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Giving up Microsoft Office

Jan 12, 20043 mins
MicrosoftMicrosoft OfficeSmall and Medium Business

Small business switches to OpenOffice to escape Microsoft product activation

Growing disaffection with Microsoft licensing and product activation policies is spurring some small businesses —like American LED-gible — to switch from Microsoft Office to cheaper open-source alternatives. 

As the name suggests, American LED-gible makes giant signs made from millions of light-emitting diodes, which manufacturers such as General Motors use to broadcast information to assembly line workers. Currently, the Columbus, Ohio, firm is building a sign that’s 12 feet wide and 6 feet tall, weighing more than 1,000 pounds.

When Microsoft began requiring product activation with the launch of Office XP two years ago, American LED-gible balked. Product activation limits to 50 the number of times a company can copy the software before contacting Microsoft for an activation number.

“This is huge liability because the keys to your software are held by the vendor,” says Matthew Linehan, engineering manager at American LED-gible.  Because the company routinely uses older software versions to work on legacy data and documents, Linehan fears Microsoft could use product activation to force future upgrades, which would be costly and hamper the company’s productivity.    

So rather than risk it, American LED-gible decided to pursue an open-source software system. Linehan downloaded OpenOffice 1.1, which is available free, and began testing it on his own system. In time, all 10 employees made the switch. 

Linehan admits the transition from Office to Open Office wasn’t completely painless. “It certainly works differently, so there is a learning curve, but once you’ve learned to use it, it’s a perfectly good and functional suite. I can do anything I could do in Office before,” he says.

The firm’s accounting department — which wasn’t completely sold on leaving Excel — found the transition especially difficult — at least until Linehan helped them figure out which spreadsheet functions they needed. 

“The learning curve did have some impact on our productivity [at the beginning], but we did the conversion during a [business] downturn when we were slow anyway,” Linehan says.  He recommends other small businesses take a go-slow approach, switching one program at a time. 

Now American LED-gible is exploring switching its desktop operating system from Windows 2000 to Linux. Linehan is running tests, and believes that because it’s flexible and free, open-source software is better for everyone.

“Even if it’s not a philosophical issue, on price alone, open source beats out proprietary systems,” he says. 

Sun’s StarOffice 7.0 ($80) includes enhancements to OpenOffice such as a database, spell checker and other features.  Click here to view a comparative features chart.