What we know about Oracle Cloud Office, OpenOffice.org

Product announcements have raised questions Oracle and OpenOffice.org don't want to answer. Here's what we know.

Oracle Corp. calmed the fears of tens of millions of OpenOffice.org users when it declared it would keep supporting the free open-source productivity suite following its merger with Sun Microsystems Inc.

It also cheered anti-Microsoft Office factions when it said it would deliver a Web version called Oracle Cloud Office. However, Oracle's brief announcements also raised a number of questions that neither the company nor OpenOffice.org wanted to answer. Here's what we know:

1. What will Oracle Cloud Office look like?

There are many routes Oracle can take with Cloud Office. Will it be a lightweight app that emphasizes Web-based collaboration, a la Google Docs? One that relies on compatibility with its better-known sibling (Microsoft Office) as its chief selling point, such as the upcoming Office Web? Or one that tries to replicate the breadth of OpenOffice.org's features and go head-to-head against the similarly-broad Zoho?

Oracle chief corporate architect Ed Screven didn't say during his talk last week. But Raju Vegesna, chief evangelist at Zoho, argues that necessity will guide Oracle's strategy. "To bring that entire feature set online would take significant effort," he said. Zoho spent five years rewriting its Zoho Mail client into a Web app, despite its 350-strong corps of developers. "People underestimate the effort involved."

By comparison, Sun reportedly only employed 50 developers for OpenOffice.org. And OpenOffice.org is notorious for its large, tricky codebase, written primarily in C++ and Java. The codebase is so sprawling that one web site, the SourceForge-owned Ohloh, estimates that it would take $411 million dollars and 7,473 programmer man-years to rewrite it from scratch.

The trouble with a lightweight offering, says Guy Creese, an analyst with the Burton Group, is that it will limit its attractiveness to corporate customers — the ones Screven said Oracle wants to win.

2. Will Web-enabling OpenOffice.org be difficult, then?

Not necessarily, judging by the trio of companies outside of Sun that have done it.

One Nevada start-up called ZoooS LLC showed off a preview for a Web-hosted version of OpenOffice.org a year-and-a-half ago. A partially functional version was apparently abandoned by its creators a year ago. The Firefox add-on, compatible only with version 2.x, is still available for download.

A little-known group called OpenOffice.org Anywhere recently put up browser-based version of OpenOffice.org, for which it charges 65 cents an hour.

Most successfully, French open-source start-up Ulteo used its application streaming technology to host OpenOffice.org on the Web. That attracted 95,000 users, who enjoyed better over-the-wire performance than from the desktop version of OpenOffice.org, said CEO Thierry Koehrlen. Ulteo was never approached by Sun to help develop a Web version, he said.

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