Editor's Note: Get the Facts Yourself, Redmond
Mar 17, 2006, 23:30 (25 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Brian Proffitt
I went to Vincennes University on Tuesday to give a talk about
the technological and business structure of Linux and open source
software. There were about 70 students in the audience, and I think
the talk went well. (At least no one passed out from sheer
It was a mix of business and computer students, with the
computer students comprising of about one part programmers and
three parts system and network admins. Interestingly, during the
Q&A session, it was the alpha male of the programmer gang who
seemed to have the most trouble believing that Linux was a viable
desktop solution, asking me if I really believed it was more stable
I responded that in all my years of using computers, I'd only
seen two full-blown system crashes on Linux, and countless blue
screens of death on Windows machines. He indicated that the
opposite was true--he'd seen plenty of kernel panics and only a few
BSODs. This was one of those discussions best taken off-line, since
the rest of the audience was getting quickly bored with the
technical back and forth. Unfortunately, the kid left before I
could ask him just how the heck he got so many panics--though I
suspect it was due to his work as a programmer.
Clearly, though, the concept of open source had not impressed
him or, it appeared, his cadre. Vincennes University as a whole,
however, is very much embracing open source, having implemented it
in quite a few IT courses with more plans on the way. Very exciting
After getting back to the home office, I found an anonymous note
in the contrib queue of Linux Today (the page where I see all of
the story recommendations sent in via the site). It was titled
"Fake Microsoft Story?" and pointed to a
URL on Microsoft Malaysia's Web site. I read it, and what was a
good day became that much better.
Though you wouldn't think of it when you read the article's
title: "Jukebox Eliminates Inefficiencies by dropping OpenOffice
For Microsoft Office," this article contains some gross
inaccuracies that reflect poorly on either the vendor, the
customer, or both. The article is a case study about Malaysian
retail shoe company Harian Shoes Sdn Bhd, which is known for its
Jukebox chain of stores in that Asian nation.
Apparently, according to the study, Harian switched over to
OpenOffice.org a while back and found that they didn't like it:
"However, [Harian] got less than it bargained for when it
discovered the application had certain weaknesses such as the
unreliable conversion of documents to Microsoft Office format. In
addition, the company's IT users spurned OpenOffice [sic],
preferring to use Microsoft Office which was installed on some of
the company's PCs."
Now, right away, you have to wonder: "unreliable conversion of
documents"? What's that about? I remember a time when documents
saved as .doc or .xls in OpenOffice.org were slightly off in
formatting (usually on documents that were heavily formatted to
begin with), but that old bugaboo hasn't been trotted out in quite
some time. But, even if you buy into this problem, there are some
serious contradictions in this story, most of them surrounding the
issue of timing.
You see, according to the Harian employee interviewed for the
study, Marketing Manager Anson Leow, Harian migrated to
OpenOffice.org in the "late 1990's."
Hello? Late 1990s? That would be a neat trick, considering
OpenOffice.org didn't even exist back then.
OpenOffice.org, the open source offspring of Sun Microsystem's
StarOffice, was not released to the general public until October
13, 2000. (It was announced on July 19, 2000.) In the late 1990s,
only StarOffice was available.
While a few year's difference may not seem like much, it pokes a
huge hole in the veracity of this case study. Because either the
case study is misrepresenting the time factor, the products
involved, the problems with the non-MS Office products, or some
combination of all of these.
Here are a few ideas about what I think really could have
Scenario #1: Harian adopted StarOffice in the late 1990s, not
OpenOffice.org. This seems plausible because StarOffice did had
more problems with handling the Office formats back then. Sun had
just acquired the technology from Star Division and wasn't putting
a huge coding effort into it, other than making everything in the
But then why not say this was StarOffice in the first place?
Well, for one, it blows any chance for the case study to use the
"no vendor support" line of FUD. If Harian were using StarOffice,
and claimed they couldn't get help, then everyone would ask "what
about Sun?" Plus, and I think this very likely, why point fingers
at new business buddy Sun when you can just what a poor,
"defenseless" open source community?
Scenario #2: Harian adopted StarOffice in the late 1990s, then
OpenOffice.org when it became available. That still accounts for
the alleged format problems, and the discrepancy of the products'
timelines. Still, if that were the case, then Harian's IT staff was
so not on the ball. If they were really having trouble
with StarOffice, why in the world would they re-deploy
OpenOffice.org? Perhaps the problems weren't so bad after all?
Scenario #3: Harian adopted OpenOffice.org, but later than the
"late 1990s." This makes a bit of sense, since one of the chief
advantages cited for their initial switch was the fact that
OpenOffice.org was free--something StarOffice wasn't for commercial
deployments. But then, why the wrong date? You could argue a simple
misrememberance, but this glaringly wrong fact makes the other
facts in the case study that much more suspect. Though if you look
at it, you will see a strong absence of facts regarding their
reverse migration to Office.
For example, how much did Harian's move back to Office cost?
Leow's only comment on this described a "small initial investment."
Given that Office retails for around $300-$400 (depending on how
you get it) and Harian has 31 stores and who-knows-how many
desktops in their company, I question the use of the term
Unless, of course, you count the big price break Harian probably
got for participating in this case study.
Another question I have is, regardless of when Harian started
using OpenOffice.org, the case study is quite explicit on the fact
that they migrated back to Office in 2005. Even if they started
with OpenOffice.org in 2000, that's five years of "suffering" with
an office suite. I'm sorry, but if an application that was a major
part of my business' productivity model was giving me that kind of
difficulty, I'm sure I would not wait five years to make a switch
back to what I was using. In fact, if Harian had tested
OpenOffice.org on a trial basis and really, truly discovered these
conversion problems, why the heck would they deploy company
Finally, how accurately portrayed were these problems? Leow
states: "Unlike Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice [sic] didn't
have full functionalities for pivot tables, standard deviation,
indexing and hyperlink functionalities." Really?
OpenOffice.org has had pivot table functionality since 1.1.2
(it's called data pilot), and I know you can do standard
deviations. I know there's an INDEX function in Calc and, by golly,
there seems to be an Insert|Hyperlink menu command in my version of
In the interests of fairness, I tried to contact Leow via
e-mail, and posed these questions to him. As of press time, he has
This article is another jab at Microsoft's open source
competition, one that is replete with misrepresentations and
factual errors. IT customers should take away this article as a
reminder of just how far Microsoft will go to hold on to their