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Re: [board-discuss] Some problems.


Hi Michael, all,

to explicitly mention it: While insights I got by working for the City
of Munich certainly played a role in shaping that opinion, whatever I am
writing (and have written) on this topic is "with my volunteer hat on",
i.e. my personal opinion, not necessarily my employer's.

On 07/07/2020 22.13, Michael Meeks wrote:
      This is a short summary of some of the problems that I see
with LibreOffice, and this is written with my personal / Collabora hat
on. People are welcome to question my motivations - but my mission is to
try to nurture a successful FLOSS project that creates excellent FLOSS
Office Productivity software and makes it freely available to all. Many
here will share that goal I hope.

Your (and Collabora's) work for LibreOffice is really much appreciated
and I fully share that goal, but have concerns regarding what I'll call
the "Personal Edition approach".

      Nevertheless there are some big problems currently. Perhaps
you think you have a neat solution to one of them. I'd love to hear
about it - but solving or obsessing about just one is unlikely to do
the job:

I admit I don't have a solution to all problems and certainly not the
experience and insight that others like you have there, in particular
regarding the ecosystem company side.

However, some personal comments/thoughts on some aspects below.


Simplifying and exaggerating a bit, I'd try to sum up the described
problem as "There's not enough revenue for ecosystem companies, but
those are essential for LibreOffice." and the described solution as
"Let's discourage enterprises/organizations from using LibreOffice from
TDF, and hope they'll use paid versions from ecosystem companies instead."

To sum it up, one of my main concerns is that organizations not using
"LibreOffice Personal" doesn't necessarily mean they'll use "LibreOffice
Enterprise". I see a rather high risk in the "LibreOffice Personal
approach" decreasing the overall LibreOffice use/market share, rather
causing organizations to switch to other office suites (or choose them
from the beginning), not just short-term. This probably wouldn't help to
reach the desired goal in the end, but rather have a negative effect on
both, TDF-provided LibreOffice as well as "LibreOffice Enterprise" and
the ecosystem that provides it.

* LibreOffice is at serious risk

      Frustration with how TDF markets and positions its 'product'
(LibreOffice) against the ecosystem that contributes the majority of
the coding work is at an all-time high. That ecosystem itself is under
long term stress.

      Despite years of patient work, writing up the problems here,
talks at conferences, personal pleas for change and improvement, and a
number of tweaks, nothing -effective- has happened. You can read about
the situation here:

https://people.gnome.org/~michael/data/vendor-neutral-marketing.html

Thanks for all the information, that's really informative and helps to
better understand the motivation/background.


* Surely companies have to buy support & security updates ?
  They always complain to me about the lack of support wrt.
  avoiding using FLOSS !

      Sadly no. Microsoft gives poor to non-existent support to the
majority of users so ~no-one expects to buy it, they expect to buy a
product. Enterprises tend to test a version & deploy it to their
desktops and leave it there - they can do that with LibreOffice from
TDF.

From what I have heard, there's also a tendency in (particularly in
large) organizations to only use products backed by some kind of SLA, so
there is some contractor to contact (or blame) in case of problems.
(Whether that helps in practice is another question, but from a
management perspective it seems to be a prerequisite in various settings.)

      So - lets turn this around - can anyone thing of more than
five enterprises that paid for support or instead (just as good)
contributed meaningfully to LibreOffice instead ?  Munich, and ...

At least those 3 quickly came to my mind that IMHO qualify regarding
code contributions (which apparently depends on how you'd define
"meaningfully", though...):

* NISZ
* SIL
* TU Dresden [1]

Regarding paid support, I've at least heard from two or three
organizations, but don't know what amounts of money were/are involved
there; that's certainly something the involved ecosystem companies (so
basically you and Thorsten) know better...


      Of course we maintain and promote lists of enterprises that
deployed for free with no support ?

      => It is the norm to deploy LibreOffice from TDF in
         enterprises, and pay nothing for support &
         maintenance that can go into development.
              + its that good.

Might one (main) problem be that LibreOffice (from TDF as well as its
enterprise derivatives) just is not widely used by companies whose IT
strategy involves paying for their office suites (yet)?


IMHO, it'd be ideal to try to get more organizations switch to
LibreOffice editions from whatever they're using now which I'd expect to
increase demand for professional support as well. At least there seems
to be a trend towards FLOSS in general, which might help here.


