Controversy swirls around a blog report from a respected columnist that compares OpenOffice.org 2.0 with Microsoft Office — in particular, OpenOffice.org Calc vs. Microsoft Excel — and declares OpenOffice.org to be a pig: slower and fatter in its memory footprint. The comparison is relevant only to Windows XP users — Mac and Linux users would not only have completely different operating environments and different results but also different motivations for using OpenOffice.org.
There’s nothing like a misguided “apples vs. oranges” comparison to get the blog juices flowing. The blog post OpenOffice.org 2.0 is here, but is it a pig? by ZDNet‘s George Ou starts out with the question, “OpenOffice.org 2.0 is finally out with much fanfare, but is it a memory and resource hog?” He concludes that it probably is, based on comparison tests he ran with a large spreadsheet file. Howls of protest ensued, mostly in reaction to the headline and the idea that a simple test of this nature was no real comparison at all.
Typical of the many negative comments generated by this blog is this one, posted by “georgep”:
You start off with a headline implying that OO is a pig. Most readers will not download your file and discover that it is in the end of the tail of the distribution of users. For most users, the ms lost are irrelevant. You should be honest and say that a few power users may find OO too slow, but 99% of users will not notice the difference.
I agree with the above comment with regard to the original blog post. George Ou was not talking about an average file but a very large one — 293,059,603 bytes in size. With average file sizes used in everyday work, the perceived speed differences between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org are just not that relevant. My own file-opening tests (with much smaller documents that are typical of my work) demonstrated insignificant results. I didn’t bother to try to refute any of Ou’s statistics or conclusions on memory usage, though other commmentators did.
One coherent explanation, posted as a comment by “DerekBerube”, points out how the comparison doesn’t take into account the added functionality of OpenOffice.org:
The latency that you’re seeing opening the file in OpenOffice is likely due to the fact that [OpenOffice.org] Calc is not only opening the doucment, but also validating the XML structure. Since Excel opens the file much faster, it leads me to conclude that it isn’t doing something that Calc is (namely validaing the structure of the document).
George’s “benchmarks” hardly provide a basis for comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the respective office suites. It just illustrates different implmementation decisions.
Indeed, if you are concerned about document portability (as is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and other government agencies, as well as large businesses and everyday individuals who detest being locked into commercial software applications), you would not only want to use the standard XML-based format, you’d also want the software to validate it when opening and saving documents.
Many comments questioned George Ou’s motives in writing the original blog post; some speculated that he is on Microsoft’s payroll. He doesn’t seemed to be biased for Microsoft, his opinions are contrary to mine with regard to Web applications. I found several of his articles promoting the idea that rich, fat client applications are better than Web applications — he even challenged the folks at Sun to abandon their desktop applications and try to use a Web implementation of Office. He reported that no one accepted the challenge. The problem with his challenge is that he made it way too soon. Web applications are only beginning to be developed; besides, I now use WordPress (a Web application for writing blog posts and managing blogs) as often as OpenOffice.org or any other client application.
Way down deep in the comments, I came across George’s actual bias, which is an understandable one:
It’s my job in the enterprise to fix “slowness”. That’s what I get paid to do, whack slowness.
Race car drivers tend to see the world as one giant racetrack, and use as their measure the rate of acceleration. The rest of us drivers are more concerned about gas mileage and reliability. Don’t base your choice on such as simple comparison as George Ou’s test. Read other comparisons (I’ll try to keep you posted) and try your own tests — with your own real-world documents.