InfoWorld recently ran an article about Microsoft Office alternatives that got me to thinking about how I use them in my work and my stance on them as a whole. First, I’ve been a long time Microsoft Office user (since there was a Microsoft Office in fact) who lives and works in a Microsoft Office town (the DC area). To top that off, I’ve been writing about various Microsoft Office topics for a while now.
On the other hand, I’ve also written about cloud-based Microsoft Office alternatives for a while now and still follow these technology alternatives and even use them on a limited basis on some personal and volunteer projects.
Yellow Light. Green Light
I actually welcome Microsoft Office alternatives – especially Google Apps for Business and Zoho Business – but then imitation is the sincerest form of flattery when it comes to OpenOffice.org, Lotus Symphony, and LibreOffice. The free desktop alternatives bring little to nothing new to the table for authors and their organizations. The biggest caution flag for me is document format compatibility but my argument differs from the so-called Open Document Format argument. I can’t name an organization I’ve worked with in the past 15 years that hasn’t been standardized on Microsoft Office for the majority of their documents.
While there are many costs behind implementing and running Microsoft Office in the enterprise, nobody has yet to broach the true costs of moving away from Microsoft Office document formats (*.doc, *.xls, and *.ppt), through file format conversion. The Open Document Format isn’t the same format as Microsoft Office and opens up the potential for all sorts of document format and compatibility issues and I won’t even touch upon spreadsheet formulas. Document corruptions, formatting issues, and format compatibility may seem non-issues at first glance but out in the cubicle farm they can become a drain on productivity and morale that leads to further shortcuts and bad practices that further perpetuate the cycle.
Client requirements would be the only green lighr for me to make a wholesale move to a Microsoft Office alternative and even that would be just for their project because jeopardizing document fidelity by using a different tool isn’t the way to do business as a technical writer.
The Web and Office Productivity
While I have no doubt that the web should play a part of office productivity suites, I espouse a more complementary role for web office technologies in this scenario based on my real life experience working with users. I am using Google Docs for part of my volunteer work at church and it is working OK. We don’t have a budget and the varying schedules of the ministry’s core group means we are using a number of free cloud based alternatives including Google Docs and Dropbox. Except for one volunteer who uses OpenOffice.org, we’ve yet to have problems bringing in presentations and documents from Microsoft Office.
While Google is racking up enterprise wins for Google Apps for Business, Google Apps for Education, and Google Apps for Government — there is no way getting around the migration and training that needs to take place to make users productive out of the gate.
Mobility and Office Productivity
When I roll, I always have my iPhone with me and usually my iPad isn’t too far out of reach so I was quick to try out some of the mobile office alternatives for each device since I store many of my active and important project files on Dropbox. On my iPhone 4, I’ve had the most success with the Google mobile client (to hit up files I have in Google Docs) While my iPad may never replace my laptop, I like using the Google mobile client and DocsToGo to access files for review.
Microsoft Office Alternatives and Me
My choice in Office suite is not about my personal preference but rather client and project driven which for many of us is still a Microsoft Office world. No use wasting time on formatting and document corruption issues because you have to convert files over to another format when you should have been adapting to the client’s requirements in the first place.
Do you use Microsoft alternatives on a regular basis?