As mentioned above, I'm wondering whether "discouraging" the use of some
"LibreOffice Personal" would actually encourage most of the current
users to use some "LibreOffice Enterprise" edition instead or rather
make them switch to alternatives, like e.g. OpenOffice.org, or
proprietary alternatives.


As written in my previous email [2], I agree that many larger
deployments involving "professional use" will probably want to use an
edition with some kind of professional support (e.g. due to Service
Level Agreements, long-term support, more stability, new features) and
the TDF-provided version won't fit their needs, regardless of whether it
has a "Personal" tag attached or not.
Therefore, also from the experiences that the City of Munich made, I
tend to expect that affected organizations will find this out (the
sooner the more they test before actual deployment...). I wouldn't say
(and don't understand what you write as if you would) that the main
problem is that LibreOffice from TDF "just is too good" already by
itself to make professional support unnecessary after all.
(For some organizations, that may be the case, but I'd say this is OK then.)

And for rather ill-managed deployments/organizations, as described e.g.
in the "Marketing – Product expectations" section in your paper, I'm not
so sure whether that's an issue that can actually be solved on
LibreOffice side, but tend to think that those organizations would
rather just continue using "unfit" and outdated versions of LibreOffice
or some alternative instead of switching to "LibreOffice Enterprise".

* You're too expensive: I can get cheaper support from LXYZ instead ?

      Another pathology is that there are companies who ship
LibreOffice, often claiming support, but then file all their tickets
up-stream and hope they are fixed for free. Naturally they are cheaper
in government tenders, they use our brand, they leave the customer
with hundreds of un-fixed bugs, and all of the users with a terrible
experience.

      These companies also seem more 'genuine' since they call their
product 'LibreOffice', as compared to those who actually contribute
who try to build their own brands.

      This is not a small problem; there are many millions of users
in this situation, there are multiple companies I know of with scale
of $10bns in annual revenue, to Linux distros, to local service
companies who do this.

      => The LibreOffice brand is devalued and we have no way
         of telling people that the product they deployed was
         not suitable for deployment in an enterprise and has
         no effective support.

While those companies may not contribute meaningfully to LibreOffice
upstream, I tend to think that they will probably manage to do their own
branded build of LibreOffice ("MyOffice" or whatever, without a
"Personal" tag attached), and then offer that with the same
(nonexisting) support for basically the same price.

* But surely if everyone donates to TDF and all is well ? we
  just need to ask for more donations !

      Currently TDF sits on a ~Eur 1.5 million cash pile yielding a
zero to negative interest rate.

      For various complex, structural, organizational, legal
etc. reasons TDF has managed to effectively tender only one smaller
partial feature (related to ODF 1.3) since the ESC and Board voted for
community submitted items from 2018.

      However - even if TDF spent its existing budget on feature
development it would contribute around 10% of what the ecosystem
currently puts in.

      Possibly if we give TDF 10x more more money - it will become a
more dynamic organization (though still run by a committee of ten);
perhaps that is possible.

That sounds sad and like it would be great to have that improved, even
if it's only a partial solution.
* These naming changes seem to suggest some people need to pay ?
  I won't be able to install it in XYZ enterprise if called Personal

      This is in large part a feature. Clearly people can use it for
free, just as before - but they would occasionally see the splash and
thing: "I wonder why it says Personal" (or another tag) there.

      Probably this nudge alone is enough to try to encourage real
contribution to LibreOffice, and get the numbers of users buying
support and thus contributing, or else contribuing themselves up from
~zero.

This might work, but as mentioned earlier, I see quite high risks it
might in the end make things even worse (and it's hard to guess, which
is true...).

In any case, as others have already said, I personally don't like the
idea of "actively discouraging" the use of TDF's LibreOffice, but it'd
be great to have an approach to more positively encourage the use of
enterprise editions.
Ultimately, the goal should be to somehow convince organizations
currently using other office suites to migrate to LibreOffice
(Enterprise), and I think that the popularity of TDF's LibreOffice plays
a vital role there as well.

Best regards,
Michael


[1]
https://gerrit.libreoffice.org/q/author:tu-dresden.de+status:merged+branch:master

[2]
https://listarchives.documentfoundation.org/www/board-discuss/msg04586.html

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