OpenOffice vs. Microsoft Office

* Microsoft Subnet draws traffic, sadly, with insults

If you haven't checked out the new Microsoft Subnet and Cisco Subnet focus areas on the Network World Web site yet, you should. Both offer interesting commentaries on their particular subjects. But I don’t agree with this blog post in the Microsoft Subnet about the dangers of using open source tools because I think it will do real financial harm to small businesses.

Here's the summary I get from the blog: businesses that use anything except Microsoft Office are, evidently, stupid. Here's my counter argument: any company that automatically puts Microsoft Office on every computer wastes bags and bags of money.

Eighty percent of computer users never exploit 20% of their office productivity suite features. Since I believe the 80/20 rule applies just about everywhere, that means that 80% of users don't need to pay hundreds of dollars for software features they'll never use.

Let's get out a calculator and figure the office productivity suite costs for a company with 50 users. If we're talking Microsoft Office on every computer, that means 50 times the price of the software. Since Microsoft makes it hard to find the price of Office, depending on which volume licensing arrangement is used, let's set the price at $300 a computer for Microsoft Office 2003 and $350 for Office 2007 (standard editions).

Total for 50 users with Microsoft Office 2007: $17,500.

Total for 50 users with Microsoft Office 2003: $15,000.

Now let's invoke the 80/20 rule and buy Microsoft Office for 20% of the users who may need advanced features now and then, and get OpenOffice (now up to Version 2.2) for the rest. In other words, 10 people using Microsoft, 40 using OpenOffice.

Total for 50 users following 80/20 rule with OpenOffice and Office 2007: $3,500.

Total for 50 users following 80/20 rule with OpenOffice and Office 2003: $3,000.

Remember that each of the 50 users involved here has a full office productivity suite on their computer. Word processing, presentations, drawing program, and even a database comes with OpenOffice.

One worry for companies is that a file will come in from a Microsoft user and OpenOffice won't handle it. The only files that create such a problem come from Microsoft Office 2007's new file formats. Every other Microsoft Office file I've received in the past year while I've used OpenOffice exclusively worked fine.

Sometimes the formatting in a file was a bit screwy if the Microsoft document included a font that OpenOffice didn't have, but the way to ensure your document looks the way you want it to no matter who opens it is to save the file in PDF from Adobe. OpenOffice included PDF export for years, but Microsoft just added that feature in Office 2007.

For those who feel they need a company with a technical support staff standing behind its office productivity suite, they can buy StarOffice from Sun for $75 per user. That means you only save $11,000 over Office 2007 and $8,500 over Office 2003, but you have support at the end of the telephone line.

Remember how we made fun of the Pentagon for buying standard hammers for $400? I say we should point and laugh at the Pentagon for paying $300 for an office suite if they can get one for $0 dollars, which they can with OpenOffice. Or they can support an American company and buy StarOffice, saving $225 per seat with no loss of productivity.

A mixed set of office suites handles every potential issue. Someone sends you an Office 2007 DOCX file? You can handle it. Need to create a document with three columns, a header, a footer, and an index? No problem – every one of the 50 users has the tools for that type of job. But if your power Office users feel better with Microsoft software, they can have it. You're covered no matter what, except you keep thousands of dollars in your pocket.

An OpenOffice file can easily be used by Windows, Linux, and Macintosh users, and soon we'll talk about how you can save many more thousands following the 80/20 rule for operating systems. This column you're reading started as a DOC file created in Microsoft Office, then edited with OpenOffice2.2 on a Windows XP machine, OpenOffice2 on a PC running DreamLINUX, and a laptop running OpenOffice2.2 on Ubuntu Linux. Every computer edited and saved this document with nary a problem.

Take a look at the Microsoft Subnet on the Network World Web site. Just don't believe everything you read there until you filter the content through small business reality. You know, the filter that says software is a tool, and using the right tool for the job saves money.

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