Mozillarization of OpenOffice.org

by Jono Bacon

While sat here watching Ben Goodger doing a talk about Firefox at EuroOSCON, it got me thinking about this concept of taking a huge and bloated project (such as Netscape) and cutting it down to the core and releasing a spin-off project such as Firefox. With all of the recent discussion and email I have been receiving triggered from Opening the potential of OpenOffice.org, it makes sense if this process was drilled into OpenOffice.org.


Now, I understand that OpenOffice.org is a huge chunk of code, and the hackers behind it are working flat out to cut out the bloat and make it run faster with the current feature-set, but I get the impression that a lot of people will only use a subset of what OpenOffice.org provides and this could benefit from being Mozillarized (hey, its not a word, but we need a word to describe this process). As an example, I tend to use OpenOffice.org Writer for most of my word processing, but I rarely use certain portions of it, and much of the older functionality that looks a bit crusty around the edges, such as the 3D objects that look awful, could be happily junked in favour of better usability, more focused functionality and better performance.


This approach could be implemented in different ways. One argument is to take the pure Mozilla approach and single out a specific application and cut it down. The most notable application is probably OpenOffice.org Writer. I suspect that if you speak to most OpenOffice.org users, they will use Writer more than the other components. Another possibility is to single out each application and remove the ability to embed components inside other components. From my limited straw poll foo, it seems few people actually embed components at all. The reality seems to be that people use each component in a singular fashion, but appreciate the fact that the applications all use the same user interface and are considered part of a suite. This could be an interesting area to research.


Admittedly, the argument against this approach is that applications such as Abiword and Gnumeric present cut down applications, but the problem is that there are subtle interface differences that make these applications feel less integrated in terms of the user experience. It is important to remember that integration is not just embedding components but the most fundamental integration is in the way in which similar options in different components are available the same place. This achieved in OpenOffice.org as the applications are part of a suite.


I think the first step in identifying if this process is possible is to determine how people use OpenOffice.org. What kind of features do you use? Which things are never used? Which things a confusing? Would you consider fewer features and better performance as preferable to the current OpenOffice.org? If we can answer these questions and get some definitive data about OpenOffice.org use from both techies and non-techies, I am convinced it can help the hackers behind OpenOffice.org create a better office suite. By all means, use the comments box on this article to share your experiences and research.

Do you think mozillarization is possible? What are your typical uses of OpenOffice.org, scribe it here...


16 Comments

swhiser
2005-10-19 06:37:29
Mozillarization of OOo
Yup!


[swhiser was the Marketing Project Lead of OpenOffice.org]


ErikHarrison
2005-10-19 11:34:15
Mozify
How about "Mozify"


That said, Mozilla and OO.o have a very similar archetecture from the 10,000 foot view. Both have their own cross platform toolkit. Both have a component model. Both expose that component model to a higher level language than C++, and both write core code in that language.


In the longer term, XULRunner will represent these parts of Moz, so that Firefox and Thunderbird can sit on top of it, and theoretically even share components. Mozification doesn't have to mean dropping features - Firefox added them, but it's goal was the be the best browser for people who use browsers.


I personally wouldn't factor out OO.o Writer. It's not the app I'm interested in. I'd factor out Present, as it occupies a niche that is the poorly handled by OSS community, especially if you aren't a KDE user.


I'd start figuring out how to build a standalone present, same way that Firefox started, and then begin rethinkig features. Drop lots of features, then add them back rapidly as people miss them, so that your feature set grows starting with the most commonly desired features - this has the side effect of generally giving the most important features first pick of the UI.


Then in the longer term, begin doing standalone builds of the Writer, Draw, etc, following the same philosophy. Once you have the important individual apps stable, begin pulling out the platform as a shared component.


Voila! Kick ass office suite.

IngeWallin
2005-10-19 11:37:55
Another take on a similar subject
You might want to look at the following link. The blog was written by a member of the KOffice team (me).


