The other day I got somewhat puzzled, like many people by the new pricing of the former Sun ODF plugin for Microsoft Office. There was first this button “free download” that was really pointing to a page displaying a price of 90$ for the dowload. I then went back on it, and perhaps I did not read this page well or they changed something. In any case, I noticed the mention “free download” had gone away, simply replaced by a generic red dowload button and so I clicked on it. What I saw was very different from the odd perception I and many others had gotten.
The dowload page does indeed not bear any mention of the 90$, but allows different lengths of support contract that amounts maximum to 90$ (5 years support). Now you have to purchase this plugin by pack of 100, which obviously changes the price somewhat, but also indicates the plugin is targeted at medium or large organizations, indirectly telling much of what Oracle’s perception of the market of Microsoft Office users interested by ODF is.
I have read several blogs, dents and tweets on whether this 90$ a seat is a really good thing for ODF. Let me bring a very short, simple answer to it: It’s good for Oracle’s revenue. Whether it will work is perhaps too early to tell, but it’s somewhat assumed here that you can dowload ODF compliant office suites, such as Openoffice.org, for free, or choose the plugin, or even choose Oracle’s own commercial support of OpenOffice.org. What we’re witnessing here can be seen as harming the adoption of ODF, but I’m not convinced by this. I will not go over Openoffice.org’s tremendous and continuing growth, nor the development of ODF tools and APIs but I don’t think the Sun’s ODF Plugin, as strategic as it was at the time of Peter Quinn, was much more than an opportunity to try document conversions and different formats. At best, it was a good opportunity to have a conversation with a vendor. At worst, the new price tag might reduce these opportunities. But I think this, again misses the point.
What Oracle is doing here is what Sun should have done all the way back: extracting actual revenues from its expertise on ODF, whether by providing support on Openoffice.org or engaging into large migration projects. To be sure, Sun had such commercial offerings, but because of its internal organization and a certain market configuration, it never realized the potential revenue it could make. The key here is not to monetize on everything for the sake of it. The key is to realize that:
- there is no market for OpenOffice.org nor any other non Microsoft Office suites. Surprised? The market as it stands today only applies to Microsoft Office versions. Procurements, measurements, feature requirements are all based on the assumption that one or several versions of Microsoft Office suites will be used and purchased. Until governments or large organizations change their own definition of requirements to stop matching Microsoft Office patterns and similarities, anything between OpenOffice.org to Google Docs will be the underdog and sales strategies embrace a “good enough” type of discourse towards the customer.
- there are in fact very few companies customers can turn to that can deliver level 2, let alone level 3 support services on OpenOffice.org . The reason is that the code is complex, the community is complex, and that the technology itself is complex. OpenOffice.org is very much a standalone software suite. Microsoft Office gets sold by licenses, but SharePoint is becoming quickly the new cashcow for Microsoft. So the market is blurred by IT service companies that promise everything in the form of global service contracts but they seldom get reassurance from their own end at the original vendor or any other qualified party. I remember last year a very large IT service company had sold a several million general support contract to a large French organization, ensuring the customer it was able to offer level 3 support on OpenOffice.org. It turns out their level 3 was very much calling me on a Monday morning and asking me grave, but expansive questions, and by doing so they were not even expecting to pay me for my time. Now these guys never paid Sun for an incident ticket, and that’s a practice that should be stopped. The customers will benefit, and so will the people who do the real job. I think and I hope that’s what Oracle is in the process of doing: enabling the monetization of its investment on OpenOffice.org and ODF. Too bad if it’s shocking some people out there.
This being said, it does not rule out that this confusing notion of 90$ a MS Office plugin might prove a bad business decision for Oracle. ODF as a format and as an ecosystem will not be affected (too much) but what I see as a growing concern is somewhat different, yet related: Oracle needs to listen to the community, and not treat it as some sort of fan club. Community engagement means something, and trusting it also means a lot. Not everything can be sold, monetized, especially not people. Let’s hope Oracle will not remain forever silent with us on this.