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.”

Sun’s Thorsten Ziehm of the OpenOffice.org engineering team wrote a post titled: “Does OpenOffice.org 3.x have a general quality issue?”

Unless my mind is playing tricks on me, and I’m 98.2% sure it isn’t, Thorsten’s post was edited between when I first read it in the morning and when I decided to blog this afternoon. The edits seem to have removed any suggestion that OOo could have a quality issue. Even in the original version of the post Thorsten had concluded that OOo does not have a general quality issue. But in the original version he did discuss some information that could point to a quality issue. For instance, the original showed that the total bugs reports had grown to over 13 thousand, of which about 3 thousand were new feature requests. If memory serves me right, the defects and total numbers were much higher than previous releases. But with more OOo users, this increase did not point to a quality issue by itself.

Thorsten concludes that, while there may not be a general quality issue with OOo:

“We have to work still on stabilizing the existing functionality instead of concentrating on newer functionality only.”

This is a similar conclusion that Andre Schnabel comes to in his reply to Thorsten’s post (not sure if Andre’s reply was to version 1 or version 2 of Thorsten’s post).

“While one may argue (endless) if the product as a quality issue or not, the real point is, that the OOo project’s process of identifying, handling and finally fixing bugs is not really satisfying.”

Andre goes on to conclude that we can make OOo better:

“- joint and better coordinated efforts from QA and development to *fix* bugs
- the common goal of the project to work on bugfixing (instead of the separate statement of the QA project that fixing bugs is not within our responsibility)
- the commitment to fix bugs even in old features (and not only regressions). Each feature once was new. Following our current policy you just need to wait long enough to counter the regression argument.”

OOo is facing a difficult balancing act between fixing bugs and adding new features. Software developed using the traditional software business model often has a larger focus, emphasis on “larger”, not all, on their time on the latter. Who’s going to buy version 5.0 of a product that touts “stuff that you expected to work in version 4.0, now does”. But there is absolutely a focus on reducing the defect backlog. Who’s going to buy version 5.0 of a product when version 4.0 crashed all the time? Wait, hold off the Microsoft jokes :-)

The fact that OOo is facing the same issues, and the project is also spending more of its time on new features, vs. defects, is an interesting response to those that view OSS as a panacea. Both the OSS and traditional software business models can produce high quality software or trash. Producing high quality software starts with a focus on not just track, but systematically reducing defects. It’s good to see more talk about processes focused on reducing defects at OOo.

While Change is coming to the U.S.A. tomorrow, it is with some anxiety that change is coming to the Office productivity suite that I use during my day job at IBM.

The IBM WebSphere division is shifting to using IBM Lotus Symphony, based on OpenOffice.org, documents in future presentations to IBM executives at several decision checkpoint meetings.  We can continue to use Microsoft Office as we have in the past, but presentations to these standing meetings must be delivered using IBM Lotus Symphony.  It’ll be interesting to see how long we can maintain two versions of each file, PPT and ODT, before breaking down and working solely off the ODT file.  I can probably hold out for 1 month.

As far as I can tell, this is not an IBM wide shift.  But considering the level of chart and deck sharing that occurs at IBM, the decision will expose a lot of IBMers, inside and outside of the WebSphere division, to Symphony (and OO.o).

It’s not that I have anything against OO.o or Symphony.  I’m simply 10x more productive using a tool that I have over 10 years experience with.  But, if change is coming, best be in front of it, than being dragged along for the ride.

I guess I’ll never get to try Office 2007 ;-)

Roberto has an interesting post about the revenue opportunity for vendors that will aid customer migrations from MS Office to OpenOffice.org.

While vendors such as Sun, IBM, HP, Accenture, EDS, etc. may seize this opportunity, they’ll likely only be able to do so with large (Fortune 2000) customers.  To be fair, this is a large enough market to get excited about.  However, I suspect that Microsoft offers fairly competitive pricing to customers in this market segment.  So, the migration business case will likely come down to more than a license cost discussion.

Customers outside of the Fortune 2000 are going to be more of a challenge.  First, the large IT vendors don’t have great routes to these customers.  It’s not for a lack of effort on the part of Sun, IBM, HP, Accenture, etc.  Rather, this customer segment is more used to addressing their IT needs through a handful of trusted IT advisors.  As it turns out, many (clearly not all) of these trusted IT advisors are Regional ISVs, Regional System Integrators or consultants that are Microsoft Business Partners.

As Leif Lodahl comments on Roberto’s blog:

“I would rather point my fingers of those Microsoft Business Partners, that provide customers with no choice (as to select Microsoft Office).

First step will be the customers to ask their business software providers if they can deliver a solution without vendor lock-in.”

While Leif acutely pinpoints the problem, I’m not sure that the solution is as simple as it’s made out to be.  First off, the customer has had a long relationship with the trusted RISV/RSI/Consultant.  So, when the trusted IT advisor suggests a solution that includes Microsoft technologies, few customers are going to challenge that premise.  Second, what impetus does the Microsoft Business Partner have for endorsing a solution without Microsoft technologies including MS Office?  Remember, that these partners have often made significant investments to become experts in Microsoft technologies.  In fact, most of their pre-canned application assets rely on Microsoft technologies.  Also, the integration that Microsoft offers with .NET & MS Office makes it really easy for MS Business Partners to build solutions that rely on MS Office.  Switching out MS Office for OpenOffice.org in these situations is likely not an impossible challenge.  But is it a challenge that a MS Business Partner wants to take up?

A new set of business partners, aligned with OpenOffice.org, could address the small & medium business market without having to make the tradeoff decisions that a current MS Business Partner would.  However, these vendors will face the challenge of breaking into the “trusted IT advisor” ranks.  It won’t be impossible, but it’ll be an uphill battle.  However, over the long run, I would suspect a larger opportunity for OpenOffice.org migrations in this customer segment than the Fortune 2000.

What do you think?

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