Author Topic: Is Feng Office going anywhere?  (Read 24214 times)

Pet

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Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« on: February 07, 2010, 09:11:28 pm »
First off, I'm a paying Feng Office customer. Originally I was looking for a free replacement for ProjectPier, and OpenGoo was both in active development as well as had paid support if I needed it. I've been here for about 10 months now, starting at v1.4 I think to the present.

At first the devs had participated in the forums a lot.  There was a lot of buzz on the net about it. I know they've been working hard to squash bugs and improve usability.  But to be honest, I'm starting to get disappointed in how development is getting bogged down with bugs & bugfixes instead of enriching the application. The devs are commenting less and less, and despite their willingness to accept help from other devs, I still see other developer posts go unanswered.

There has been no major functionality updates since I've been here. Functionality improvements yes, but big changes, no. This is just my opinion based on my own needs, you may disagree, but all you have to do is look at the Release_notes.txt that come with each version download. The v1.6.2. release notes are full of bug fixes, but look at the items marked "feature" since v1.5.3:

Quote
feature: Apply a task's assignee to all subtasks.
feature: Allow changing a user's personal workspace.
feature: Add comments to Contacts and Companies.
feature: User config option to hide quoted text added.
feature: Added a cron event to clear tmp folder.
feature: Added an experimental new search mechanism. It can be much slower but finds more results.
feature: Archive objects and workspaces.
feature: Mark as read/unread for all objects
feature: Share mail accounts among several users.
feature: Assign a workspace to a mail account to automatically classify email to that workspace
feature: Group emails into conversations.
feature: Email attachments from file system.
feature: Email Junk folder (mail classified as spam by your mail server is sent to a "Junk" folder)
feature: Emails are sent asynchronously (you can continue working on Feng Office while an email is being sent)
feature: Send emails as attachments from Feng Office
feature: Create a task from an email.
feature: Insert images into Feng Office documents and emails
feature: Allow events to span more than one day and support drag and drop for these events and repeating events.
feature: Upgraded document editor to CKEditor 3.0
feature: Editing Concurrency: warn user if object being edited was edited by someone else.
feature: Improved password recovery procedure.
feature: Config option to detect mime type from extension
feature: Option to autodetect timezone
feature: New toolbar menu to remove tags
feature: New type of parameter "User" for Templates.   
feature: VCard Import

Are those really new features or are they simply basic "usability" items? I think the latter. The only really major new features are:

Quote
feature: Archive objects and workspaces.
feature: Share mail accounts among several users.

And that's it. The rest are usability items, that is, minor but significant things that should have been there in the first place.

What do I see as solid new features? How about this:

1. chat module
2. who's logged on
3. working spreadsheet
4. an email client with all the features people expect: rules, etc.
5. gantt charts
6. printing option for all objects
7. file viewers for other document types
8. a wiki
9. publicly publishable objects
10. a forum
11. customizable dashboard
12. IM integration
13. data exporting
14. custom tabs with custom content
15. A reporting module that actually does what it should
16. An integrated ticketing system
17. and the list goes on...

To me, THOSE are new features, not "feature: Upgraded document editor to CKEditor 3.0".

I'm posting this because even though many people have asked for a roadmap, it's never been posted.  I understand the difficulties of running a business as well as the software development business, as I've done both. However, I also understand that satisfying customers is essential as well. I'll be honest, I'm disappointed in the lack of meaningful, significant updates and the fewer and fewer Feng staff posts. I've even put my money where my mouth is and offered to help pay for a couple of functionality changes that are not my first priority. I've even decided to pay for a Feng Office subscription even though I really didn't need to, I did this to show my support.

I'm not going to threaten to drop Feng for some other product, because that doesn't work, what I hopes does work is constructive discourse. I don't think Feng Office is really progressing. Do you?

I would love to hear your opinions.
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Bittone

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #1 on: February 08, 2010, 12:00:11 pm »
Hi Pet,
I agree with you but maybe the focus is now to get what's already done "production grade".
To me Fengoffice always seemed "almost there" and maybe (I'm no developer but the name change looks like marketing to me) the focus has moved to make the whole system more stable (bugfixes) and profitable.
I can se your list of features is quite big and challenging, maybe something less scary would do.
To be honest, I never thought that the focus on web mail client would pay since everyone already has his own favourite web-mail client or standard client.
Maybe going where things are missing  would be a better option.
Online readers? Integrated creation of FlashPaper docs? An integrated search engine to search inside docs contents ?
As you can see I'm more focused on docs since the email is already there, while a good doc management isn't.
Just my two cents...

