And that’s a good question that was debated, and settled, during the wonderful OOoCon 2009 that took place in Orvieto . Now you might ask whether someone came up with figures or a precise market percentage. It was not exactly the way it happened. We still (and will always) have real difficulties quantifying market shares for OpenOffice.org . Usually, you need a way to track your distribution and the number of copies or replicates of goods you sell/distribute. Because software is immaterial there are different ways to calculate the use of specific software, although the way it is accounted for is often flawed. Web browsers, for instance can be identified with their user agents and by surveying a necessary incomplete “scope” of the Internet, asking websites for their statistics, one ends up with sometimes interesting and accurate data about the “market penetration”, more than the market “share” of any given web browser. Of course, this data is by definition inaccurate, because only one small portion of web sites are surveyed and that tech-savy users may change their user agents for a variety of reasons. Another way to track this is downloads. Downloads, even counting unique IP addresses, do not even account for the real usage of software, but they only give a rough idea of the “momentum” and what I call the calcification of the software surveyed. By calcification I mean something less accurate than market share or market penetration.
Calcification is an indication of the global number of people who actually use the software, because downloading is inherently a voluntary action, and an action induced by curiosity and hearsay. Over a certain period of time, therefore, negative hearsay reduces the average number of downloads to a trickle or to a certain category of people who are happy to use it. When the growth of the download rate is important, it does not mean that more people have access to the Internet. It means that hearsay, let alone curiosity, is working well, and that it’s positive hearsay going around. That’s what’s happening with OpenOffice.org. For over two years now we had scattered and sometimes sparse (for lack of actual information) reports that download rates were going north at full speed, but the raw data we were analyzing revealed important surges for specific language (French, Italian, or Chinese) while the rest was progressing at a slower rate. At Orvieto, we celebrated the “Cento Millioni” conference, because OpenOffice.org 3.1.1 had made us hit the symbolic threshold of 100 million downloads. I think above this level we’re getting the respects of Matt Asay, but I’m unsure of this.
Although these 100 million downloads are an accomplishment and a tribute to the unwavering commitment of our community of users, developers and contributors in general, I think we should consider this number as a weak signal of an impressive global momentum in favor of the adoption of OpenOffice.org on any platform. Another trend was discussed at Orvieto, one I find much more telling. In several, actually many countries, we see an impressive uptake of OpenOffice.org “on the field”. By this I mean that we’re having clear indications and reports that not only do people download OpenOffice.org but that they stop using Microsoft Office altogether. Of course this last trend -abandoning MS Office- is not going to be witnessed soon, for two reasons: MS Office’s market share is accounted by entreprise sales and by OEM bundling. Because Microsoft’s domination is encroached on well-known monopolistic practices, we are often put in the situation where market shares ‘ comparison ends up very much like comparing apples and bananas: The office suite market is a Microsoft Office market, with different slices owned by different pedigrees of Microsoft Office, while any outside incumbet is left at the fringe as the calculation method ignores downloads and values “entreprise sales” and OEM contracts.
In this regard, what we witnessed in Orvieto was important. For the first time we recorded about a dozen regions, states and any sort of upper administrative layers in many countries (Italy, Germany, South America, India, etc.) that migrated to OpenOffice.org and is effectively using it. In some countries, some of them earth giants and some others lesser giants, we witnessed purely and simply a national uptake. Brazil is a very telling example of this. It started by Brazilian states and the migration went up to the federal state. After that it reached large central administrations, central banks, large companies, and is now spreading to small businesses. We estimate today between 7 and 30 Million professional desktops that have been migrated to OpenOffice.org in Brazil. It is always possible that Brazilian citizens themselves are craving for MS Office and therefore lined up in IT stores to purchase licenses from Microsoft but local observers seemed skeptical of that. Brazil, some might think, might be the exception in all this (even if it were, what are you doing of their market share?) but we got very clear reports that such phenomena are witnessed elsewhere; albeit on a reduced scale. OpenOffice.org is gaining users in almost every public sector in the world, and gaining many more in the private sector (both small and large companies) while it’s quickly becoming the well known free (as in beer) alternative to Microsoft Office at home.
My friend Italo Vignoli is adamant at stressing that the infamous Ribbon put Microsoft in trouble, as it frustrated users. That’s possible, but I think it’s far to be the only reason why Microsoft is bleeding users and customers these days. It’s a combination of factors, but most of all, the coming of age of a great office suite that liberates people from vendor lock-in and false promises. “It will be better with the next version” became an all-too well known song to the ears of everyone. OpenOffice.org delivers quality, ease of use, convenience and freedom, and it shows.
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