An interview with Dr Louis Suarez-Potts, Community Manager, OpenOffice

Dr Louis Suarez-Potts (louis at openoffice dot org) performs an important function as the Community Manager for OpenOffice. In an interview with Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay (sankarshan at bengalinux dot org) for the Indian GNU/Linux Users Group - Kolkata Chapter, he talks about his job as the Community Manager, localisation of OpenOffice, deployments of OpenOffice among other things.

LS-P: Dr Louis Suarez-Potts, Community Manager, OpenOffice
SM: Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay

SM: Tell us something about the things you do as the Community Manager.

LS-P: In some ways, my role is not unlike that of a CEO, viz., someone who sets overall strategy and tries to effect it. But I do not allocate resources, nor are my decrees those even of a benevolent dictator. In fact, I make no decrees–even the thought is risible.

Rather, I generate a lot of policy whose goal is to make the project run more smoothly for more people. But all that policy is then discussed and voted on by the Community Council, OOo\\\’s governing board, of which i am a member (and Chair, for what it is worth). So, what I mainly do is try to persuade people that this or that policy or strategy makes sense for the project. I also represent OpenOffice.org to other organizations and people, with the double aim of getting people to use OOo and to contribute to it. \\\”Representing\\\” OpenOffice.org necessarily implies attending important conferences, such as the recent Linux Asia 2004 and the Greek ebusiness forum where I sought to excite interest in OOo by positioning it as the key that unlocks the open-source desktop. It also includes writing articles on OpenOffice.org and open source.

And, of course, as part of my role, I seek to coordinate the work of OOo and OSS projects and to bring people into the general OOo manifold.

The title, \\\”Community Manager,\\\” is vague. What I do now is not really community management at all and more approximately what a CEO would do, were such a person ever to find him- or herself in charge of an OSS project.

And what are those things that I do? There are four categories (in no particular order):

* governance
* project coordination
* business development
* product management

Governance: As the chair of the OOo community council, or governing board, I suggest and argue policy for the project. (I would do this anyway.) This means I write a lot of perfectly self-evident bureaucratic stuff that nevertheless needs to be codified. We (the CC) then vote on it, usually after a lot of discussion. But it is such policy that allows us the framework to coordinate the massive growth of the project. But policy–our Guidelines, for instance, as well as many other things–is just the framework; what ultimately makes a difference and inspires a lot of work (besides having great code) is having a vision of where OOo should go and how.

Project coordination is fairly self-explanatory. But it is rather difficult to do, as there is always a tension between what others want to do, what can be done, and how it all fits together. OOo, unlike many other OSS sites, is not a do-as-you-like project: we pretty much try to keep things coherent and people working on the same codebase, though that is never perfectly done. Fortunately, the project leads all seem to be more or less in agreement on the larger issues. In fact, OOo is a surprisingly agreeable and polite OSS site…

Business development would seem almost to be antithematic to OSS but it is not. OOo is a ready-to-use application and so we try to get people to use it. At the moment, it\\\’s guessed that around 20-30 million people (at least) are using OOo and derived products; that number I expect to double by the end of this year and thus represent over 10 percent of the office suite market (I believe we are estimated to have 6 percent now). Besides getting people to use OOo we also want them to develop it, to contribute to the project. The logic is that in the open-source world, there is always the moral obligation to give back to the source. This year, I expect to see major returns on our efforts. So far, Novell is the largest corporate contributor besides Sun; but it is the first only.

Product management is what it sounds like. We have a core product but there is also a nimbus of derived products and minor forks, which as a general category can include local variations (say, for fonts). The question is always, How do you make sure that those derived products do not distract from or derail development on the source? How does one even go about defining the product? To this end, we\\\’ve focused on defining a \\\”core\\\” product and not worried about the details of the minor derivations. Nevertheless, we need now to further define the core product and what is permissible by local efforts; a Community Council agenda item is pending on this issue.

Besides the above, I also do the very important work of general marketing and strategy, statistics, write articles on OOo and OSS, do interviews of developers and contributors to OOo, give presentations at various conferences, and help individual users with issues. I\\\’m also setting up a program with post-secondary schools to work on OOo. Last week, I went to Greece, where I presented at two back-to-back fora. The students there were very talented, and one of the things I promised to do was to suggest the framework for a syllabus that would include working on OOo as a course objective. So, that is what I am doing now…

Finally, I realize that I\\\’m probably most valuable as a sort of ombudsman. If you, your community, has a problem with the OOo project, come to me. I may be able to help.

SM: OpenOffice is the community oriented project with major stakeholders being SUN Microsystems and CollabNet - how does the project reflect the public roadmaps of these entities ?

LS-P: I would not characterize CollabNet as a major stakeholder in the same way as I would Sun, which pays CollabNet to host OpenOffice.org and for management. Sun sponsors development of the core code (the main components that make up the application) and pays CollabNet to host the project. It goes without saying that Sun\\\’s sponsorship affects not just the code produced but also its direction–but not entirely. Sun has made significant efforts to open the roadmap to community critique and to attend to community interest. Further, any other organization is welcome, indeed, invited, to contribute to the roadmap.

