An IT consulting firm is warning large enterprises and government entities not to deploy Open Office until Oracle Corp. shows proof that it will invest as heavily in the development of open-source productivity suite as project champion Sun did.
According to a 12-page report from Amsterdam-based Software Improvement Group, the main risk is that Open Office code may get buggier if Oracle, after it finalises its acquisition of Sun, pulls personnel and resources from Open Office development.
Though spun out to the open-source community in 2000 by Sun, Open Office's development and marketing still relies heavily on paid Sun employees, such as community manager (and overall boss), Louis Saurez-Potts.
"There is a fairly advanced QA mechanism in the OpenOffice.org project," said Tobias Kuipers, CTO of the 50-person consulting firm, in an interview. "It involves 30-40 man-years [of developer time], which is fairly expensive and not something you can maintain in your attic."
Kuipers said the report from SIG, which counts ABN Amro, ING Bank, DHL and the Dutch government among its clients, was self-funded. He said the other risk is that Oracle, in its zeal to beat Microsoft, diverts resources forOpen Office towards a commercial version or "fork" aimed at tackling Microsoft Office in the enterprise .
"It all hangs in the balance depending on what Larry Ellison and Oracle do with OpenOffice.org," he said.
Sun already sells and supports a version of Open Office, called StarOffice. It has had less success pulling users from Microsoft Office than its entirely free sibling, OpenOffice.org.
Kuipers added that the risks mainly apply to large entities adopting OpenOffice.org, due to the switching costs, not to individuals and small businesses. He also said that the risks do not apply to companies adopting Lotus Symphony, an IBM-led fork of OpenOffice.org, because of IBM's backing.
Oracle did not immediately respond to a request for comment but John McCreesh, Open Office's marketing lead (and a non-Sun employee), called the SIG report "pure speculation."
"The OpenOffice.org community is very grateful to Sun for creating the community in the first place, and for its ongoing generous support. But it's not dependent on any single sponsor for its continuing existence," McCreesh said. He dismissed fears that Open Office users wouid find themselves bereft of support.
"If there is money to be made from offering commercial support to governments, etc., then market forces will ensure that the support will grow out," he said.
Meanwhile, development for Open Office continues. A second release candidate for OpenOffice.org 3.2 was released last week. New features include faster startup times, better support for OpenDocument Format and Microsoft Office Open XML documents, improvements to Calc (the Excel-like spreadsheet program), and more.
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