Thursday, October 25, 2007

KOffice in schools

Following disccussion taken place at Edu-day in aKademy 2007, here is a more precisely opinion than I expressed there:

Right now a big fight is taking place in market between MS Office and OpenOffice. The appearance of the free software suite and ODF has brought a new interest to a sector long time dominated by the old man. But there are, at least, two more choices:

* KOffice, from the KDE desktop

* GNOME Office suite with gnumeric and Abiword in front.

Both free software products, specially designed for linux desktop, are really mature solutions but, for whatever reason, do not have a good market position.

KOffice is a great suite. It's applications are well integrated and the guys that are working on it are good developers with great ideas. That's what it has moved me to write this, to try to help them to get the attention that other office suites have. KOffice is another example of a good product not having its way because market decisions, that is, users or customers decisions.

What do they have to do in order to attract more attention and more users?

I'm sure they know it but let me make some suggestions anyway.

Linux desktops are being really successful in some sectors but, overall, education is the one where is doing better. I think that, if KOffice team focus even more energy in the education market, they can win a small battle that will help them to get into other sectors, into other battles.

Why should they do that? Why is the education sector a good target for KOffice?
1.- OO and M$ are putting more attention on other sector, specially business.

2.- From an usability point of view, both are hard to use and have tons of features that students never use. This means that a small team of smart developers can fit their needs by doing things different. KOffice developers have those skills and the resources needed to become relevant in this new market.

3.- MSOffice and Openoffice are heavy apps. In many schools only old computers are available, so performance problems come along. This has been going worse lately. KDE + KOffice is a killer solution from a performance point of view.

4.- They (M$ and OO) try to be a "one for all" type of app. In education it is much better to use one app for one purpose. Specially with little kids. GNOME has done a good job on this and KOffice has good technical points to achieve it. Only heavy integration with other apps and between office apps justify that politic. OO has a very weak point here, integrating with desktops. M$ only integrates with M$ products the way KDE or GNOME can do it.

5.- Most of the users (specially teachers) do not use anything but the word processor from a office suite. So for most of them, a office suite is not needed. Politics and non experienced (in computers) teachers think they do. Integration with the desktop and other apps is a solution for both of them. In one side, we give teachers what they want. In other hand, we make student use it with apps they like.

6.- Kids use drawing apps. M$ do not have any good one. Integration with the word processor is needed. KOffice is doing a good job on this.

7.- KOffice can be integrated with other apps and desktop features that students love, like IM clients, audio and video players, web services, etc. KOffice can become fun to use. Users see Office suites as boring. They are.

8.- The visual design is not adapted for kids in OO and M$. KOffice can outstand both, specially with the realease of KDE4.

9.- Internationalisation is a key feature for schools that M$ do not have.

10.- First world governments are putting money in linux for schools and they believe (wrongly, in my opinion) that office suites are a key app to teach. Being competitive in this sector will bring a huge attention to this project and to KDE in general.

11.- It would be a good reason for politics to decide to switch from Windows to KDE, avoiding including OO for many profiles, specially students under 12. It would show how powerful linux(and KDE) is in adapting itself to special needs.

12.- KDE is getting popular in schools. KOffice can take advantage of that.

13.- KOffice can have different interfaces for different profiles without having to rewrite the code. An interface for little kids would be an outstanding first step.

14.- KOffice is more suitable to get people involved in its development since is part of KDE project.

15.- Focusing on education do not means to abandon the actual path. I think that, if it is done the right way, putting effort on education would attract more energy into the KOffice team, so the total manpower can be balanced. If that attraction do not happens, the effort is worth it anyway because of the increasing of KOffice users in schools.

16.- It opens a new unexplored market, that means innovation. Innovations is equal to excitement, that means more energy added into KDE.

After my experience in mEDUXa, this is really clear to me. I know people from other edu projects agree, like the guys from Skolelinux. Education is a big opportunity for KOffice. If they (we) don't go for it, somebody else will. It is just a matter of time.
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