’s not because I thought EHCache was a Canadian company because of the “Eh” in their name.

EHCache provides an alternative approach to Java caching than Terracotta’s approach.  While Terracotta’s approach can be at the JVM layer without application changes, the EHCache approach requires the application be modified with caching in mind.  Terracotta founder and CTO, Ari Zilka, explains the benefits of the combined company:

“Terracotta’s interface in more than 50% of use cases has been EHCache. Basically, developers design applications to use EHCache and use Terracotta’s EHCache clustering module to get massive scale and high availability at runtime.

The two together will provide the most seamless path from 1 node up to 100. Instead of having to worry about which version of EHCache Terracotta supports, or if your EHCache integration will work well with Terracotta, EHCache’s and Terracotta’s users alike can rest assured the two will always work in perfect harmony from today forward.”

The second interesting aspect of this acquisition, and not mentioned by Ari, the combined company looks much more attractive to VMware/SpringSource.  IBM WebSphere eXtreme Scale Chief Architect Billy Newport had predicted that VMware would acquire Terracotta after news of the SpringSource acquisition hit the wire.  Billy may be on to something.  Terracotta can offer both an unintrusive caching solution that could be married alongside future JVM work that VMware is sure to do, and also offers a caching API that could find its way into SpringSource products. Smart move on Terracotta’s part.  Although, to be fair, this acquisition was in the works before the SpringSource acquisition was made public.

Terracotta is positioning the acquisition as a major competitive coup versus the likes of Oracle Coherence, GigaSpaces and WebSphere eXtreme Scale.  Leaders from Oracle Coherence and WebSphere eXtreme Scale had a more measured response:

Oracle Coherence’s Cameron Purdy commented:

“Competition is good, and Terracotta has a different approach that may prove to help with some needs that had gone unaddressed by products such as our own (Oracle Coherence). Greg’s got a good track record with ehcache and now he’s getting paid to do what he loves. While the competitive hyperbole is silly, I nonetheless find it flattering that we (collectively) are building technology and businesses that have gone from niche to central in enterprise software (despite all the competition, our business continues to grow at “ludicrous speed”), and I find it even more flattering that companies want to compare to and compete with the product that I work on :-)”

WebSphere eXtreme Scale’s Billy Newport commented:

I agree with Cameron, competition is good and while we’ve (from an IBM WebSphere eXtreme Scale point of view) previously only seen Terracotta on small setups (2 nodes or so), I’m sure the new capabilities (static striping etc) and that it fits into EHCache which has a lot of prewritten adapters in open source software will mean we see more of him :)  It’s all good for growing the market and increasing customer awareness. “

As Cameron and Bill point out, the acquisition is definitely goodness for customer awareness and adoption.  To date, the market has been dominated by commercial products.  However, open source vendors such as Terracotta and GridGain want to change that.  Interesting times ahead.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Cloudera is clearing making a credible play to become the commercial brand associated with Apache Hadoop.  Not only did Hadoop founder Doug Cutting recently join Cloudera from Yahoo!, Cloudera is set to announce the inaugural Hadoop World Conference, scheduled for October 2nd in NYC.  The conference is being organized by Cloudera founder Christophe Bisciglia with sponsorship from Yahoo!, IBM, Intel, eHarmony and Booz Allen Hamilton.  The tentative agenda has presentations from, amongst others, Cloudera, Yahoo!, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, eBay, Visa, About.com, NYTimes and JPMorganChase.

Christophe is quoted:

“Hadoop is changing the way that users manage and process ever-increasing volumes of data.  Hadoop World in New York City will showcase this powerful new open source technology, with special focus on how traditional enterprises use it to solve real business problems.”

It’s very smart to host this conference in NYC, where it’ll be easy for IT decision makers and developers from the financial, publishing, advertising and telecom industries to learn more about enterprise use of Hadoop.  In another smart move to drive enterprise adoption, Hadoop training for developers, administrators and managers will be available in conjunction with the conference.  Oh, and did I mention that Cloudera will be offering this training?  Smart move on Cloudera’s part to position themselves as the go-to Hadoop vendor when enterprises want to leverage Hadoop more extensively.