Bittone

interjinn

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2010, 03:05:50 pm »
There are different approaches to software development. I think what FengOffice (I preferred OpenGoo FWIW :)) has right now is a very good core. Since this will be the framework upon which everything in the future is built, it is doubly important to make sure it works very well now. That said, it can at time be difficult to draw the line between stabilizing and micro optimizing.

It is also quite possible that Feng Office (the parent company) is focusing on generating sales. At the end of the day, for any open-source project, either people donate a lot of their time for free (and I used to do this before I had 3 children) or they become highly selective in where they allocate their free time. I looked into a feature addition in the past and Feng was very reasonable in pricing and also in options (it could be a private feature or made available to the community). Unfortunately the feature didn't get the final OK from my client at the time but I will without a doubt pursue it with Feng if it is tabled again.

Where I see a bit of a problem is perhaps with engagement of developers seeking to contribute code. I've offered up some patches here and there but have not seen any feedback on the forums with respect to them. Perhaps if the core team could respond to these (not just for my postings) as to whether the patch is accepted or rejected then that could go a long way to alerting users that a particular problem has been solved and is being integrated into the next version. Perhaps even the creation of a Patches board to where patches can be posted so that they can streamline the review process. We can always link the patch to the original thread that introduced the issue. I also sent a message to the contribute email address yesterday, so I'm interested to see about contributing to the project. With a clear roadmap on how to do so I might even tackle a module ;D Now looking at your lovely list since I'm here... I may as well list which ones I think are truly important for improving the collaborative experience:

- FOLDERS
- wiki
- who's logged on
- chat module
- integrated ticketing system
- gantt charts

I would REALLY REALLY like to see folder support. Currently I've hacked my Feng Office to abuse Workspaces as folders by not having parent folders show the aggregated list of theirs and child folder contents.

The wiki would be an interesting thing. Tethering it to a workspace essentially makes for a forest of wikis since each would be distinct from any other workspace.

The who's logged on and chat module are highly related since you need to know who's on to be able to send a chat request. The chat module is also not as simple as you might think. I don't know how other people use the application, but it is important to me to prevent information linkage between users that shouldn't be aware of one another. Feng currently handles this well in projects and so I would imagine something similar would need to be done for chat... I guess a chat room could be tied to a workspace, that should make it easy to configure. Oooh... chat rooms as objects... nice idea if I might say so myself :D

The other options are fairly obvious.

With respect to other options you listed, I'd like to address some of those a little since it may seem odd I didn't include them.

working spreadsheet
This, while nice, to me isn't greatly important since I'm not sure too many people would trade up their OpenOffice Calc or MS Excel to use a web based one.

an email client with all the features people expect: rules, etc.
I've not used the email system much, I prefer my main client currently. Although it did cross my mind that combined with a ticketing system this could be very powerful.

printing option for all objects
We're trying to save trees with the online world :)

file viewers for other document types
Not sure what was meant by this.

publicly publishable objects
Didn't strike me as important for collaboration/office. But maybe you could elaborate on some use cases.

a forum
Witht he ability to comment on pretty much everything it seems a forum is somewhat redundant. Though I can see the advatge of dedicated forums tethered to a workspace with specific hierarchy boards/information.

customizable dashboard
This is just candy IMHO :)

IM integration
IMs have always decreased my productivity since then people just ping you constantly for updates or to chat while your trying to work.

data exporting
There's already some data exporting support so this would appear to be a work in progress.

custom tabs with custom content
This seems to be more candy ;)

reporting module that actually does what it should
There are some deficiencies in the current reporting module, but otherwise I find it has a great deal of utility. One major problem I have with it is that there's no support for Workspace or Workspace Path field so multiple elements with the same name but in different workspaces can be a bit uninformative. Another thing would be prefilled state for a condition... including support for macros. As an example I use the report module to show a list of all calendar events in the future (this should really be a feature of the calendar itself since I can't click on the objects in the report [maybe we could have that too :) ]). The problem is I can't just have it automatically show all elements after today. It would be nice to have something like the following:

Fields:
Field, Condition, Value, Parameter, Special Value

Values (Future events):
Start, >,  , Yes, Today

So in the above example the default value with which to initialize the report would be whatever date "Today" is. Then the user could still change the date since parameter was set to yes.

