What should companies and governments migrating to LibreOffice do to succeed, but don’t?

By Eric Bright

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For the ecosystem of LibreOffice and its related software to show its true potentials, they need to be supported by volunteers, users, companies, and governments that make the choice to move away from lock-in models to an open source model.

Most companies and governments do not support such projects, or any open source project for that matter. In not doing so, they almost guarantee their trip through the road they have chosen will be bumpy.

The strategy to support an open source project such as LibreOffice is a no-brainer, and yet not followed by most who benefit from that project. When you look at the millions that most large companies will save in licensing fees when they migrate to LibreOffice, no other option can meaningfully be justified. Of course, there is a cost to the migration and the maintenance of any software framework. Nevertheless, the cost to do it is dwarfed by the associated cost of acquiring and deploying a proprietary software, assuming the ongoing maintenance cost for any software would eventually average out to a similar number.

However, when companies and governments decide to migrate to LibreOffice and cut their losses tenfold, they rarely decide to spend one-tenth or even one-one-hundredth of their previous costs on LibreOffice to develop and improve it. That is as shortsighted and naive as any organization can get.

Expecting a free lunch from a community-run project might feel nice. The organization might think that they cheated the market. They might think that they can now pocket the millions that they saved by the migration to an open source software. And that might be true on the surface. But, by neglecting the cost of development and maintenance of the same software they migrated to, they almost guaranteed some long-term complications.

Expecting that a group of volunteers to do the hard work for you while your company sits on its bom and enjoys extra yachts and penthouses on the back of those efforts might seem enticing at first. Shortsighted government officials might even gain attention, recognition, or even votes by cutting costs this way. But, what will they do with the extra money they have saved by the move?

One thing is for sure. Usually, none of the extra money will every get reinvested into the open source they started to use.

What should LibreOffice migrants do?

In an ideal world, each and every medium to large corporation and all government departments that switch to any open source solution should set aside a portion of the savings made possible by the move to reinvest into the same open source software. There is no formula to calculate the reasonable portion. Each company and government needs to pick a number. But, this has to be included in their initial cost analysis of the migration.

Why will it make most migrations more likely to succeed?

Because, almost all open source projects, including LibreOffice, are developed by people who would be happy to help and work on specific developments requested by anyone, given enough resources are allocated to those works.

As for the LibreOffice project, it is easy to hire developers to enhance features and fix any bug whatsoever.

It is not a matter of if it is possible to do this or that thing in LibreOffice. Instead, it is the limited resources that dictates which part of the code gets more attention. If company X decides to have a special feature in LibreOffice, a tender can be issued via The Document Foundation, the mother organization to LibreOffice, to do so sponsored by company X.

If only 1% of the saved, annual cost of a migration to LibreOffice is returned to The Document Foundation each year, even if company X doesn’t have any particular bug to fix or feature to add, the accumulation of resource will certainly guarantee a much better code base, fewer bugs, more enhancements, better compatibility, and a more successful migration to LibreOffice in a long-run.

Final recommendations

If you are in charge of making decisions to migrate to LibreOffice in your department, no matter how much you will save on the licensing fees, please consider annualy reinvesting a percentage of such savings back into the LibreOffice project. That is to say, when you calculated the saving to be, let’s say, 15 million USD per year, then deduct the reinvestment donation from the total and then release the result instead. As such, your saving would be 14,925,00 USD after a 0.5% deduction of 75,000 USD. Contributing 0.5% of the saving to The Document Foundation per year will make a huge difference to the success of your migration plans and the quality of the software you will be using.

The trick is to consider that 0.5% annual contribution as a real expense and not as an after-thought and to include it into the annual cost of the code maintenance of the migration project. That way, your migration project can remain committed to the enhancement of the open source software of your choice.

Remember that encouraging and convincing an already-migrated project to contribute even that little back to the software foundation they moved to might be close to impossible after the fact. This consideration has to be made right in the initial budgeting and estimations for such a migration, so the decision makers won’t be surprised. Of course, the 0.5% maintenance reinvestment was a made-up number. You might want to aim for a much higher percentage depending on the culture of your company. I suggest a number no less than 3% of the annual savings of a migration, per year.

Please cite this article as: Bright, Eric. (2018) What should companies and governments migrating to LibreOffice do to succeed, but don’t?. BlogSophy. https://sophy.ca/blog/2018/08/what-should-companies-and-governments-migrating-to-libreoffice-do-to-succeed-but-dont/
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