Further, the community has extended the code in ways that were not anticipated. We now have, for instance, well over 50 languages either completed or in various states of completion; over ten ports, including to Mac OS X (X11), which was done entirely by community members, and huge documentation and support efforts in numerous languages.

SM: Could you elaborate on the development roadmap for OpenOffice ?

LS-P: Well, I think anything I say here won\\\’t be as clear or forceful as the Q product concept document, which characterizes the next major release, 2.0 (due next year) Essentially, we have several things to do. They reflect what users and developers have told us.

* Improve our compatibility with MS Office. Right now it\\\’s quite high–people say it\\\’s close to 100 percent for some documents. Well, we want it to be perfect.
* Improve performance
* Improve the ease of programming for it.

OOo is huge–famously, 7.6 million lines of code–and it is also in C . That all makes it difficult to code for, and we want to make it easier. in the meanwhile, prior to 2.0, I urge people to download the developer builds, codenamed \\\”680\\\” and test them and file issues. We need help not only in development but also in QA See here

SM: How are the Native Language Projects shaping up at OpenOffice ?

LS-P: The native-language confederation, led by Charles Schulz, now numbers 25 or so projects and they are doing *great*. The NLC projects were initially created to provide information and support in a person\\\’s native language. But they do much more than that now. They now provide the \\\”home\\\” for localization efforts, QA efforts, and are increasingly taking on the role of bringing developers into the core projects. I estimate that at least 1/4 of all downloads now are from the NLC projects and that the greatest growth is there.

Why? Well, it has always been that OSS development is fundamentally international not American. It is a terrible mistake to think of OSS as an American thing. The NLC projects thus are naturally reflecting the truth of the world.

SM: What are the specific goals of the L10n projects and the Native Language Projects at OpenOffice ?

LS-P: The distinction is clear: l10n is where actual coding for localization/internationalization takes place, and discussions are in English. Now, there are quite a few more l10n efforts than NLC projects, and that\\\’s because it takes a lot of resources to create an NLC project that will last. At the same time, as mentioned, NLC projects are increasingly the home of l10n efforts and help sustain them. But we still have dozens of l10n efforts for which there are no NLC projects and may never be.

SM: How did you find LinuxAsia 2004 ?

LS-P: I loved it. Here\\\’s a measure of a successful conference, from the perspective of a presenter: Did the presenter gain anything? Meet the right people? Learn anything? and the answer to all is yes. I realize, in fact, that the reason for attending a conference like that is to meet the people I would otherwise never meet, to develop the connections that distance forbids. I think, too, that the danger of any such meeting is to lose the inspiration, and so I am doing what I can to build on it.

SM: How does OpenOffice coordinate development activity with the L10n teams ?

LS-P: For that, you must ask Pavel Jan?k, co-lead of the l10n project, or Dieter Loeschky, lead.

SM: Recent months have shown intense development in the domain of Indic L10n, how does OpenOffice see itself posited with regard to this niche ?

LS-P: I can answer abstractly. OOo is really very important to OSS development and deployment, and especially to Linux\\\’. Our goal is to use internationally accepted modes of development; to be open. I think that OOo is ideally positioned, then, to further accepted and open standards for l10n among the Indic languages. it is of utmost importance that OSS developers minimize duplicate work and work coherently. This will only strengthen everyone\\\’s hand and accelerate the acceptance not just of OOo but of OSS generally.

SM: There has been a recent spate of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt with OpenOffice vis-a-vis MS Office - what are the responses from the Marketing Team at OpenOffice ?

LS-P: the Marketing Team has as such no direct response, as we have not really dignified the FUD as meriting it. But, you can look to a recent interview I gave posted to NewsForge. Further, Jonathan Schwartz, COO and President of Sun, has expressed, and quite strongly, that Sun remains a competitor of MS. It comes down to this. There may be agreements that allow both Sun and MS to drop their harmful suits. But that\\\’s a good thing, as the Sun suit was accomplishing nothing and was getting embarrassing. But there is no hint of MS buying or incapacitating Sun. Quite the opposite. The agreement allows Sun to focus its considerable energies on software and services and to really develop its open-source efforts, such as OOo. Further, if you look at who is now president - Schwartz - he used to be software chief, not hardware chief, and he has always been a champion of open source.

So, I think that the future is in fact good for us. I think that Sun sees its rise not in new hardware but in software and services, and at that, in open-source software, like OpenOffice.org.

SM: How can one be a contributor to OpenOffice ? What are the potential areas where one can contribute ?

LS-P: There are many ways for people and organizations to contribute. There are no barriers. We are willing to entertain any contribution, including documentation, translations, support, management, code, material, resources, money. We are currently updating our contribution page (), but here is a quick guide for coders:

* Go to our development pages where the main page lists all relevant links.
* For localization efforts, go to the l10n project (l10n stands for \\\”localization\\\”–ten letters)
* For documentation contributors we have two projects (which may be merged); the Documentation project and the user-faq project

But say you want just help spread the word. In that case, go to our Marketing project and say you want to help maintain the website, then this is the place for you.

And, if you are puzzled or unsure, feel free to send a note to one of our popular lists. I recommend our discuss@openoffice.org list.

SM: Thanks a lot for taking time to participate in this interview. It was a pleasure talking with you.

LS-P: My pleasure.

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