It is a rare free software development project which feels the need - or
has the resources - to develop a 50-page strategic marketing plan. OpenOffice.org
is anything but an
ordinary project however. Its Strategic Marketing Plan
is available in a glossy, printer-stressing PDF format; those
wishing to support the project can also buy the plan in book format for
$7.95. In many ways, the OpenOffice.org plan resembles many other, similar
documents which have been putting meeting attendees to sleep for years. It
is very much worth a read, however; it offers a view into the project's
ambitions and worries for the coming years.
OpenOffice.org cannot be faulted for lacking ambition: the marketing plan
calls for a 50% penetration rate by 2010. There is a little table which
reads a bit like a Bush administration budget forecast - usage is supposed
to jump from 35% to 50% between 2009 and 2010. By the end of 2004, the
project will be satisfied with 2% penetration.
Getting that many users will be a challenge, so much of the plan concerns
itself with how OpenOffice.org will find them.
There is a big emphasis on establishing OpenOffice.org as a global
brand. The project has also singled out seven target markets which, it
thinks, are especially ready for a jump to OpenOffice.org:
- Governments - with an emphasis on developing countries. Reading
between the lines, it appears that OpenOffice.org does not wish to
compete with Sun's StarOffice sales in richer countries.
- Education. As a way of competing with Microsoft's education programs,
which target teenagers, OpenOffice.org's plan suggests trying to hook
kids when they are seven or eight years old.
- Public libraries - especially smaller ones without lots of extra
- Non-profit organizations.
- Small and medium-sized businesses.
- Original equipment manufactures, who should be encouraged to bundle
OpenOffice.org with their systems.
- Linux distributors; OpenOffice.org would like to have its software
shipped with every general-purpose distribution.
To push OpenOffice.org into these markets, the project has a whole set of
"marketing contacts," is working on promotional materials, and has a set of
development goals, such as the creation of "OEM kits." Feeding the demand
side of the equation is very much at the core of the OpenOffice.org plan.
There are some interesting things which are missing. In its introduction,
the plan states:
As of today (2004), both OpenOffice.org and the Community are
heavily dependent on the support of Sun for their continued
survival. The Community has set itself a challenge to become
completely self-sufficient, and rely on volunteer effort and/or
funds generated by the Community.
This would clearly be a good thing for OpenOffice.org to do. The marketing
plan does not really address this goal again, however. Raising funds
appears to not be a part of this plan at all. There also appears to be
little concern about marketing OpenOffice.org to developers. By most
accounts, the bulk of OpenOffice development is still done by Sun
engineers, and the project remains difficult for new developers to
approach. Forks like ooo-build have appeared in
response to developer frustrations, and Sun's ties to Microsoft have
recently led to Bruce Perens calling for developers to not
donate their code to the project. If OpenOffice.org cannot get past this
marketing problem, it will have a hard time achieving self-sufficiency and
its usage goals.
The project's relationship with Sun is a recurring issue in this document.
Clearly, as long as OpenOffice.org is dependent on Sun for funding and
developers, one of its priorities must not be marketing to users, but
marketing itself to Sun. Thus, the plan worries:
Sun Microsystems may lose the ability or desire to fund non-revenue
generating activities such as the Community.
and recommends that:
The Community should put significant effort into understanding
Sun's goals for StarOffice and OpenOffice.org and selling the
benefits to Sun of their continuing support of the Community.
OpenOffice.org has to step carefully around its patron. So there are no
plans to try to "sell" OpenOffice.org into large businesses and other
places where Sun is trying to do deals involving StarOffice. A fair amount
of new OpenOffice.org functionality is being written in Java, which creates
problems for some Linux distributors - there is no free, certified Java
runtime which can be shipped to run that new code. So OpenOffice.org's
plan contemplates the creation of a "Java-free" configuration (something
the distributors have been doing for a while), but there is no thought
given to making it all work with a free, non-certified runtime engine.
The plan spends some time contemplating the threats faced by the project.
These include confusion with StarOffice, the fact that others can fork the
project, missing functionality (email, web browsing, group calendars,
etc.), and software patents. The biggest threat seen by the project,
however, is clearly Microsoft; somehow the planners have gotten the idea
that Microsoft might not just stand by and watch while OpenOffice.org grabs
the 50% of the market it covets. The project intends to respond by making
migration from Microsoft products even easier, stressing the "full
functionality for free" nature of the software, and targeting users who are
facing forced upgrades or who fear license compliance audits.
There is one threat which is not even mentioned by the plan, however: other
free software projects. Names like AbiWord, Gnumeric, Scribus, KOffice,
etc. simply do not appear at all. Some of these are, perhaps, shrugged off
by proclaiming that OpenOffice.org is the only free integrated
office suite - though the KOffice developers might disagree. It can also
only be true that the OpenOffice.org developers do not wish to upset parts
of the free software community by overtly tagging them as competitors and
making plans on how to beat them. The fact remains, however, that a number
of free "productivity" tools exist, and many of them are held, by some
users at least, to be superior to the corresponding parts of
OpenOffice.org. These tools will not go away; a "strategic marketing plan"
that aims for 50% penetration while ignoring the other free alternatives
runs a real risk of an unpleasant collision with reality as things play
It is worth noting that the plan is not in its final form; this is, in
fact, the first public release, which was intended to encourage discussion
and debate at OOoCon last week.
There will be, without doubt, changes to the plan as a result of that
discussion, but LWN was unable to attend the conference and reports have
been relatively scarce so far. Even so, the plan gives valuable insights
into an important free software project which is at a sort of turning
point. It indicates that the project intends to concentrate on "selling"
OpenOffice.org to vast numbers of users rather than on engagement with the
free software community. More OpenOffice.org users can only be a good
thing; one can only wish the project luck in achieving its goals.
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