Pesaro is a town of about 100 thousands people on the northern adriatic coast of Italy. Its Public Administration has been facing lots of critics from Free/Open Source software supporters because, in the last five years, it changed twice the same, important part of its ICT infrastructure. Both those changes bring consequences and open issues, both for the critics and for Pesaro, that have had little or no coverage at all so far, especially outside Italy (1). Before talking about them, however, it is necessary to summarize what happened.
OpenOffice was the first big, mainstream free software competitor to Microsoft Office, and because of that, it still has mainstream name recognition—which is a problem.
Developers have almost all moved to LibreOffice, the spiritual successor to OpenOffice. But OpenOffice continues to be operated as its own project, seeing little development and only drawing potential LibreOffice users to a defunct piece of software.
Indeed, Microsoft's marketing team published a press release recently saying Office 365 is about 80% cheaper compared to the open source office suite, OpenOffice - with the figures stemming from reports in Italy and the City Council of Pesaro. The Redmond giant claims that to roll out Open Office, Pesaro incurred a one off cost of about €300,000 and had lots of problems with document formatting.
But equally how would you convince a public sector organisation to migrate to your cloud services instead of using 'expensive' open source software?
The obvious way would be to present a case study from a similar organisation together with a well written report commissioned to an "independent" consultancy firm. At this point your future customer has all the data and justifications required to sign on the dotted line.
And some journalists are now presenting this case as fact of Microsoft Office 365 being 80% more economical than open source alternatives.
I would argue that this is an isolated case and the PR efforts by big technology vendors, like many other methods, are being used to trick private and public organisations into signing contracts based on data or claims that may be not completely true.
The Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) Version 1.2, the native file format of LibreOffice and many other applications, has been published as International Standard 26300:2015 by ISO/IEC. ODF defines a technical schema for office documents including text documents, spreadsheets, charts and graphical documents like drawings or presentations.
The final draft version of the RGI (general interoperability framework), still awaiting final validation, maintains ODF as the recommended format for office documents within French administrations. This new version of the RGI provides substantiated criticism of the OOXML Microsoft format. April thanks the DISIC (French Inter-ministerial IT directorate) for not giving in to pressure and acting in the long-term interest of all French citizens and their administrations.
Following yesterday's LibreOffice report for 2014, comes another interesting report from Document Foundation members Barend Jonkers and Cor Nouws comparing the features of LibreOffice and OpenOffice. The 60-page report "focuses on areas as feasibility, smart use, quality and improvements, localization and more." It makes clear that LibreOffice has undergone massive improvements as compared to OpenOffice.
Using the proprietary OOXML document format, i.e. docx, pptx and xlsx, makes you more vulnerable to phishing and other attacks. Earlier this month, the Japanese anti-virus company Trend Micro published a blog post describing how the attack group "Operation Pawn Storm" uses spear-phishing mail messages with malicious Office documents to target the military, governments, defense industries and the media.
Four years ago, Thomas Caspers and Oliver Zendel from the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) already presented research results stating that most spear-phishing attacks targeting specific persons or a small group of victims are using "launch actions" in Office and PDF documents to have their malicious code executed.
Still, as one of the longest-standing open source productivity apps, and one that played a major role in making desktop Linux viable, OpenOffice is a venerable project. Indeed, its history stretches all the way back to 1985 (when I was still merely an idea!), and it has been open source since 2000. If it folds, it will be one of the first big-name open source apps to do so—even if few people notice as they continue happily chugging along on LibreOffice.
In September 2014, rumors were flying that Apache OpenOffice was floundering and might soon merge with LibreOffice. The rumors were denied, but revived in March 2015 when Jonathan Corbett used development activity statistics to show that OpenOffice was seriously short of developers, and had corporate support only from IBM. Now, OpenOffice's most recent report to the Apache Foundation appears to reinforce these previous reports, and then some.
To be fair, the report is listed as "a working copy and not to be quoted." However, I am discussing it anyway for two reasons. First, much of the report was mentioned in earlier reports, which suggests that its information is accurate. Second, when I contacted Jan Iversen, the new OpenOffice Chair, three weeks ago, he gave the same warning even more strongly. Since then the contents has gone through at least one more draft, but with little change of content, which makes me suspect that the excuse is an effort to delay discussion of the content. If I am mistaken, the fact will eventually become obvious, since the report is, after all, a public document.