Similarly having special values of 'This Year', 'Last Year',  'This Month', and 'Next Month' could also be very handy.

Finally, in closing on this overly long post, I would like to commend the Feng Office team on a fantastic product to date. The interface is beautiful, the functionality is smooth, and I have no shame in suggesting it to all kinds of people. Congratulations. I hope you have continued growth and I hope to be able to aid in contributing.

Cheers,
Rob.

Pet

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2010, 04:36:00 pm »
Where I see a bit of a problem is perhaps with engagement of developers seeking to contribute code. I've offered up some patches here and there but have not seen any feedback on the forums with respect to them.

Indeed, even though they've asked for help, when it is offered, there is no response in some cases.

Now looking at your lovely list since I'm here... I may as well list which ones I think are truly important for improving the collaborative experience:

Without getting this thread too off-track, this isn't MY list, it is just a list of some major requests from the forums. I put them in there to illustrate my point. There are many other threads discussing those features. I'd like to keep this discussion away from the trees and back to the forest. :)
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interjinn

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2010, 04:39:00 pm »
*lol* Touché!  ;D

allenlook

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2010, 04:55:21 pm »
Being a veritable noob, I've been trolling the forums quite a bit looking for help and trying to learn.

I have to admit I've also been struck by the number of posts that go unanswered.  Especially the posts from people offering to help code a certain feature if they can just get pointed in the right direction.
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conrado

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2010, 04:58:16 pm »
Hi all. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Feng Office CEO and co-Founder (and OpenGoo Founder).

I was afraid a thread like this one would pop up as, truth be said, we've been less active at the Forum.

I am sorry you have that impression, but it is absolutely understandable. I'm particularly sad it is Pet, whom I admire from his work supporting pretty much every community member that has posted on the forum these past months.

Bittone and Interjinn have provided many of the arguments I would have used on a first reply.

Yes, we need to do a much much better work at enabling more contribution. This one is a big due.

Yes, the latest versions have focused on improving the core, and not on new features. We want to have a strong foundation on top of which to build all the features listed, and more.

Yes, we are focusing on being not only profitable, but to finance further development - at increased speed -. The first three years of existence of Feng Office/OpenGoo (2007-2009) the founding team not only invested their full time to the project, but also hired people to work on development out of their own pockets. We are only now - thanks to the hundreds of customers who pay and use our products and services -  reaching a break-even point. But still, we need to pay for the salaries of a big staff. This focus is the only means we have found to finance development. As you all rightly noted, this is only through a 'Production-grade' product and excellent services. That is taking a lot of our time.

And yes, the future of Feng Office will include not only the features listed here, but many more, and many improvements on what it already has. Give it time, and your continuous support.

Thank you!
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interjinn

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2010, 05:15:16 pm »
Thank you Conrado for the well written feedback.

Pet

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2010, 06:00:25 pm »
I was afraid a thread like this one would pop up as, truth be said, we've been less active at the Forum.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving that problem, as they say.  ;)  Dialog is healthy and no company should be afraid of it. I'm glad you addressed it.

What will Feng Office be doing to address and acknowledge user contributions? Can we ever expect a roadmap, or do you feel as though the path forward is not yet well enough defined?

Conrado, someone has to light a fire under your seat!

cheers
« Last Edit: February 12, 2010, 06:02:32 pm by Pet »
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conrado

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2010, 06:43:50 pm »
What will Feng Office be doing to address and acknowledge user contributions?
My promise is that we'll keep on trying to improve our internal processes in order to be more responsive to the many community members contributing and  asking for ways to contribute. It is hard to drive coders to think of ways on improving this because they prefer to... well... code!

That is one part of the problem. The other part is resources. I would like to  assign more people to the staff, so that at least one person's full-time responsibility is to address  and channel community contributions. We are not there yet.