Looks like an interesting conference.  I might make my way over to the “managers” education session if I can swing the travel dates.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Slashdot reports that Harald Welte is operating an open source GSM network at the Hacking at Random (HAR) conference.  Welte writes:

“Here at the amazing HAR2009 hacker conference + camp, I have the pleasure of operating a camp-wide GSM network.

Under license of the Dutch regulatory authority, we operate two BTS with two TRX each, forming the network 204-42. The BTS are positioned on the top of a hill, with the antennas mounted back to back on a tree, each covering about half of the HAR2009 camp site. Every transceiver runs at 100mW transmit power, which is the maximum output as per our license.

From that tree, we run AC power and a single E1 line down to the GSM tent, where it runs into the Linux PC that runs our OpenBSC software. “

For those of us who aren’t mobile phone networking experts, BTS stands for Base Transceiver Stations, TRX stands for transceivers and BSC stands for Base Station Controller.

OpenBSC is a GPL implementation of major components of a GSM network. Welte is one of the key developers behind OpenBSC, which aims to:

  • provide a basis for experimentation and security research with GSM from the network side
  • document, publicized and point out any security related issues that we find as part of that
  • learn more about GSM networks on a lower level, particularly the practical aspects with real-world equipment

Unfortunately, the project is not interested in:

  • building a stable/reliable BSC/MSC for deployment in actual networks
  • building something that follows the GSM spec to the last detail
  • disrupting actual commercial GSM network

Since a government issued network bandwidth license is required to run a GSM network in most countries, few of us will ever run our own open source GSM networks.  Although it seems that countries like Russia allow the use of licensed frequencies for low-power indoor use.  So the title of this blog is squarely targeted at readers in Russia.  Kidding aside, I wonder while Welte and team aren’t interested in building a distribution that does fully implement the GSM specification.  The use of OpenBSC on Linux could be targeted at telecom operators in emerging markets.  Considering the growth in mobile phone usage in emerging markets, and network operator’s constant search for cost reduction, there could very well be a business here.

Any takers?

*Well, if you can get a government issued bandwidth license

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Let me start with a few disclaimers.  By virtue of working in the IBM WebSphere Application Server team, I compete with SpringSource. I know, and like, several of the key people at SpringSource.  I’m happy that their hard work paid of with such a large exit. While I compete with SpringSource, I’m excited that this acquisition will raise the bar for vendors that I care about, and ultimately, customers will benefit the most.

There has been a lot of analysis about VMware’s acquisition of SpringSource.  By in large, the analysis has taken the vision of Clouds and PaaS laid out in VMware’s press release as a likely outcome.  Let me try a different approach by discussing what VMware really bought.

VMware bought SpringSource because “Spring is everywhere”:
Yes, but sadly for VMware, no.  The Spring Framework is widely used in the enterprise Java market.  From my own experience, many WebSphere customers use the Spring Framework on top of WebSphere.  But many WebSphere customers use the competing EJB open standard in place of the proprietary, but open source, Spring Framework.  The most recent Eclipse user survey results found that of the 436 respondents building server side applications, 47.5% were using the Spring Framework and 38.3% were using EJBs.  This data clearly demonstrates that customers exhibit a need for choice significantly higher than proclamations of Spring’s enterprise Java domination would suggest.

With such a high usage penetration, one could expect a significant revenue base for SpringSource.  Yet, SpringSource is estimated to have driven $20 million in revenue, or maybe bookings, mainly from professional services.  This is a very respectable base for a company with 150 employees.  IDC however estimated the 2008 Application Server market at nearly $3.8 billion.  So, while the Spring Framework is widely used, SpringSource has not been able to extract significant market share as a result.

VMware may believe that adding their brand and sales reach to the SpringSource portfolio will drive higher revenue from the Spring Framework and related Spring products.  Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady subscribes to this view, using the MySQL acquisition by Sun as a proof point.  I disagree because a framework is different than a database and the other Spring products have nowhere close to the penetration of the Spring Framework, as I discuss below.  Additionally, if a customer has been using the Spring Framework for the past 5 years without a support contract or subscription, why acquire support or a subscription now?  The only reason for doing so will be if VMware and SpringSource disadvantage the open source Spring Framework in favor of the enterprise, commercially licensed, Spring Enterprise. The community uproar the last time SpringSource tried this approach leads me to believe that VMware and SpringSource won’t go down this path again.

