VaporOffice

Last October, I wrote “Matters Unix”, debunking the misconception that there was a massive influx of open source Unix GUI applications being ported to Mac OS X. Regarding OpenOffice, I wrote:

Next to Mozilla, the biggest-name Unix app for the masses is OpenOffice. And OpenOffice for Mac OS X is a steaming pile of shit. It’s not just that it looks like crap (where by “crap”, I mean “Windows 95”), it feels like crap, too. That there exist plans to turn OpenOffice into a genuine Mac app at some point in the future is no consolation — open source vaporware is no better than commercial vaporware.

I took a bit of flak for this — not for describing the existing X11 version as a “steaming pile of shit”, but for describing the native Mac OS X port as “vaporware”. Vaporware is considered a strong pejorative in the open source community, and the email I received went along the lines of: How dare you describe OpenOffice for Mac OS X as ‘vaporware’? The OpenOffice group is working their asses off to bring this much-needed software to Mac OS X, on their own time. Who are you to insult them?

Insult or not, however, vaporware is precisely apt. As defined in the American Heritage Dictionary: New software that has been announced or marketed but has not been produced.

The vapor-to-bits ratio went even higher last month, when the OpenOffice project announced that a native OS X version wasn’t expected until 2006.

Blowhard Andrew Orlowski followed this announcement with a column in The Register, which included comments from Dan Williams, one of two developers actively working on the project. Wrote Williams to Orlowski:

[…] anyone who’s pissed about this could have been helping out. Over the past two years, there have been a total of TWO half-time developers on this port, and for both of us that half-time is completely volunteer outside of full-time jobs. That’s simply not enough man-hours. We’ve always needed more people, but nobody wants to work on something that’s not Aquafied yet.

And then Orlowski wrote:

[…] it’s a shame that such an important Macintosh project can’t find more resources. […] Contributing to a major product that will be widely used in corporate environments must have some downstream benefits for coders involved?

So now we’re going to pretend it’s a mystery why developers aren’t beating down a path to develop OpenOffice for OS X? How about the obvious answer: it doesn’t pay. Creating a top-notch user experience is extremely hard work, and it takes a lot of time. Wondering why your friendly neighborhood Mac developer doesn’t devote his nights and weekends to volunteering for OpenOffice is like wondering why your friendly neighborhood barber doesn’t spend his spare time giving free haircuts.

Orlowski thinks there must be some “downstream benefits for coders” who write software widely used by corporations? Um, how about the upstream benefit of getting paid for their time?

Orlowski concludes with a not-so-gentle hint that Apple ought to provide the manpower:

[Sun product marketing manager Irwin] Tenhumberg confirmed that Sun doesn’t provide internal coding manpower to the Mac community, as it packages versions for Windows, Linux and Solaris as StarOffice.

“It’s more in Apple [sic] interests than ours to provide more than backline support for OpenOffice,” he told us.

Quite.

Actually, no. It’s not necessarily in Apple’s interests at all. OpenOffice is a cross-platform suite intended to run on a variety of systems. Apple’s business is making Macintosh computers, and writing Macintosh software.

Surely Apple is not satisfied with the current state of office software for Mac OS X (which is to say, dominated by Microsoft). Quite the contrary. But if they respond by assigning Apple developers to write office software, it’s going to be Mac software, designed and owned by Apple. E.g. Keynote.

Or take Safari. The rendering engine at its core is based on the open source KHTML library, and Apple is sharing their improvements and bug fixes with the original KHTML team. But the browser itself, Safari, is Apple’s and Apple’s alone.

Would I like to see a new office suite for Mac OS X, better and/or cheaper than Microsoft Office? Of course — who wouldn’t? But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to be produced by volunteer labor.

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