Stuff Michael Meeks is doing

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Towards a better LibreOffice on Mac

The story so far

Two and a half years ago Collabora started to maintain LibreOffice in the Mac app store - checkout LibreOffice Vanilla: Fresh from the community to your Mac. This made it extremely easy and convenient to install LibreOffice on the Mac, and it is gratifying to see that around 365k users have indeed installed it.

As a company our raison d'etre is to drive the success of FLOSS, however in order to do that we need to raise funds to drive development. As such a major motivation here was to try to bring enough money into the Mac ecosystem that we could start to fix bugs, and address longer standing problems with the Mac - something everyone wants to see.

To try to achieve that we included a risque 'nag' dialog, that would encourage people to donate to The Document Foundation (TDF) - and also encourage them to buy Collabora Office on the Mac to help fund engineering work. This would show up on first-start, though we moved that to monthly, and remind Mac users that while so many contribute so much of far greater value than money to code, docs, l10n, QA, UX, and in many other ways, nevertheless the quickest & easiest way to make a small contribution if you're missing the skills is with a small donation to TDF, or failing that by buying a paid Collabora Office through the app-store.

Today's numbers

Each month we have on average 54 people purchasing Collabora Office for Mac for $10 (we get 70%), and around 10 donation page visits per month that we could track, TDF's average donation is around $10. So estimating this is around $380 per month of income for Collabora, and say $100 for TDF.

That doesn't sound too terrible, until you look at this two ways:

  1. The cost to Collabora - of the up-front investment needed to get the Mac build sandboxed as well as ongoing costs to work around changes to the sandbox, as well as fixing nits that reviewers find each time we submit a new version. So far that cost between two and three times the income (at cost ) - so quite some loss. This explains why we have not been investing as we'd like to in keeping LibreOffice Vanilla up-to-date.
  2. The cost to TDF - what cost you say ? they got $100 per month for nothing. Well yes, and no. TDF serves install sets at around 50k per day - that is around ~20 million per year. TDF's awesome donors gave around Eur 800k last year to drive its mission - so around Eur 4 cents each download (though user counts could be significantly greater). So from 12k downloads per month, we'd expect $485 in donations from this many Mac downloads, assuming an average generosity of Mac users.
So - this current situation seems to be a lose-lose for Collabora and TDF, with only Apple winning its 30% cut. That is far from ideal - we didn't go into business to lose money and to reduce TDF's income (even by 0.6%); so how can we fix this ? (ideally without going back to phase one: "collection of underpants" ?)

A more elegant plan for now

Moving ahead, as applications are distributed in app-stores, there will be a super-easy payment mechanism placed right next to the download button. What is the convenience of an app-store worth ? How much will people pay for getting & maintaining a signed LibreOffice Vanilla through an app-store ? Put another way - in the future it will be critical to understand what the market demand curve, and elasticity of demand is for just that convenience.

We've discussed this with The Document Foundations' Board of Directors (BoD) and they asked for a proposal on how best to deal with this problem. We proposed an experimental solution which they agreed, so we are today starting an experiment which will make the following changes:

The hope is that this approach provides a win-win, where we can finally invest more in fixing and improving LibreOffice on Macs, while also creating a template and valuable data we will share with TDF on how to deal with app-stores - it is entirely possible that app-stores will become the dominant mode of software delivery in future, so TDF needs to be prepared.

FAQ / comments ?

Why doesn't Collabora just do this for free forever ? - We do invest a lot in LibreOffice, but if we're going to do something loss making long term, it should probably be to drive the success of free platforms, not subsidising convenience for wealthy Mac owners.

Why doesn't TDF do this for free ? - I don't speak for TDF here, but the fundamental economics don't change by someone else doing the same work - it looks like a loss-making business subsidizing Mac owners' convenience at this scale for TDF too.

How does this work with the trademark ? - TDF have existing Trademark Policy for the LibreOffice trademark that this fits neatly into. Of course - we need to make it clear that we're not TDF, and fit the other criteria. Discussing this with the BoD it seems that TDF may want to do this themselves in future in a different way, and if they're distributing LibreOffice in a given app-store, the duplication is likely to cause confusion - which would not be ok. Fair enough for the future. For now, there is nothing special about Collabora's use of the trademark.

Why doesn't TDF charge instead ? - perhaps this makes sense in future, that's up to TDF. Practically, this would be a for-profit activity that would need to be done and accounted for separately in the Stiftung, it would be necessary to do the same work and publish & award tenders for the relevant development pieces. That's a lot of work and overhead for TDF, with an unclear benefit vs. this approach. It would also mean TDF going into business itself, which could be seen as impacting its vendor neutrality. Clearly I expect TDF to continue to provide Mac downloads for free from, as normal, indefinitely.

How can I help translate the app-store page ? - clearly we'd love to have help and community input here. Mail me to get more details, and/or with your translation.

Why is your app-id com.collabora.libreoffice-free if is no longer free ? good question - glad you asked that - but it's hard to change and not really user-visible.

What makes improving Macs special ? - interestingly the Mac platform accounts for a large chunk of our high priority regressions, currently three vs. a total of eight. The majority of developers are comfortable with and work on Linux or Windows, and the vast majority of paying customers in the ecosystem are also on Windows or Linux. TDF has tried to improve things by - making Mac hardware more widely available, but thus far without a huge impact. We really don't want to get into a situation where it is hard to improve things through LibreOffice's platform abstraction due to an under-resourced platform.


We're going to see if charging for the convenience of the app-store can help to improve the LibreOffice on Mac situation by funding its development. It is an experiment - who knows - perhaps selling convenience could evolve into a way for FLOSS projects generally to fund development. Possibly TDF will do this themselves in the future , or could even put out the use of their brand in app-stores to tender for the highest bid / contribution mixture.

Perhaps you're a volunteer - and talk of optimizing donations, or income streams sticks in your throat - I get that too. Many of TDF's most valuable contributions are in the form of time - and not money, from our thousands of volunteer contributors; still - converting cash into code is something we love to do.

My content in this blog and associated images / data under images/ and data/ directories are (usually) created by me and (unless obviously labelled otherwise) are licensed under the public domain, and/or if that doesn't float your boat a CC0 license. I encourage linking back (of course) to help people decide for themselves, in context, in the battle for ideas, and I love fixes / improvements / corrections by private mail.

In case it's not painfully obvious: the reflections reflected here are my own; mine, all mine ! and don't reflect the views of Collabora, SUSE, Novell, The Document Foundation, Spaghetti Hurlers (International), or anyone else. It's also important to realise that I'm not in on the Swedish Conspiracy. Occasionally people ask for formal photos for conferences or fun.

Michael Meeks (