VMware bought SpringSource because SpringSource now has a “Build-Run-Manage” story:
Yes, but sadly for VMware, no.  Trying to build a significant business selling support subscriptions to the large number of Spring Framework users proved to be a tough nut to crack.  The key insight for SpringSource was that customers paid for runtimes and integrated administration and management of runtimes, not for frameworks.  SpringSource responded by acquiring Covalent and Hyperic in order to deliver two runtimes, SpringSource tc Server and SpringSource dm Server with administration and management capabilities via Hyperic.  SpringSource has introduced a “build-run-manage” marketing campaign which always makes me chuckle as I recall IBM using Build-Run-Manage back in the early 2000s.  I understand that SpringSource is attempting to educate the market that they are no longer only a framework provider, but rather, now have not one, but two, runtimes that customers can purchase.

It’s arguable that one or both of these products will become the basis for VMware’s beachhead into the middleware market.  So what are the prospects for tc Server and dm Server?

Since tc Server is aimed at Tomcat usage, it’s important to ask what customers running large Tomcat environments used before tc Server came to market?  Well, some used Tomcat without support.  Others used JBoss, Geronimo, GlassFish and WAS Community Edition which deliver Tomcat inside.  Finally, others purchased Tomcat support from Covalent, OpenLogic etc.  For the most part, customers who have not purchased Tomcat support or management for 5+ years are not going to buy a product now.  If the customer was missing some of the management capabilities that tc Server provides, by now, the customer has built this capability in house. I know of several large Tomcat users that fall into this situation.  The customer now has to consider the sunk costs of their custom code versus the cost of acquiring a new product.  Next, customers that have purchased Tomcat support are targets for tc Server.  But these customers are also being targeted by JBoss, Geronimo, GlassFish and WAS Community Edition.  Finally, tc Server can compete against JBoss, Geronimo, GlassFish and WAS Community Edition.  It’s not yet clear that tc Server provides differentiated value that will allow it to win disproportionately against the other products.  The important insight is that very few Tomcat users are using just Tomcat.  They use other parts of a Java Enterprise Edition (JEE) stack, such as JMS messaging or Web Services.  So given the choice of tc Server with just Tomcat runtime features or a JEE product which includes Tomcat and other JEE APIs is not as cut and dry as SpringSource’s marketing would suggest.

In the nearly 10 months since dm Server became generally available, I’ve frankly heard of virtually no customer usage.  But don’t take my word for it.  As your neighborhood Java developer if they’ve heard of dm Server, or if they’ve used dm Server.  The key issue with dm Server is that it’s proprietary.  Developers and their managers were comfortable using the Spring Framework because, while the framework was proprietary, they could easily move their applications across multiple standards-based JEE application servers.  Protection from vendor lock-in was delivered by the runtime application server.  Customers continue to expect this.  If you build a dm Server application, there is exactly one runtime it will run on.   Hence, dm Server fails the vendor lock-in test, and its adoption is a testament to this failure.  This is however a fixable problem for VMware.  dm Server could be evolved to meet the forthcoming JEE 6 Web Profile specification, which Geronimo, GlassFish, JBoss, WebLogic and WebSphere are all expected to support.

VMware is going to find that broad usage of a framework or having a Build-Run-Manage story does not easily translate into customers migrating off their existing Java standards compliant application server runtime to a proprietary runtime.

VMware bought SpringSource because of the Cloud & PaaS angle:
Yes, but we’ll see.  Cloud and PaaS are the two reasons that VMware and SpringSource have claimed as motivations for the acquisition.  I couldn’t say it better than Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady:

“In time, yes, quite possibly. And there’s little question that SpringSource offers VMware an intriguing opportunity to be what 10gen, Project Caroline, et al have to date failed to be: the EngineYard or Heroku for Java, permitting seamless deployment of Java applications to on or off premise cloud infrastructure. But this is, to me, a longer term revenue opportunity, as VMware’s cloud pieces are still coming together and its hardware and datacenter capabilities are neglible relative to competition such as Amazon, IBM or Microsoft.”

