Bloated Open Source Software

Several months ago, I joined OpenOffice.org and downloaded the source, although I haven’t done much with it. I’ve tried running the application itself (which currently runs under X11) and I find that I dread launching it. OOo is a huge application that loads the word processor, spreadsheet, and other modules when launched. It’s even bigger, slower, and more bloated than MS Office.

OOo is written mostly in Java with a huge portability layer and lots of non-native widgets. On a 1GHz G4 it takes 8-10 hours to build. I haven’t been able to build it successfully under Panther.

A successful office alternative needs to be lean, fast, and easy to use. It should be modular and easily extensible via scripting. It also needs to look & feel like a native application and should integrate & exchange data with other native applications. It should not be a huge monolithic application full of useless cruft.

2 responses to “Bloated Open Source Software

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  2. OpenOffice is not written in Java. This is a misconception that goes back to the day Sun bought StarDivision. It does use its own widgets, that mushc is true, and it takes a fairly long time to launch. That's true, too.

    It does not "[load] the word processor, spreadsheet, and other modules when launched". It loads what's necessary to launch it when launched, just as Microsoft Office does, the main difference being that Microsoft Office loads most of what it needs when you boot up and OpenOffice doesn't unless you're running it on a platform that includes the "Quickstarter" feature that does the same. In which case the application launches hardly any slower than MS Office.

    More troublesome for OS X users like you, what you have is version 1.0, which loads slower and has a bigger memory footprint than the 1.1 version users on Windows, Linux and Solaris now have. Indeed, the internal GUI toolkit has gotten much faster in the 1.1 series, just as Mozilla's XUL performance went from unusable to decent at some point around 0.98.

    One thing I find a bit tiring is the idea that office suites could be fixed by removing "unnecessary" features. Which exactly? Data access and mail merge? Type-as-you-go spellcheck? Presentation slide transitions? Pivot tables in spreadsheets? Indexing? Your cruft is someone else's indispensible feature. Turning all of these things into dynamically-loaded plugins — which many already are — may cut startup time but will slow in-application performance. Do you want to wait an extra 10 seconds for OpenOffice to launch, or do you want to add 5 seconds every time you decide to pull up a font dialog or repaginate? It's a tradeoff, and the developers chose to optimize for in-application performance over launch time and memory footprint.

    Application launch time is only one factor in application performance anyway. What I do know is that once OpenOffice 1.1 launches on my ancient 192MB 300 MHz Windows box, performance is plenty adequate and it runs for hours at a time without a fuss. It's downright snappy on today's average 2-year old Windows, Linux or Solaris system once it launches, and the 28MB base memory footprint I typically see isn't any bigger than that of the web browsers I run.

    I agree it's not ready for prime time on OS X, but the developers don't claim otherwise.