Thoughts on the certification

On the 7th of May 2012 The Document Foundation has announced its first certification program. This certification is aimed at professionals who are interested in having their skillset certified in order to provide professional services to their customers. The program is currently being rolled out, in fact the first official certification meeting will take place at the LinuxTag next week. I would like to explain what we are trying to achieve in a bit more details by shedding some light on the reasons such a program came into existence.

Historically, has been one of the most downloaded Free Software out there and one of the most used (the real market share was estimated to be around 15%, far higher than the estimates based on the shipment of MS Office) all around the world. But for all its user base, proved incapable to growing a vibrant ecosystem of support and service providers, value-added resellers, OEMs and integrators. Initiatives had been launched with mixed success. Judging by its yield and popularity, was a complete business failure – and not just to Sun’s own bottomline.

The reasons for this are a bit difficult to explain, but a certain number had to do with the lack of project governance and ability to decide for itself on one side, and the lack of business development and proper management of the project towards the wider FOSS business ecosystem. Beyond the poor growth of the business ecosystem, this led to unsatisfactory situations. Potential or existing professional users of very often asked questions about the future of the project, and wanted to know what would happen if Sun ever pulled the plug. They wanted to make sure that the service provider they had selected would be able to effectively contribute a patch. Worse, because of the hazy governance of the project, trademark enforcement was almost non-existent and anyone could claim to be an expert in migrations and support. This is how some large scale migrations ended up in disaster, while real experts were not called and no revenue was coming to them; this is also how fraudulent websites could trick unsuspecting visitors in downloading spyware or in making them pay their download.

The certification program we announced does nothing in the way of trademark enforcement of course. But it helps with the former, that is, to grow the business ecosystem and make sure potential users and customers enjoy a real clarity when it comes to professional skills around LibreOffice. Right now we are starting with LibreOffice development professionals, but we will be rolling out other skills category such as migration specialists, trainers, etc. The net benefit is that by structuring the business ecosystem around LibreOffice we let the people who provide real added value gain visibility and official status, while on the other end of the rope, companies or administrations are able to make a clear and informed choice. This in turn greatly diminishes failures in deployments and migrations and provides interested professionals with the opportunity to train and become certified professionals.

We will see how this program works, and I’m confident it will; after all, while it’s correct to assume it’s a first for a FOSS project to create such a certification program, it’s however not unusual to have trained and certified professionals in the FOSS industry. I’m particularly thinking about the LPI certification from the Linux Professional Institute or the JBoss certified professionals. We, in turn, would like to see the Certification Program becoming as prevalent as these two, but only time will tell how well it is accepted and adopted. In any case, we’re in this for the long run, so stay tuned for more announcements in this field.

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