2007-09-22

OOoCon Impressions


My reaction after just the first morning in Barcelona, where we held this year's OOoCon was: I want to stay here, live here. And judging from others' reactions, I was not alone. We had reason for our desire: This year's event was held in the grandly gorgeous Universitat de Barcelona, a building and location that offered what we wanted--pleasant rooms, a lovely interior garden, and outside, across the street, cafés and restaurants where we could mingle. Softcatalà, the organizers, did a fine job of making sure we had rooms and excellent food. I can well imagine how much work they had to do, especially given the commencement of classes.

How did the several hundred attendees like this event? From all reports, they greatly enjoyed it. Each of these conferences serves to build community, to undo the differences that distance imposes. Most of us only see each other this one time and learn to communicate via email, IRC, IM--wholly inadequate media for resolving misunderstandings or quickly coming to understandings. This is especially so given that OOo is such an international community with many, many languages spoken, though English remains the language for development and general communication. But for those for whom English is not just the second but fourth language, meeting in person and seeing the real smile not the smiley makes a difference.

My regret: I could attend only a few panels, and I evidently missed a lot of the really good ones. My excuse? I was pressed into meeting after meeting and listened to vendors show their ideas. I don't think I am in wrong to say that this year saw more vendors with clever solutions attend with briefcases in hand. Startups like what we offer, to be sure, and not only startups. Look at IBM, with 1M downloads of its derived product Symphony in just the first week or so: OOo has achieved what is utterly remarkable, a recognizable position in the market, and all without meaningful marketing money being spent. Why is this so remarkable? Well, to sell a commodity like an office suite, some companies must spend astronomical sums, hundreds of millions of dollars each year. We spend nothing. But we have a community, not a consumer base, and that makes all the difference between our incandescent rise and the others' steady descent. The cost of vendor lockin is too high, and freedom is, well, free.