Jack Wallen joined The Document Foundation’s call for corporate companies to do the right thing.
The Document Foundation (TDF), in a surprising and unexpected move, urged enterprise businesses to use an office suite that is clearly designated as a community version. This move is surprising because most open-source desktop projects cannot successfully target large businesses to gain more ground in an incredibly steep uphill battle for market share. The move is not surprising because every project needs to gain profit at some point.
This is clearly the purpose of this movement. Understandably it is. Without making a profit, the project could easily be in danger of collapse. This is, of course, open source – Achilles of profit. Since most open source projects are available for free, there is little reason a community of users would raise money for a piece of software. This is a pattern we’ve seen popping up over and over.
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An open source project provides a level of success. This newly discovered growth causes project owners to realize that they need money to keep growing. For this purpose, they start charging for software. Users oppose the idea of payment, so they are looking for another free alternative. This always works because there are always alternatives.
This is the case for consumers. However, we’re talking about corporate users – companies that probably have thousands or hundreds of thousands of end users who need software to do their jobs. Document Foundation knows this and rather prefers corporate-class companies not to opt for software supported by volunteers. Instead, TDF now asks businesses to take advantage of options that can better support the needs of large companies.
TDF has a very valid point. They said: “This had a two-way negative consequence for the project: poor use of volunteers’ time as they have to spend their time solving business problems that provide nothing for society and a net loss for ecosystem companies.
This “nothing” matters. These companies do not spend even a small percentage of their software budget on LibreOffice, nor do they contribute code or resources. TDF should Tell corporate businesses to get out of the metaphorical turf and play in an area that better suits the needs of their games.
The good news is that corporate businesses have options. The most popular option is to apply to a company called Collabora. Collabora offers solutions for:
- An on-premises, online version of LibreOffice;
- cloud options hosted by third parties; and
- a standard client-based office suite.
All options are based on LibreOffice, fully supported by Collabora, and do a good job of offering users a viable office suite.
Here’s the sticky part: Enterprise customers should be willing to pay for those versions, even if there is a free version for use. This is a tough sell, but for any company that requires real support (apart from Google, forums, and mailing lists), the piper must be paid for.
Testing the client-based version of Collabora Office is fairly easy, even on Linux. For example, log in to a Debian-based desktop, open a terminal window and issue the following commands:
sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys 0135B53B sudo echo 'deb https://www.collaboraoffice.com/downloads/Collabora-Office-6.4-Snapshot/Linux/apt ./' >> /etc/apt/sources.list sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install collaboraoffice -y
When the installation is complete, you can start the Collabora office (an unstable snapshot) and kick the tires. You will find that Collabora Office is the same as LibreOffice. The difference is simple: A support contract and long-term bug fixes, both of which are crucial to most corporate businesses.
Is that enough to distract big companies from using the free version of LibreOffice? In a time when money is scarce for almost everyone, this can result in a difficult “no”.
What TDF should do
What should LibreOffice do to drive corporate customers to Collabora? Unfortunately the honor system will not work. TDF might get on its knees and beg, and it might not make a difference. Enterprise-class businesses care about one thing – the bottom line. While it may be obvious to some, the more people buy support from Collabora, the more capable it is at improving LibreOffice. Even with this understanding, businesses cannot always see this far. They want to know what you can do for them now, not tomorrow (except businesses dealing with longer support terms).
To that end, I think Collabora should upgrade the office suite game a bit. They definitely need to continue contributing to LibreOffice; Without them, LibreOffice would not have developed nearly as quickly, but they should offer enterprise-class features that are not available in LibreOffice (beyond support and bug fixes.
In July 2020, I wrote an article titled: LibreOffice 7: Why a paid enterprise version could be a positive change? In that post, I mentioned that businesses need three things for an office suite:
- Proof of the future
- Compliance with Standards
LibreOffice does these and does them well, but they can always get better. The truth is that TDF is faced with two seemingly immovable juggernauts: MS Office and Google Workspace. For TDF to be successful in the corporate environment, they will need to build a better MS Office or Google Docs. Honestly, the online version of Collabora is actually very good. You only need to deploy Nextcloud Hub to experience how refined this tool has become. I can say this because I remember working with the first release of Collabora online and it was horrible. Now the vehicle can stand alone with the competition.
Uncertainty is not good marketing
Even though the online version of the Collabora office suite is as good as it is, there is a serious hurdle to overcome:
Nobody knows. This is the same problem LibreOffice has faced for years. Uncertainty is not a good marketing strategy. You’d be shocked by how many people I told about LibreOffice, just to find out that they’ve never heard of it. The conversation always goes down like this:
User: Argh! My MS Office license has expired and I have no money to buy a new one. Any suggestions?
User: What is this.
This has become a predictable dialogue for the past decade and shows no signs of change.
What does this mean? Simple: If the Document Foundation wants enterprise-class businesses to transition to an option that supports large businesses (and contributes to the community version in return), they will do a much better job. to market its products.
This is the same unfortunate rock that Linux has been under for years – they don’t know or have the resources to market a product that is equal to or superior to what everyone is currently using.
Embarrassing but true.
I can tell The Document Foundation: You have a product worth marketing, so market it. Make sure medium and large businesses know Collabora exists and is a better option for them. They will spend the money (if any) on software that will help their employees do their jobs. Collabora can do just that.
And for any COO, CTO, or CFO looking to make a quick choice at The Document Foundation, don’t. Good software happens because it gets support. Good business software works properly because it has support. Don’t sell LibreOffice’s makers or your employees short. Both deserve better.
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