Why do you still use Microsoft? (Office vs. OpenOffice vs. GoogleDocs)
by Ken Stewart on April 8, 2008 (reprinted with permission)

Ken Stewart’s website, ChangeForge, focuses on the collision between the constantly changing worlds of business and technology in an information-centric world. Ken serves on the board of the new Managed Print Services Association, an international industry organization seeking worldwide best practices for the managed print services industry. He is also the founder of Seeking the Son. He is always interested in connecting with you.

Why do you still use Microsoft Office? As you read this aloud, you may ask yourself why I’m asking such a silly question… Is it – really – a simple question?

My company currently uses Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 Professional editions, and overall, there are some wonderful tools at our disposal. Never before the invention of spreadsheets, word processors, presentation and database tools did the computer ever do so much for the “normal user”. Computers, for the longest time, were the domain of geeks and propeller heads alike – those that understood computer speak.

Along came graphical user interfaces and office productivity software. Then over time technology came to resemble a usable form, a form that could empower end-users to be more efficient, do more with less, and generally help make information easier to obtain.

Today, we live in a world where the enterprise is dominated by Microsoft. In stepping back to review, they have some of the very features IT shops of any size like to see: integration from the front office to the back office, standardized roll-out toolsets, control and security options, and a well-adopted base of subscribers ensuring overall platform stability.

Specifically, Microsoft really has three core offerings to the enterprise: Desktop software, Office software, and backoffice software (e.g. servers, e-mail, database, etc.). Microsoft’s Office division is arguably one of the most profitable divisions within the company, and this is because they produce very powerful, if not overly-bloated, productivity tools like Word, Excel, etc. However, the cost to maintain this for an organization of any size can become a little harsh after you start seeing on-going costs, especially during major version upgrades.

For this reason, and many others revolving around Microsoft’s monopolistic profile in this segment, other somewhat strong players have begun to emerge slowly such as, OpenOffice and Google Docs. These are free to download and use (as of this writing), and offer very similar functions for many users.

However, the one big gotcha that always remains is the self-feeding loop Microsoft has established whereby I, as a user, must have Office to disseminate documents to my customers as they are using Office. If I were to switch away, I might not be able to see the document I receive from my customer very well or they may not be able to render my own document.

Transferring a document from one application format to another requires some very intricate filters that make it a 1-touch process for you and me. To be fair, these types of conversation filters just were not powerful enough to handle the transition – that is until lately.

OpenOffice was founded by a division of Sun Microsystems, and has been support through many generations of development. We are presently beginning field trials with the latest OpenOffice suite of software to facilitate expense reports, vacation requests and various other minor processes where we have found MS Office cost prohibitive in our standard configuration.

The benefits to us are it’s free and it can render Office documents fairly well (almost looking like their original format), and it can be used online and offline.

We also decided to begin beta testing the Google Docs software as well. Google Docs offers an online platform to manage your documents, but did not have a way to bring those documents to you when you couldn’t connect up to a Wi-Fi spot, that is until recently.

The Google Docs application has only undergone limited testing with our technology department itself. We found the integration quite easy, but a down side for us was that the import and re-export process for existing documents has been plagued with formatting issues. Another thing you might want to be aware of is a clause not present in other productivity software suites:

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This license is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

11.2 You agree that this license includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

In a nutshell, this states your documents are now the property of Google. Going back, what was one of the major components enterprise clients require? Oh, that’s right control and security options! I wonder sometimes why we think Google is so much better than Microsoft with language like this floating through almost every one of their EULA’s.

In conclusion, for now Microsoft Office solutions will continue to be our main stay because our clients require it, and because some of the back office integration with SharePoint, and just about every other program on the planet support the Office products directly or indirectly. We cannot say the same for OpenOffice, but it is a compelling argument to load this on those users who do not need the advanced features provided in Office.

Google Docs, on the other hand, not only requires each person to have a login, separate from their network login, provides for the mass consumption of your information at their discretion. That is a huge problem for me as the intellectual property possessed within our corporate documents outlines very key information to our on-going business.

Why are you still using Microsoft Office? Hopefully you have thought about it and know why. Chances are you are resigned to think that is your only recourse, but offerings such as OpenOffice are becoming much better aligned to the needs of the enterprise users and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. It is most definitely worth a look as it can save you some dollars on your bottom line.



Additional Comments
by Shaun Seibel, Research Librarian, University of North Texas

I’ve use all three over the years, primarily MS Office on the work computer, Open Office on the personal computer (when I had one), and Google Docs when working on presentations, conferences, or collaborative environments (work or otherwise).

By its very nature, I find Open Office or other open source word processing software such as Abiword much more individually focused because each person can customize the software to the nth degree and to their individual needs or uses. While not as robust as the Firefox extension site, Open Office has a quite a few extensions or tools to enhance the existing software, not to mention 1000s of volunteers working on making the software better on an hourly/daily basis. http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/

Is there anything specifically unique to Open Office? Not really. It is free, which is a plus, and it offers more software than Microsoft Office, but the look and feel (last time I used it) was like an early version of WordPerfect or MS Office. Because Microsoft Office is still the dominant word processor for academic and corporate environments, often times these open source developers are forced to mimic the look and feel of it because they want their users to have a uncomplicated transition.

Microsoft Office, in turn, is slowing trying to change their image (or at least this is how I view). Rather than being the stodgy, never changing software it is, they are slowly trying introduce new concepts into their products. Granted, they don’t advertise it and haven’t really integrated it very well, the but the Office Labs concept site is showing that they are allowing their programmer to innovate. Not quite Google Labs, but akin to it (Google lets their programmers take time out to develop new ideas). http://www.officelabs.com/Pages/Default.aspx

Now how do I perceive Microsoft Office? Hard to say. It is the default desktop publishing software for my work environment. It is a constant, so I don’t think about it. It is there, it does the job. I may not always like it, but it is serviceable. Everyone uses, some people require it and won’t open anything up or accept it unless done in Office. I don’t particularly like the current design with the Ribbon and hate that if you want to remove it, you have to purchase software from Japan to do so. People are designing software to work with and better the software, but they rarely integrate that well and often cause software problems that force you to remove them. Not to mention, they are rarely free. Xobni is one such free product that I feel really didn’t integrate well with Outlook (http://www.xobni.com/).

Google Docs, up until recently, was still in beta, like many things in Google’s world of software. Of all the software, I really haven’t explored the possible depths that Google has to offer. I use Gmail, I’ve used their presentation software, and I’ve collaboratively updated documents and presentation with Google Docs. However, since I still find a lot of desktop software more convenient (it is there and doesn’t require a login and password), I tend to ignore Google Docs for the most part.



Original Publication Date: 
March 1, 2010
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