So I was reading Mark O’Sullivan’s comment on my post about Beaumont Hospital where he mentions that Openoffice.org is as good as Microsoft Office. Good enough? Sure, I thought, almost as good, maybe, but as good – really, hard to believe. Anyway, I went and took a look and I’m happy to say, I was surprised by what I found.
But first, let me tell you the context. I was an Office 2000 user. I write the odd 30 or 40 page report with complicated tables and diagrams in it, do a good bit of presentation work, and occasionally give Excel a good hard stretch with an accounting problem. The odd time, I break out Access to do some work on a database (though I prefer to do database work in something like Postgresql). I do most of my work on this rather sad old laptop with 128Mb of RAM, a small hard disk and a slow P3 chip. (I’m as happy to wear this machine out a bit before I get another to replace it.) The OS is Windows 2000 Professional. I tested OpenOffice.org 1.9109 Beta (so this is a review of a pre-release product).
The first thing I used was Powerpoint, to prepare a presentation for this Thursday at the DIT e-learning summer school where Bernie and I are speaking on Thursday. Naturally enough, I had some PowerPoint slides I’d prepared earlier that I wanted to incorporate, so I imported them into the OpenOffice presentation tool, Impress. I was indeed impressed. It imported quite a few megabytes of images and slides. The layout was a little different to what I was used to, but all-in-all it was a little bit better than PowerPoint 2000. Still, everything did run a bit slower than on PowerPoint, but that was more attributable to my slow chip and below-average memory rather than anything else.
I’ve also had a chance to try out Calc, the replacement for Excel. Again, I imported in something I’d done already (although it was quite a small file). For my money, I reckon that Calc is a bit snappier at calculating than Excel 2000. The buttons are in slightly different places, and things like the ‘Sigma’ feature work a little different, but nothing I wouldn’t get used to pretty quickly. A lot of things, like cell formatting and sorting seem to work almost exactly the same as the Microsoft product.
I haven’t had a chance to do much with the word processor, Write. But from looking through, it looks like everything I’d want is there. It is maybe a little more sluggish than my old Word 2000, but not much.
There’s also a ‘Draw’ program, which is something I didn’t have with Office 2000. I haven’t played with it much, but it looks useful for drawing all those little line diagrams that you need for my line of work (business and strategy consulting).
All I can say after looking at this is that if you are considering ordering Office with your new PC or laptop, don’t bother. Unless you have quite specialized needs (such as accessing an existing Access application, or running a document contro system in a legal office) Openoffice will do you just fine. Especially if you’ve got a bit more RAM to spare than I do.
If you were to ask me if I was disappointed with anything, I’d say this: it’s too like the Microsoft Office suite. It’s true that MS Office is the leader which all others must follow, but there are a lot of things about Office that aren’t all that great. The big problem is that Office is really oriented towards the old world, where paper-sharing was the main way of sharing information. What we really need now is something oriented at writing digitally, producing content for the web in a collaborative manner. A webitor, I think I heard Bruce Sterling call it once.
But there’s no question about it. OpenOffice, on the whole really is as good as, maybe better than MS Office There’s no overestimating the consequences of how good OpenOffice’s is (or will be in a few weeks, when they take it out of Beta and into a production release).
It’s obviously a big challenge in itself, but it’s more important as a challenge to the Microsoft platform as a whole.
Once you’ve thrown away the overpriced productivity apps, you might as well throw away the overpriced operating system as well. IT managers don’t say it, but MS Office, together with Microsoft Exchange’s calendar functionality is one of the big restraints that keeps corporations on Microsoft. Decisionmakers can’t go Linux, no matter how cash-strapped they are, because they’d have to risk annoy users by taking away their favorite applications. Now things will change. Once they’ve migrated to OpenOffice, IT managers will have a realistic choice of desktop operating system for the first time since the mid-80’s.