OpenOffice - buggy. Open Source - limiting.

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So says a man who worked on OpenOffice in the past. In a Guardian piece entitled 'If this suite's a success, why is it so buggy?', Andrew Brown claims that 'The OpenOffice project vividly illustrates the limitations of open source as a way of producing software.'

Of all the myths that have grown up around open source software, perhaps the most pervasive is Eric Raymond's aphorism that "Many eyes make bugs shallow", suggesting that if lots of people can view a program's source code, they will find and fix its errors more quickly than commercial products whose code is jealously guarded. The only problem with this is that it's not true - certainly not in one of the flagship projects of open source, OpenOffice.

It's a long read, and is plainly talking about Open Source as it relates to enormous projects only, but it's fairly damning. For example:

So why is OpenOffice so dire? The project claims more than 50m downloads of the software, so let's assume that 50m people have tried it at least once.

and

Meanwhile, there are some simple, hugely irritating bugs that are four years old. Two obvious ones: notes (or comments, as Word users call them) don't have word wrap; and spaces typed at the end of a line won't show. It's not many eyes making bugs shallow; more like many eyes making bugs invisible.

Most software has similar irritations. But complex open source projects seem uniquely badly placed to fix them. They rely on a very small group of programmers relative to the user base, and who have no direct incentive to work on the bugs that are important to users.

Having said early on in the piece that he does, despite appearances, actually like OpenOffice, he finishes with the following:

Perhaps like Microsoft Windows, which took many goes to hit its stride, OpenOffice 3.1 will be a world beater. But if it is, it will have nothing to do with the fact that any user can, in theory, fix things they don't like. It will be because large companies such as Sun, Google, and IBM have decided that open source is the cheapest way to gang up on Microsoft, because it means they need spend nothing on support.

But, for what it's worth, I still think OpenOffice may be better for books than Microsoft Word.

You out there Claus?

Comments

Well, it's ridiculous isn't it?

Yeah, I'm out here allright ;-)

Sidenote: Don't understand the expression "may be better for books" - is that because he's budget conscious, but still wonders if free=cheaper than MS?
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Anyway, it's interesting. I do some work with the Microsoft Office software; that is, extensions to that software (It's like programming, only it's done inside an Office environment so you can make Office do stuff it normally doesn't do)

It's got bugs. Plenty. Yes, Microsoft Office has bugs. You don't even have to get into programming to meet them (but granted, you have to be an advanced user).

I would actually risk saying that every software known to man has either bugs or unforeseen limitations or both.

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Quote:
Meanwhile, there are some simple, hugely irritating bugs that are four years old. Two obvious ones: notes (or comments, as Word users call them) don't have word wrap; and spaces typed at the end of a line won't show.

Those two are not obvious at all. Why should spaces at the end of a line show? Spaces are spaces, right? Invisible characters, like:

(in case you wonder there are 20 of them at the end of the line above)

And notes: These are not the footnotes or endnotes that you use in documents to write stuff that is slightly out of context but still important. No, these are the notes that in Microsoft Office typically aren't visible at all until you mouse over some very little red dot or something (in Excel it's tiny red dots anyway). In Word they would typically say "Added: Username" or "Deleted: Username" or something.

So, these are not really obvious errors as the author of that article suggests. They are probably annoying as hell to him, but they are not likely to be the center of the universe to most users - or programmers for that matter.

The essence of the matter is that with Microsoft Office you have to look just a little more than that to find bugs. MS products are generally really well-tested, you have to give them credit for that. So, when you find bugs you know that you are trying to do something with the program that not many users will ever try to do.

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And after all those words... It's exactly the same with OpenOffice, and/or any other open- or closed source programming project.

Those bugs that get solved first are the most annoying ones. Bugs in features that are rarely used (or, bugs that the users see as features, cf. possibly, the "space bug") are rarely reported at all, and if they're hardly reported, they're hardly going to get solved.

The difference is that while Microsoft can afford to have staff occupied with user testing, Open Source projects can not. The latter type of projects are depending on the user base to do the testing, and -- most important -- to report their findings.

So, my advice to the above author would be to report those bugs to the developers if he has not already done so. And if they were originally reported four years ago (by him or somebody else), it might be time to ask for a status report on them.

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Quote:
suggesting that if lots of people can view a program's source code, they will find and fix its errors more quickly than commercial products whose code is jealously guarded. The only problem with this is that it's not true

This guy was, or is a developer, right? He should know that the only way to get a problem fixed is if somebody sits down and fixes it!

50M downloads, even 50M users are not the same as 50M developers. Not even remotely the same as 100M eyes at the source code. You can't really compare the number of developers to the number of users, like that. Most users don't look at source code. At all. They're users, for chrissake!

That said, of course they will find and fix the errors, - if

1) it's important enough to them, and
2) if they're able to fix them, and
3) if they've got time for it.

In this case, the authour might personally be able to say yes to one and two. Still the bugs that are annoying him are not fixed. After four years, even

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I should add that I don't know the author, haven't RTFA, don't know the bug history of said bugs, and don't develop OpenOffice myself. So, the above is only based on common sense as they say. Of course, YMMV.

MS products well tested?

Yes, I'll maintain that opinion. And I do know about the box-model-border-bug in IE and that kind of stuff (even if I don't know the right name for it :-), but still, when you find bugs (quoting myself, sorry)

Quote:
... you know that you are trying to do something with the program that not many users will ever try to do

Users, as in "Aunt Emmy" or "Bro Joe". They couldn't really care less if your "div" (and what's a "div" anyway?) was two ...whatwasthat... pitzels? pretzels? thinner or thicker than in that other program.

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*ducks* (quack, quack *lol*)

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