Sometimes, it seems, the best and most promising pieces of Free Software can be found in the most unlikely places. OpenGoo is no exception. For those unfamiliar with OpenGoo, it is a GPL’ed web office and productivity suite, similar to Google Docs. I don’t think that most people realize OpenGoo IS the future, not only because of its quality, but also because of its growing need and development model.
OpenGoo fills the largest gap in the world of Free Software today: being able to access and use one’s data equally from anywhere in the world. This gap doesn’t just exist in the Free Software world, however. Software as a Service (SaaS) has been trying to fill this gap for some time now. Free Software and Open File Format advocates use the analogy of “packaging up your data and mailing it to a random company” as an analogy for why people should use Free Software and Open file formats. People can’t understand or connect to this analogy, because the file is right there on their computer. They feel this is just an exaggeration, since the document is sitting there on their hard drive. With SaaS though, people are going to come to realize, after the first large server break-in/crash, that they are giving up all rights to their files. What can you do, though? If you want to access your data on the cloud, there seems to be only one choice: sending it off to some random company and praying that they return it when you need it.
As a self-hosted web application, OpenGoo is practically perfect. The user’s data is accessible from anywhere. That user can view and edit his/her data using only a web browser, and still have complete control over all of the data. Pretty soon, the OpenOffice, Kontact, and even Microsoft Office that we know today will vaporize and be unneeded. As more and more internet-connected devices hit the market, it will become so much more practical to put all of one’s information online instead of confined to a single computer.
The only major flaw currently in this system is the absence of an “offline mode”. To make data truly accessible, it is important to be able to access it whether connected to the internet or not. Most of the time, especially on desktop computers, people are online. But what about mobile access? Anyone who owns a laptop, cell phone, netbook, or pda will understand what I mean when I say, “Internet access isn’t always available.” With this additional feature, OpenGoo would become the most accessible Free Software platform for productivity. Coupled with the overwhelmingly large number of flexible features for a variety of practical usages, it would turn OpenGoo into a truly unique solution for almost anyone wishing to be productive.
Not only is OpenGoo itself innovative, but its business model is genius! While a select number of project have been using a similar method, OpenGoo really nails it. They have an option to “sponsor a feature” on their site. Instead of spending money to restrict oneself with a proprietary package for a desired feature, why not pay someone to implement it in a Free Software solution? This makes the features accessible to anybody, and carries a similar, if not slightly smaller, price tag for business users. Since sponsored features appear in the normal releases, these releases are of higher quality than they would have been otherwise. These features obviously benefit the end users, but they also help out the developers. The developers have started a company called FengOffice to cater to businesses and provide hosting/maintenance. It brings the accessibility of Free Software to those who do not have the time, resources, and/or interest to support it.
It may bring up the question of why other Free Software projects don’t adopt this business model. The answer to that is more disappointing than it would seem. In order to peak interest, one must have a solid piece of Free Software. In order to have a solid piece of Free Software, one must have the financial means by which to develop it. In order to have the financial means by which to develop it, one must peak interest in the product, spiraling the process into an infinite loop.
There are a few ways to get around this, however OpenGoo found their own way. The one that comes to most peoples’ minds is the study of “Shuttleworthology”. If an individual can get filthy rich by other means, like Mark Shuttleworth did, then there is certainly a starting point. Anyone with that much money should consider using that money for good purposes, such as developing software to benefit the general public like Shuttleworth did. While Shuttleworth didn’t end up using this business model, it is still a good example of how to get a Free Software project rolling.
I strongly suggest anyone with even the slightest interest level check out OpenGoo and FengOffice. It is really an extrordinary piece of software, and does not recieve nearly as much credit and recognition as it should. Not only does it fulfill a desperate need, but it does it in style.