Additionally, whether VMware and/or SpringSource will acknowledge it, customers are already deploying Java applications to a dynamically provisioned and policy-based managed cloud.  This isn’t a two or three years from now capability.  As we speak customers are using IBM WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance with WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere Virtual Enterprise to achieve what VMware CEO claimed is: “something our partners aren’t doing yet” when asked by a financial analyst if this deal would alienate partners.  The point is not to discuss IBM products, but rather to highlight that the VMware and SpringSource future vision is already a reality.  And it’s a reality that is driving significant IBM WebSphere revenue around an on premise cloud environment. Again, this is a today statement.

Lastly, since an application runtime environment is critical to a PaaS or Cloud deployment, I’d go back to the fact that SpringSource’s runtime environments, tc Server and dm Server, are starting from a standstill in an uphill battle for revenue share.  While VMware works to establish tc Server and dm Server penetration, VMware will have to be careful not to alienate their application server partners; the ones whose products are driving virtually all of the application server spending today.  This level of coopetition is doable, but not easy.  But hey, VMware has 420 million reasons for doing difficult, but necessary, things.

VMware bought SpringSource because of Microsoft:
Yes. Larry Dignan’s excellent analysis of the acquisition highlighted some very interesting data from a financial analyst, Pritchard:

“In our view the acquisition highlights the vulnerability VMware has in its exposure to Microsoft. We estimate north of 80% (may be as high as 90%, with the rest being Linux) of VMware virtual machines are running Windows server and an application developed in Microsoft’s .NET environment. This is a key strategic vulnerability as Microsoft has a history of absorbing functionality such as VMW that is essentially a layer in the Microsoft stack. Ultimately SpringSource technology may enable VMW to add enterprise Java workloads to diversify away from Windows.”

Microsoft is clearly going after VMware with HyperV inside of Windows Server 2008 R2:

“We’ve got a great solution. It’s a sixth the cost on average of what we see in the marketplace. Evangelizing the tax that VMware is getting from the product is something we look forward to competing with in this environment. Again, it’s about getting specific. It is about getting aggressive, and that’s where we’re headed.”

In an effort to guard against Microsoft marginalizing VMware’s core virtualization business, the SpringSource acquisition puts VMware at odds with Java runtime vendors who collectively represent the approximately 50% of the enterprise market not associated with .NET.   I don’t see how SpringSource helps VMware versus Microsoft in the estimated 80 percent of VMware environments where the application has been developed on .NET as Pritchard suggests.  If the application is .NET based, and the hypervisor is running on top of a Windows host, then this is Microsoft’s customer to lose to or win back from VMware.  VMware is clearly looking past its current deployments where Windows and .NET dominate, to a new Java-based Cloud and PaaS environment. But we already covered that aspect and the competitive hurdles in the Cloud/PaaS portion of this post.

It’s not just Microsoft that is marginalizing the value of a hypervisor.  As mentioned above, IBM WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance and WebSphere Virtual Enterprise treat the hypervisor as an infrastructure component of equivalent value to the host operating systems.  Said differently, the hypervisor, like the operating system has little impact on the application performance, reliability, availability or TCO.  Those application characteristics are enabled through the runtime application server and the dynamic provisioning and management framework around the application server.  This is how IBM’s Cloud solution is designed.  I’ll wager that Oracle and Red Hat’s offering will push value up the stack, beyond the hypervisor layer itself.

VMware bought SpringSource because of the great people at SpringSource:
Yes.  There is solid talent at SpringSource.  VMware has set aside $60 million in retention funding for the approximately 150 SpringSource employees over the next four years.  This $60 million was discussed on the VMware investor call and is in addition to the acquisition price.  This will clearly help VMware retain SpringSource talent.  SpringSource employees will also want to stick around to bring their vision of world domination to fruition ;-)

Summary:
There is much opportunity and risk for VMware with this acquisition.  If VMware can execute well, they’ll have saved the company from peril at the hands of Microsoft and Hyper-V and application server vendors who are minimizing the value of a hypervisor to the level of the underlying operating system itself.

