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NeoOffice Mac Marketshare Hits 40%?

The NeoOffice project reports downloads of 500,000 copies per month.

Meanwhile, Apple announces there are 15 million active users of Mac OS X.

Roughly calculating from these two figures, it appears that 40% of OS X users have downloaded NeoOffice in the past year. (Ed, one of the NeoOffice developers, has a significantly lower estimate. But neither he nor I have hard evidence to say which figure is more likely to be correct. For the sake of argument, I’ll continue with the higher number.)

The real point of the article linked above is not the number of downloads NeoOffice has counted, but rather that a new version to be released in the first three months of 2007 will be able to read and write Microsoft’s OOXML format, at least six months before Microsoft Office for Mac will be able to read the company’s own format! (MS has suggested the last few months of 2007 for its product release.)

Existing momentum plus this new blockbuster announcement could put NeoOffice over the top — it may overtake Microsoft Office on the Mac this year; a major victory for open source!

Perception can be more important than reality in software adoption, hence the effectiveness of FUD over the years. But FUD can work against Microsoft, just as it has worked for Microsoft so many times in the past.

To see OpenOffice and its derivatives push the mighty Microsoft Office from its dominant perch on Mac OS X will resound through the world of software. Users’ faith in Microsoft’s core products will be shaken by this, and it will affect more than just the market for office productivity software on the smaller Mac platform. It will propel OOo’s growth on Windows too, as those users see the mavens and connectors (who mostly run OS X and Linux), have begun to migrate to OpenOffice and NeoOffice. (The same way the iPod and iTMS grew to dominance by starting on Macs.)

On the other hand, Microsoft seems to be slowly pulling back from writing software for the Mac. It has already given up on VirtualPC, Media Player, and Internet Explorer (in each case, because a better competitor emerged). Microsoft is less committed to the Mac than to its own Windows platform, perhaps planning on strategic retreats as competition grows on all fronts.

But, because of perception, this will be a major mistake. When Microsoft Office disappears from OS X, the resulting press attention will be different than it would have been several years ago. Instead of focusing on the damage this would inflict on OS X, the press will actually question Microsoft’s strength and market staying power.

One of Microsoft’s two flagship products defeated in one of only two places it once thrived. The media will ask, “If NeoOffice can rout Microsoft Office on Mac OS X, can OpenOffice rout it on Windows, too?” Microsoft will be seen to be weakened, and its reach cut back. It will also have been thrown on the defensive, meaning that existing competitors will step up their efforts at the same time, only furthering its troubles.

Permanent change will have been wrought: OpenOffice/NeoOffice will have two strongholds–Linux and OS X–both populated with loyal, influential and connected people to use and promote it. Microsoft Office will have no further ground to give, and pressure from outside and in will threaten it will possible extinction even on its strongly-defended home turf.

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