KOffice - Kids Office

http://ingwa2.blogspot.com/2005/09/koffice-kids-office.html

zehavoc
2005-10-19 13:30:55
Have a look to what Joel Spolsky said (from joelonsoftware)
In one of his famous tribune, he said that none of any company who wanted to sell a wordprocessor with only 90% of the features included in microsoft word managed to survive. Why ? because their conceptor based their work on heuristic survey of the most used function on word and implemented them in their
lightwheigt word processor. So it should have sold a million. But no. Why ? because the 90% of word features are not the same for everybody. and so doing that you're just limiting yourself to a small subset of a potential userbase....


if I'm wrong, why Abiword is not more widely used ?
why gnumeric the same ? (it maybe lacks a minor feature like graphical wizard to create chart :) )


If you do the same to openoffice, it will lost its hype.......
maybe the code is bloated, hard to code with but maybe you should just refactoring the code carefully...



my two cents.



Best regards

jamesvl
2005-10-19 15:03:03
Good idea, but you'll lose too much...
... at least if you factor out Writer. The post referencing Joel's observations is good, but what absolutely cannot be traded away is the ability to import/export MS formats.


Sure embedding isn't used a lot... but at work, that 2% of the time it is used it needs to be there. Why? Because if I can't seamlessly import and export with others offices and co-workers, then I cannot use the product. (And the great part about OO.o right now is that it can and does do that...)


Bloat is bad. Yes, let's refactor it carefully.


But Firefox could be competitive because it made a better browser, IMO. (I realize "better" is always a subjective term.) In the office space, though, interoperability with the current market leader is - for good or ill - a necessity.


Firefox already had an OpenDocuement equivalent to work off of: HTML. (Okay, so there were some quirks...) OO.o doesn't have that advantage.


And if we drop anything, drop the Draw program. I've used Xara for years and think it's wonderful. It's now just gone open source. Inkscape is improving... Could we drop & reintegrate in one fell swoop?

mark.tomlinson
2005-10-20 05:48:11
Mozillarization of OpenOffice.org
My personal experience is that I tend to use the word processor and the spreadsheet components from any "office" suite, and not much else. However, the marketing types I've worked with would scream bl**dy murder if you took their presentation graphics away. Any attempt to pare down the existing suite concept is sure to gore somebody's ox.


I'm all in favor of smaller, lighter and faster apps - but I recall that both Microsoft (with whatever they call their "Home suite" these days) and WordPerfect tried this and the concept pretty much fell flat.


Mark

random_
2005-10-20 12:07:58
What to do with OpenOffice.org
(Actually, the Mozilla Suite was the bloated one; why not "Foxification"? ;)


As far as OO.o's less used components go, they should have some sort of modular system (similar to FF extensions?) where you can quickly load the code you need to do what you want, but that it doesn't load most of the time when you're not using it.

drxym
2005-10-21 02:09:57
Fix the basics first
Mozilla 0.7 was bloated, Mozilla 1.7 is not. In fact Mozilla 1.7 runs just fine. What's changed?


I'll tell you - core, fundamental inefficiences in the implementation have been fixed. The technologies underpinning Mozilla such as XPCOM, XPConnect, XUL, the string classes and the DOM all had some horrible naive implementations which have been rewritten or fixed in the intervening time. It's true that Firefox has some additional optimizations due to simplified chrome and static linking, but a Firefox made from Mozilla 0.7 would have sucked almost as much as 0.7.


The same holds true for OpenOffice. Splitting the word processor from the rest is not going to make it significantly faster if the fundamental issues are not fixed first. If the component architecture touches every DLL at startup, or launches Java / Python or instantiates a bunch of heavy singletons which are never used.


Fix the core problems and OO will be plenty fast enough that most of the reasons for splitting go away. Now perhaps there are reasons for splitting out bits of it, but I think they are less compelling than with Firefox. Remove core functionality such as the ability to embed objects, and you basically cripple the app for no good reason.

piotr.kochanski
2005-10-21 03:23:33
Please, use OO for a few days...

I would like to make a comment concerning the following statement:


"Another possibility is to single out each application and remove the ability to embed components inside other components."


This shows that you are simply not using OO. How can you remove such a feature if the only way to add table in OO Presentation is to embbed a spreadsheet from Calc?


How do you imagine to prepare an invoice in Writer without ability to embbed Calc spreadsheet? Do you want someone to calculate everything by hand and then insert results into Writer table?


How do you know that "most people use Writer"? Have you made any researches on that?

mogmios
2005-10-21 03:26:55
Have a look to what Joel Spolsky said (from joelonsoftware)
I use Abiword and Gnumeric but almost never OpenOffice because OpenOffice loads and runs much slower, is just plain harder to use, and has so many options that you have to dig through tons of unused features to do what you want.


