Rishab's tender argument and OpenOffice adoption

What is the difficulty of Office suite migration, I mean, to switch from one product to another? SUN Microsystem's Simon Phipps recently claimed, the challenge of office software migrations is not about "interoperability" anymore but "substitutability”. An Italian article takes a rather sour view about the SUN backed OpenOffice as a Microsoft Office replacement.

...in many ways, success [of OO.org 3.0] teaches us nothing; what is far more revealing is failure.

The reason mentioned are user dependencies on the legacy product such as macros and office productivity integration. What is often described as a lock-in concerns migration scenarios of Office installations in general. Can you take the freedom to switch to another product? OpenOffice is just one option. Just think of the recent industry trend to migrate to Cloud Computing solutions, Google Docs etc. In the article Rishab is quoted and he highlights alleged public tender discrimination of alternatives as OpenOffice:

"Many people assume there is level playing field and that measures to promote Open Source are no longer needed. In fact, there is widespread bias in favour of proprietary applications" ...According to Gosh, software tenders often have either implicit or explicit bias for software brands or even specific applications.

Those product preferences Rishab Ghosh often talks about are strictly incompatible with existing public procurement laws and of course it is just a matter of enforcement of procurement rules. Public procurement applies only for those parts of the market driven by administrative decision making: governmental institutions. The enforcement of the tender rules is a matter of sound non-discriminatory procurement procedures but does not address the real user needs because products are different and unique. And for the public sector the market leader offers very cheap license fees. As a public administration you have to consider to migrate to alternative products and make much fuzz about it in order to reduce your software procurement costs. Migration scenarios are always part of a procurement negotiation strategy. Public adminstrations have here far more experience to build up procurement pressure.

How does migration affect users? Office migration means migration of trained users from existing Office 2000 - 2003 installations. Users do not really care if the source code of a product is made available or not as Open Source proponents argue. The main reason why persons want to migrate now to alternative products is that they cannot stand the revamped Microsoft Office 2007 interface and a migration to the new generation would cause the institution high retraining costs. As an Office user you don't want to switch to the new unfamiliar MS-Office 2007 product series.

The reason why Office users have to think about migration is that others use MS-Office 2007 and it has a new file format. Files you get sent and you need to be able to read. The cumbersome Word 07 file format docx can be read by older versions of Microsoft Office with a plugin. User need to install a plugin. Here the SUN Microsystems product OO.org comes again into play again. Why download a free plugin when you can download a free next generation office suite that can read the new format. As of the version 3.0 it is able to read DocX, Pptx etc. So the convenient choice is to stay with Office 2003 and have OpenOffice 3.0 installed for reading the docx files your Office 2007 colleagues submit to you. Microsoft seems to understand that docx is not the future format and merely a tool to force users in a maturated market to switch to their new version, and they are nit satified with their format themselves and announced to switch to the international standard ODF file format in the next Office generation that is already supported by OpenOffice.

These are some of the options for Office users:
  1. Stay with Office 2003 and install a Microsoft plugin for dealing with the new 2007 file format.
  2. Stay with Office 2003 and install the free OpenOffice 3.0 for the new 2007 file format, ODF and PDF export
  3. Switch to Office 2007 and try to migrate existing dependencies as Macros and get retrained to abandon the user interface of Office 2003
  4. Switch to OpenOffice 3.0 and try to migrate existing office productivity solutions
  5. Switch to the Cloud.
As we see a gradual transition scenario with parallel installations is the most likely one. Think back how Firefox broke the solid Internet Explorer dominance. You don't need to uninstall the product you were used to but users will gradually switch to what serves them best and find out that they don't need the legacy product anymore. Sure institutional migration works differently and parallel installation is often not considered.