Community Articles: Opinions, Interviews, Analyses
12 April 2001
What Must Be Done: The Mac OS X Port
It's no exaggeration to say that the Mac community has been eagerly awaiting the release of the OpenOffice.org port to Mac OS X. And I have to count myself among them. Thus, when I learned of Sun's decision to hand over further development of the port to the Open Source community, specifically OpenOffice.org, my feelings were mixed.
On the one hand, I confess to being a little disappointed. I was looking forward to using StarOffice this month on my brand-new, utterly beautiful Mac, and grumble now that I'll have to wait until the port is completed by the Open Source community.
But this news--that the Open Source community is now responsible for the port--is hardly disappointing. In fact, from my perspective as an Open Source advocate and Mac aficionado, the news is rather exciting. For what Sun has done is take the Open Source community at its word and offer it what is in effect the chance to prove itself.
Specifically the Mac Open Source community, which now must finish the work that Sun has begun--and Sun has gone a long way already. In this sense, then, it is indeed a radical transfer of responsibility and management: from a corporate structure, largely opaque to outside eyes, in which engineers craft the software as a finished commodity for consumers, to an Open Source community, where there is a strong, structural, and active link between the maker of the product and the user of the product.
I'm not sure that theorists of Open Source play up that angle enough, and it's important. So I'll emphasize it here. The link between the maker and the user is, in Open Source, a working link that is ultimately pragmatic in a way typical commodity relations never can be. That's because the Open Source work addresses the real needs the consumer (no: user!) has and at a cost (often close to free: as in beer) that is compelling both for the large U.S. corporation tired and no longer so economically able to divert thousands upon thousands of dollars for incessant, meaningless upgrades ("upgrades" that deal merely with prior problems), and for businesses overseas that must deal with a wholly different economic environment and a language far removed from the default English in which the software has, without a doubt, been written for.
In contrast, Open Source software resolves the needs of a company both by being responsive to user demand--developers constantly work on a project, and no project is ever deemed finished, for users constantly raise new points--and by being, very likely, actually affordable by the users who need to use the software in the first place. But all this propaganda for Open Source is old hat, at least for the OpenOffice.org community: we've heard it before. Yet, not only is it good to hear again, but I recite these truths to situate the real value of having the Mac OS X port to OpenOffice.org code available now for development.
And it needs development for that value to be realized. More accurately, the port needs the developmental efforts of the vaunted Mac community--now. Individuals can certainly build the port--the instructions are clear enough and the engineers did a beautiful job. But to shape the code into something that will provide what users need--that will require more than a team effort; it will require a concerted community effort.
So I call on the Mac developers in the OpenOffice.org community and even outside our community to start the race. Of course, this means that we will have to reach out to Mac developers who might otherwise not venture to this community. Let us, then. We can email developers in OS X communities, post messages and notices, and emphasize what the stakes are and what the rewards are. Both are high: a superior office suite designed to run natively in Mac OS X (Apple's soon-to-be default OS), designed for real users, and supported by the Open Source community.
And we must start now.
Mac OS X Porting Information
For links to Mac OS X developers, see, as a start:
Apple Open Source Mailing Lists: http://www.opensource.apple.com/projects/mail.html
MacNN OS X: http://osx.macnn.com/