Community Articles: Opinions, Interviews, Analyses
2001 October 2
On Builds and Community Participation
The statistics from two weeks ago are clear: over 62,000 downloads of the code, a number that includes both binaries and source. The other figures, which measure mail list subscribers and participation, are equally affirming. But why? Why so many downloads? Why so much activity? Yes, the code is more usable than ever before. And, yes, the community has become large enough that any growth is geometric, meaning that we will expect to see big increases in downloads and participation. But these causes don't seem fully to explain the effects.
The numbers, of course, need some interpretation. Some people may be downloading more than once, for instance. But it seems overwhelmingly the case that OpenOffice.org is now reaching a large number of endusers. Doubtless, one clear reason is because OpenOffice.org is more usable now than ever before. Build 638 is solid and functional; it works--and it is free. These are strong inducements. And, its immediate successor, the current download, Build 638c, has fixed some bugs and is even better. What is more, and totally unique to OpenOffice.org, Kevin Hendricks' and the Mac group have put together a Linux PPC build (for Macintoshes), which will run on Yellow Dog Linux and probably other Linuxes for the Macintosh. Information on where to download this build will be available on the Mirrors page.
Build 638c, which contains much of the same code as StarOffice 6.0 Beta, needs hard testing beginning now, so that the next build (641) can reasonably claim the status of being ready for daily use. (Build 641 will likely be a more finished version of StarOffice 6.0.) A point of distinction: StarOffice 6.0 is Sun's product that uses code taken from OpenOffice.org source. But OpenOffice.org code is not fully congruent with StarOffice; there are significant differences, not the least of which is that OpenOffice.org code is Open Source and therefore open by the community for improvement. (Recently, the issue of naming the releases and clarifying the identity of the community was raised; I urge readers to go to the page and review the proposal.)
So, I encourage all members to download the build and file issues using IssueZilla when you come across problems. Remember, that to file an issue you must first be a registered user of OpenOffice.org. There'll be more announcements regarding how to send in bug reports later on this week and the next, but users can learn now how to use IssueZilla by going to the Bugs and Issues page.
Filing issues will enable the project's developers to improve the code; it is also a way in which all users can participate--and the way, quite honestly, in which we can bring those users who simply want to use the code into the OpenOffice.org community. For the number of downloads far exceeds the number of registered users (between four and five thousand) and mail-list subscribers (around 3600). The suite clearly appeals to users who are not actual participants in the community. This is to be expected; and it is a sign of our so-far success, that OpenOffice.org has gone from primarily being "pre-alpha" to something recognized as usable by tens of thousands of people outside the narrow circumference of our community. But we need all those "eyeballs" (as Linus Torvalds has described the regular user) to send in all the bugs they find and issues they have with the software. Otherwise, despite our growing popularity and increased visibility, the code will not develop as quickly.
And--get this--OpenOffice.org has done virtually no marketing, conducted no expensive advertising campaigns, hired no strategists to get the word out. But Microsoft has, and it is my guess that in addition to offering a product that works beautifully, we are also offering something--a product and attitude and community--that is also beautiful. Not harshly suspicious of its clientele, not burdensome. Rather an environment that is friendly and by and large supportive of people's ideas and work (however sometimes contentious!): a community.
So, if you have not already registered with OpenOffice.org, please do so. We need your help in perfecting the coming build, which will not only be ready for every-day use, but may also function as a beta for Sun's Star Office. And if you want things included in future builds of OpenOffice.org, there is no better way to express your desires than to join the projects building the code.
Along these, lines, our popularity prompts some evaluation of our current structure and relation to the enduser. To this end, we now have a marketing project in the Whiteboard (where community-sponsored projects are located), and a recently created User Interface project. I urge members to visit the project, which was created and is managed by Oliver Specht, and to join in, if they can.
Both projects point to the recognition among community members that OpenOffice.org is maturing. Given that our anniversary is fewer than two weeks away, the timing is apt. We will be able to announce to the world that we have succeeded in ways that decisively trounce any skepticism about Open Source development projects and about the ability to build an office software suite that doesn't just try to copy what Microsoft's Office does but rather builds something new: code and community that works together