Why is OpenOffice used more widely? Because everyone is looking for an M$ Office killer and to most people that means making a product that is just as crappy and bloated as M$ Office.


For the majority of users Abiword and Gnumeric do what they want with much less hassle than using OpenOffice or M$ Office.


The majority of users would save time for using these simplified programs and businesses would have more effecient staff as their employees would spend less time looking for the features they need and wasting time using features they don't need. A lot of what people think they need is just old bad habits.


I'm still placing my bet on a future web-based office suite and document collaboration platform. The majority of users just want an easy way to do the tasks they have and don't really want to worry about the details. Most users can't run the copying machine let alone make sense of the advanced features of a complex software suite.

mogmios
2005-10-21 03:33:59
Mozify
Modifying OpenOffice to use Mozilla tech such as XULRunner would be a good start. Maintaining two cross-platform toolkits, component models, etc is pointless and Mozilla's seem to work better and be easier to use. Use the OO.o code for reading and writing documents and merge any features from OO.o that are required and missing from Mozilla.


Sharing resources would push both projects ahead faster and besides OO.o is just ugly and kludged feeling. It could use an interface that could see some rapid experimentation.

simon_hibbs
2005-10-21 05:44:16
Suites give standardisation, and formats are vital.
When I was a student in 1989 I used a computer that ran MS-DOS, but used a slightly non-standard floppy disk format and no hard disk. I used it to write documents and such and print them out, but when I lost access to it I also lost all my data. Functionality and usability is important, but standard formats are VITAL.


I work in a fairly typical corporate environment, and even thoug only about 10% of us actualy produce any presentations, and another 10% ever create spreadsheets, 5% use databases, etc, the fact is that most of us need to be able to at least view these documents. How many people have never needed to open an Excel spreadsheet in their lives? Just because these features are rarely used doesn't make them any less important when you do need to use them.


Perhaps office suites do suffer from some disadvantages compared to 'best of breed' apps, but the interchangeability of documents (be they word processor docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc) is a vital feature and only the degree of standardisation you get from a suite will do for most organisations.


For individual users and very small organisations the situation is different, but large organisations realy don't have any choice but go with suites that use commonly accepted formats beyond the organisation itself. Only Open Documnet, of all the other challenges to Microsoft's hegemony, has the slightest chance of making a difference, because it's all about standardisation and interchangeability of documents.


md2perpe
2005-10-21 16:04:23
Mozillarized...
... is a word and you are its inventor.


Every word has been invented somewhere, somehow, somewhy, somewhen, by somewho... ;-)

zehavoc
2005-10-21 17:38:43
Have a look to what Joel Spolsky said (from joelonsoftware)
How do you make graphic charts in gnumeric and how do you import them in abiword ?
I'll be very happy to find a way to do that... and do answer me tellinge to save the chart in png and import it as a image in abiword. We're in 2005 you know and my time, so as yours, is precious.
I want to modify one value of the chart in abiword and see the graph modified as any one would...


Feel free to send me an how-to.

zehavoc
2005-10-21 17:39:56
Please, use OO for a few days...
I totally agree with you...
maybe they should add a latex-beamer presentation importer in Impress instead of loosing the time of the free developpers who work on it...
EdSanville
2005-11-29 20:15:39
Good idea, but you'll lose too much...
The one weakness of OpenOffice 2.0, in my mind, is definitely bloat. It starts, loads, and saves documents much more slowly than MS Office both at my home and office computers. In addition, it can take up to 5 times as much RAM and virtual memory as MS Office, (even when starting with only a blank document). Don't get me wrong, I love OpenOffice.org, and I think it has a lot of promise... but it's strongest suit is definitely not streamlining.


And, I think it's ironic that you mention throwing out OO Draw, because that's the only component I use regularly from the OO suite. I think it's generally an excellent vector graphics program, that ironically works better with MS Word than with OO Writer from my experience, (I like to make drawings in Draw, and copy/paste them into my Word documents).


Finally, I don't think streamlining and removing features are locked together. I think the best way to improve most open source software is to move toward a "load-as-needed" philosophy to minimize program load times and RAM consumption. I'm not sure of the programming challenges involved in something like that, but I'm sure they're hefty. But, in my mind there's no point in loading tens of megabytes of features into RAM, when all the user wants (for now) is to write a simple letter. Imagine if you pre-loaded every program you use on computer startup? It'd be one hell of a bloated mess.