Just a short note today - it’s an insanely busy week. I’ve been finishing up the web GUI for my print accounting system (previously mentioned) and had to dive into CUPS/IPP to pull out information on whether or not a print job is printed in duplex. I’ve also been going crazy with raw PJL queries to get some information that doesn’t appear to be found in Printer-MIB. In other news, I have an exam Monday moring in a class (Religions of the Eastern World - my non-western requirement) that I’m getting a D in. Then I have an essay for US History II due Thursday - I haven’t even read the books yet.

And Tuesday night, I have my first tech demo as a Sun Campus Ambassador, a short OpenSolaris overview for RUSLUG that should touch on the coll facets of DTrace, Zones, ZFS, etc. as well as the new installer. So it’s going to be a pretty busy weekend. And I’m hard set on doing a kick-ass demo, despite some of the disturbing things I’ve been hearing about Sun lately. If I can get OpenSolaris to boot on my laptop by then, I’ll use that. If not, I guess I’ll be dragging the PowerEdge 2550 over there.

That being said, I was looking through Google Reader this morining (my only source for news) and came by a LinuxInsider article on the upcoming KDE release. Being a user of KDE since 2000, this interested me. However, what struck me was a comment about the new KOffice.

I was speaking with a supervisor at the Rutgers University student computer labs the other day, and was pretty astonished to realize that OpenOffice isn’t loaded on the lab computers. Why? Because 99% of their “patrons” wouldn’t know what it is, and can’t handle choices. Can’t handle choices. Or, at least, don’t want them. It’s attitudes like this that lead to a world where you have ONE cable company, ONE phone company, ONE high-bandwidth ISP, and can only use ONE cellular provider’s equipment on a network. I wonder how those same “patrons” would feel if they went to a car dealer and were offered the option to buy a Honda Accord, a Honda Accord, or maybe a Honda Accord.

As far as I’m concerned, the biggest issue is publicity. The users don’t want choices because they don’t know about them. And I thought that a University was supposed to educate people? How naive of me.

I was hanging out at the ambulance corps that I volunteer with (I have nothing to do with the front-end web site) the other weekend, and one of the women asked whether I had Microsoft Office, since she needed Word for a project. She said she didn’t want to pay $250. I asked her why she couldn’t use OpenOffice. She asked what it was. It’s absolutely wonderful to hear the astonishment in someone’s voice when you tell them that they can download something at no cost that does everything that Word does.

So, my question is how many of these “patrons”, mostly students, would use OpenOffice if they knew about it? More importantly, how many of them would use it if someone told them they don’t *have* to pay $150 to put Word and Excel on their computers? I know the functionality isn’t perfect, but I routinely open, edit, and then save back Word and Excel files in OO without a problem.

So, back to the point of this rant. Choices are good. Fragmentation is not. We have OpenOffice, StarOffice, KOffice, and probably a bunch more. I understand they’re all separate projects with separate goals. But, IMHO, one of the biggest problems with open-source (and no-cost) alternatives to proprietary software is getting the word out there. And fragmentation makes that so much harder. If you ask a Windows or Mac user what office package is most prominent, they’ll probably say MS Office. If you ask three Linux users, you’ll likely get three different answers.

This isn’t about the moral battle of Free/Open Source vs. closed or proprietary. This is about user experience. If there’s a no-cost (and even better, Free) package out there that does almost everything a $150-300 package does, users should have the right to try it and see if it works for them. And I can think of few places where that’s more important than cash-starved college kids.


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