This acquisition raises the competitive bar for vendors with application server and/or hypervisor offerings.  That’s something customers should be happy about. Fun times ahead!

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

For many years, Microsoft’s profit from Office and Windows has allowed the company to invest in new markets such as gaming at an early stage ROI that would make most VCs queasy.  The Xbox driven Project Natal may return the favor and help Microsoft Office outpace its competition; an unexpected, but pleasant, quid pro quo.

Microsoft describes Project Natal as:

“…a revolutionary new way to play: no controller required.  See a ball? Kick it, hit it, trap it or catch it.  If you know how to move your hands, shake your hips or speak you and your friends can jump into the fun — the only experience needed is life experience.”

Ina Fried was given a chance to try out the technology and reported:

“Playing Ricochet, a 3D breakout-like game, I found myself wanting to do whatever I could to stop the balls from passing me. It felt less like a traditional video game and more like I was a soccer goalie and an entire team was firing shots at me.”

While Project Natal sounds like the real deal for gamers, the technology has applications within the home, and more importantly, in the office.  Ina writes:

“At last week’s analyst meeting, Bach and Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer, also outlined the broad appeal of being able to interact more directly with computer interfaces. After Bach tried his hand at some Natal gaming, Mundie offered a demonstration of how gesture recognition might function in a work setting, saying that the desktop PC of the future could in fact encompass the entire office.”

Project Natal is clearly Microsoft’s response to Nintendo’s Wii.  The Wii has without a doubt forced the gaming industry to rethink the gaming user experience.  The Wii has forced competitors, including Microsoft, to, pardon the pun, raise their game.  End users have obviously benefited from simpler and more fun user experiences.

OpenOffice.org (OOo) could learn a thing or two from Nintendo and the Wii.  OOo appears content to competing by offering a similar user experience to Microsoft Office 2007.  This is surprising to some users who view the user interface (UI) shift from Microsoft Office 2003 to Microsoft Office 2007 as a reason to consider OOo in the first place.  If users are going to face a discontinuity in the UI, why isn’t OOo pulling a Nintendo move and innovating in an underserved portion of the market?  Okay, I know why.  I recognize that technology like the Wii controller or Project Natal doesn’t just materialize.  Often, significant research and related funding is required.  Whatever Sun invested in OOo, and I don’t know the numbers, it’s clearly not the same level of R&D spending that a Nintendo or Microsoft would have at their disposal.  And with Oracle taking the reigns of OOo, it remains to be seen if project budgets will be maintained.

Considering the profit that Microsoft derives from Office, there is clearly room for disruption.  But this won’t happen if vendors simply seek to recreate the Microsoft Office user experience. And if Microsoft does indeed introduce Project Natal technology into a future Microsoft Office release, competing by “doing what Microsoft does” won’t be an easy road to travel.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Amanda McPherson’s post titled “How to Survive LinuxCon” made me realize that LinuxCon is less than six weeks away.  While there is a lot of excitement around Linus speaking at LinuxCon, there are several other great sessions.

Of course, you’ll want to listen to Bob Sutor’s keynote “Regarding Clouds, Mainframes, and Desktops … and Linux” on the opening day, and Mark Shuttleworth’s keynote and final session of the conference “Let’s Get Together: Coordinated Software Releases, The Linux Ecosystem and the Impact on the Global Marketplace.”

I’m also looking forward to the following sessions because they focus on the realities of Linux and open source, beyond the hype.

Why Open Standards Matter to Linux: It’s very easy to focus on the “source” in “open source” but there is another “open” that is just as important: open standards. In this session we’ll discuss how only through a combination of open source and open standards will users achieve software freedom and protect their investments. The panelists will discuss ODF, LSB and how open standards are fueling the rise of Linux.