Can we ever expect a roadmap, or do you feel as though the path forward is not yet well enough defined?
What is better defined is the vision. And I'm long overdue on my self-promise to be more clear on that picture. The path is certainly ever-changin' (many times for the better), and that is the reason why we haven't been able to post roadmaps.

Conrado, someone has to light a fire under your seat!
Why would you want to do that? That's dangerous!  :P
Seriously now, I lost that one on translation.

cheers
Cheers pal!
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interjinn

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2010, 06:47:32 pm »
Quote
someone has to light a fire under your seat!

It means someone needs to get you moving since nobody stays still long when their bum is on fire  ;D

conrado

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2010, 07:07:27 pm »
Ahhh. Ok. That was one possibility. Then let me quote Skipper to state I was actually moving, but simply, you didn't see anything [Mins 1:30-2:10].  ;D
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allenlook

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2010, 11:51:02 pm »
This question comes from my ignorance of the open source model.  My understanding is that when something benefits a community people tend to code for it and share their code for the warm and fuzzy feeling.

When something benefits a for-profit company people tend to pull back because they don't want their work to be leveraged by someone else, even if they would have given it away in the first place.

Humans, by their very nature, are "relativity-based", and studies have shown that someone will gladly accept $10 every time, unless they are led to believe that if they take the $10 a stranger next to them will get $20, and then they refuse the $10 just because "that other guy would be getting more than me."  Even though they could walk away $10 richer, they turn it away!

How does Feng Office foster community contribution when it is a for-profit company?  For that matter, how does *any* company that stewards an open source product - eg. MySQL et. al.?  I don't think I've ever understood that - is it the services and/or support?
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interjinn

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2010, 12:22:45 am »
Feng Office benefits both a community and the Feng Office business. It benefits the community because as many of us know, it costs nothing for us to download what Feng Office has brought us so far. It benefits Feng Office because they can sell services and support around the product that they freely give away. In this way the relationship is symbiotic. This has several advantages over a purely community based scenario. For instance, Feng Office has said they have a dedicated team of payed employees whose job it is to fix bugs, add features, engage the community, and polish the software. This ensures resources are allocated regardless of whether the community has gained traction yet, additionally, it provides a control center for any direction the project may take, puts a face on the project for interested businesses, and adds a level of seriousness that can be lacking in purely community efforts. This obviously has a cost to Feng Office that they surely would like to regain over time; however, on the flip side, those with skill can download the software, for free, and use it as they please. The community is in no way obligated to pay for services, pay to add features, or to even like the Feng team, but for the mutual benefit of everyone, skilled community members, or businesses with skilled employees, will usually pass back bug fixes, code enhancements, and even features so that the upstream maintenance of their customizations will be simplified when new releases become available. Additionally, when many users try out alpha, beta, and RC versions of the software, Feng benefits from a large community of application testers which helps enhance the product's quality since most of these people will at the very least return feedback. This in turn drives further adoption.

Anyways, I do go on sometimes it seems, but this is how I've come to understand open source and the commercialization of open source software over the years. As it stands many commercial entities are certainly profiting from Feng Office (I am), and I see no reason why Feng Office shouldn't also profit. If Feng Office can improve their community engagement element and better facilitate contributions, I think they may be on the cusp of a snowball effect.

conrado

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Re: Is Feng Office going anywhere?
« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2010, 11:13:32 am »
Interjinn, would you like to work on our PR?  :P

Seriously, your comment is impeccable.

To add more insight into this very interesting topic; here is a recent interview with Monty Widenius, from MySQL I've been wanting to share.

Following are just a couple of quotes that caught my attention, on topics that frequently pop-up around Feng Office:

Quote
"To do a fork, you need a huge coordinated effort. You need something like five million dollars a year to pay for developer salaries. And in the whole history of MySQL, we never got a community. We were open and we tried to get help, but a community doesn't just appear and start to do something"

"We never got a community" ...And this is MySQL! Certainly on the top-5 lists of open source projects, whatever the category.

Also, note the money figure.

Quote
"The question is just: will the open source community be enough? I mean, we are spending 100,000 Euros a month just to keep our organization alive and do a limited [feature] set for MySQL. But someone has to pay, and it can't always be the open source community."

Money figures again. Notice how development does cost a bit of money.
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