ODF's Family Secret
In places like Massachusetts, competition has been mentioned as one of the desirable results of adoption of OpenDocument (results of the release of Microsoft's choke-point on the file format), but the context is usually theoretical and general, as in, "The tax-payers will enjoy the fruits of better competition in the technology industry."
If there are unsaid things in the ODF conversation so far, it's that vendors who've been locked out of the office suite market now smell the gamey new opportunity. While they are talking, and that makes news, they are also working. They're going two routes simultaneously:
1) discussing collaborative ways to ensure OpenDocument's success, globally; and br>OpenOffice/StarOffice are the fat-client apps that are ready for dinner today. They, by fact of history, will be the principal way OpenDocument establishes its first beachheads in organizations. It's my bet that MS Office 12 ½ - for those with the expendable dosh - will be in this catagory soon enough, too, because that's Ray Ozzie's vision.
2) separately developing competitive new products or shoring up existing ones.
In the new & different column, IBM's Lotus Workplace, Google's AJAX thingy (I don't know this, officially), Writely, Firefox's inevitable OpenDocument Reader Plug-In and Microsoft's Office Live will alight under the catagory, “Web 2.0.”
The real fallout from the repositioning of the game board – which is suddenly no longer so slanted that all the jacks, the dice and the small colored plastic rabbits & horses funnel into Bill Gates' daipered lap - is the palpable sense of opportunity; you can feel it not by what the vendors are saying but by what we know they are doing back at the skunk works: Adobe, CA, Corel, Google, hp, IBM, Intel, Nokia, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat Scalix & Sun Microsystems, you can hear the resources being shuffled. OpenDocument has been visible to the vendors since OpenOffice went public (2002), but Massachusetts made large-scale adoption visible and believable. (Sun Tsu has looked down and smiled upon the better positioning of the open source/open standards Phalanx.)
Competition, if it's true, creates the situation where we'll be identifying usage patterns and gathering user requirements in a more granular way than before because suddenly more resources are visible in the space and vendors and open source developers alike will be trying to outdo each other.
The original Microsoft focus groups divided users into General | Finance | Managers | Communicators | Database Users | Complete Idiots; that's how we got Word | Excel | Powerpoint | Outlook | Access | Bob & the Paperclip. Fine. That was then. It was also based on Microsoft's reaction to discrete use patterns developed from the early application successes, Lotus & WordPerfect among others, under different resource conditions.
Now, it's our luxury to see a nuanced palette. We have users of type Read-Only | Read-Mostly | Edit Sometimes | Extra Hot Sauce, Please | Simple Memos & Letters | Thick Documentation with Indices | MailingList Mama | PowerMarketing Survey Fu | James Bond | Finance Simpleton | Finance ÜberGeek | BlackBelt, Waitress & Serial Killer. And now there are more & smarter minds looking at the challenge of serving these different user-types, each looking from a slightly different angle.
If modularizing the office suite and breaking it down further does actually make sense, then no one needs to load a one-size-fits-all chunk of 10 million lines of code just to see what's for dinner. And Web-ification here helps. The particular tools I need can be pulled in just like I add feeds to my Personalized Homepage, or I can simultaneously co-edit a document in ways that recently were impossible, painful or required a long expensive flight on an aeroplane. That makes me faster, smarter and lighter on my feet, saving room for the Apple Pie a la Mode.
Competition on ODF-capable apps will be good for users (depending upon what's on their plate). Already, you can see this is not a theoretical notion.