Beyond the Hype: The True Cost of Linux and Open Source: In a time of tight IT budgets, open source has attracted much attention due to its cost advantages. Detractors to the adoption of open source technology often preach on the ‘hidden’ costs of open source. While it is true that open source technology is rarely ever truly free, claims as to the hidden costs of open source are often lessons in hyperbole. Some claim that while the initial costs of open source are lower, the long-term costs are higher due to support, consulting maintenance and indirect prices paid in reduced functionality. This session will identify areas that enterprises can legitimately expect to shave IT costs with open source, and where they can’t.

Kernel Regressions and Increasing OS Noise: The Linux Kernel is developing at a rapid pace. More and more features are added to the kernel. This leads to growth of the kernel binary (kernel bloat) but also to an increased cache footprint as well as higher complexity in critical code paths. The common experience is that the kernel becomes slower as time progresses. Faster hardware is needed to offset that effect.   The increase in cache footprint and complexity also leads to OS monitoring tasks such as the execution of the timer interrupt to become more invasive. The time the processor is taken away from the application during a scheduling cycle grows and so does the CPU cache use of the OS. This causes disturbances in the execution path of applications. The effects can be drastic for low latency dependent applications.

It will be interesting to see where the average LinuxCon session will fall in the spectrum of open source pragmatism.  Since many of the speakers are employed by vendors selling open source software, I expect the dialogue to balance of community and business goals.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

Project Renaissance is an OpenOffice.org project aiming to deliver a new user interface (UI) for OOo.  The team recently completed the prototyping phase and is asking for users to provide feedback on the 8 UI options.  The UI options strongly resemble the Microsoft Office 2007’s Ribbon UI.

Response to the Ribbon like user interface options has been, well, somewhat one-sided:

e7 writes: “This would be a killer feature for not using OpenOffice.org… Don’t implement this, do other things – like live editing in presentation, a correct ttf/otf export or such things.”

Andis writes: “I would like to see list of problems in previous interface of Impress and how these problems are addressed in the new interface. Because now I see only problems (at least for me) with that new interface…..”

.wu writes: “that’s brilliant! add even more to the top part of the UI because, you know – the screens aren’t getting wider…”

The three comments are fairly representative of the comments as of August 5th.  The concerns boil down to why work on a new UI when there are other higher priority items for the OOo to tackle, why introduce such a significant change to users and why waste vertical screen space?

I can’t speak for the OOo community as to why they’re working on this versus some other requirements.

The second concern raised is interesting.  Since many MS Office users are still using Office 2003 and some have resisted the shift to Office 2007 because of the Ribbon UI, why would OOo follow suit with a Ribbon-like UI?  A UI that more closely resembles Office 2003 will make it easier to adopt OOo versus training 500 or 20,000 or 300,000 employees on using the new UI found in Office 2007.  A commenter, talkimposter writes: “…In fact I use OpenOffice at work because they moved to Office 2007 and I just can’t stand that STUPID interface for idiots…” On the other hand, while initial user reaction to the Ribbon UI has often been negative, this is typically the case with many release to release UI changes. However, as commenter sRc writes: “I like where this is going, myself. To be honest, the Office 07 Ribbon does look “functionally challenged” at first, but once you get used to it, it is so much nicer to work with then a standard interface. After working on a project in Office 07 at my work, I find myself missing the Ribbon now every time I load up OOo.”

The third concern raised is much more troubling.  Screens have been getting wider, and when netbooks are considered, OOo should be innovating UIs that conserve vertical space.  Widescreen displays were not common when Microsoft researched and introduced the Ribbon UI.  Could OOo be making a mistake and following the leader with a UI technique that no longer fits with today’s devices?  Said differently, would Microsoft have introduced a horizontal Ribbon if they were researching a UI for today’s computers?  Interestingly enough, Lotus Symphony uses a vertical Ribbon-like menu system on the right-hand pane.  This approach takes advantage of widescreen computer displays.  I didn’t understand that design decision until today since I still have a 4:3 screen for work.  So maybe OOo should consider UI research conducted more recently than trying to mimic Microsoft’s approach?

You can test drive the UIs and provide feedback.  The prototype test requires Java 6 and takes about 2 minutes to load.  Well worth the time and effort.

Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues

PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”

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