Going Toe Dipping with Office Alternatives

Tips for finding the perfect cross-platform productivity suite for your business.
Posted February 28, 2006
By

Mike Houghton


What we have works, or does it?

Every few years or so, large businesses are faced with the daunting task of deciding on a new or replacement office productivity suite. Many of these businesses have adopted a "good enough" approach to dealing with these upgrades.

So at what point do business leaders decide when to upgrade to an all-new suite? In most cases, the strategy is dictated by vendor support agreements, or in other words, “If it’s supported by the vendor, then it’s good enough for our business.”

When it comes to an office component, collaboration is the key to success. Discussing a replacement to your current office suite with sponsors from across your entire organization is critical to the success of adopting a replacement.

MS Office, is there anything else?

With Microsoft completely dominating the business market with its Office products, it seems unlikely that a large business would move to anything but another Microsoft product. This however, is no longer a given.

In fact, many large businesses are in the process of researching the pros and cons of switching to a non-Microsoft product in an effort to drive down licensing costs and to get away from the periodic and costly upgrades associated with these products.

In the past, mostly home and small business users worked with software like Corel, Open Office, StarOffice and other less expensive or open source offerings. With the standard suite costing nearly four times as much as the alternatives, many larger organizations are looking for more cost effective solutions. And of course, like most open source applications, the free aspect of these programs speaks loudly to business officers and decision makers.

With cross-platform compatibility driving the move, and products like Open Office and StarOffice penetrating only about 1% of the market, it’s an uphill and risky battle to migrate a large or global businesses to such a largely unaccepted platform. Even with Corel’s WordPerfect being the number 2 contender to Microsoft Office in the large business arena; it currently holds only about 15% of the market. It too falls far short of being the de facto standard for office suites so a move by a global organization to an open source office suite would have an enormous impact on the acceptance of such a program.

Free isn’t always better.

About 15 years ago Microsoft released the first bundled office suite and dubbed it “Office 3.0”. Back then it was simply a marketing term for a bundled set of office productivity applications that had previously been sold separately. Purchasing each component separately cost the buyer significantly more money, but this scenario may not hold true today.

Most businesses would do well to separate the various office suite functions into their basic groups, then from there decide on a product solution for each, versus trying to bundle all of their office components into a single suite. Such things as editing and viewing documents or word processing, spreadsheets, database access, email or communications, a presentation program, and graphics tools can all be broken up into the basic applications that best suit your businesses needs.

It’s safe to say that most, if not every, element of your businesses office productivity needs can be fulfilled for free. At least free from a licensing perspective since open source application usually require programming in order to be customized to your businesses needs and support for this programming and debugging is often only found in public forums versus paid support for a licensed application.

While most word processing suites do a fine job of handling Microsoft Office file formats, program bugs and small formatting inconsistencies still remain and will typically require reworking complex documents and spreadsheets during migration and sharing with external business associates. As a result, external compatibility may continue to be an issue when sharing files with the less computer savvy users.

Alternatives and things to consider when choosing one.

Your business will need to consider some of the following topics when looking at your choices. Such as...

  • It should meet or exceed your current office clients functions
  • Document compatibility with your external customers and vendors
  • Ease of deployment
  • Is it intuitive and user friendly? Will training be required?
  • Ability to save as .pdf
  • Non-resource intensive, free from memory leaks
  • Product support, and remember that freeware will not offer support
  • Security patch and update availability. Will this require a reboot?
  • Multi-language support for a global businesses
  • Use of scripting and macros
  • Password protection and encryption
  • Notification and File locking for shared or networked files
  • Mobile device capable including tablet computers
  • Ability to use custom fonts

Below is a list of both licensed and open source or free office suites to consider. It’s always a good idea to consider each application within a suite on its own merits, leaving the possibility of choosing what works best for your business.

Licensed Suites

  • Ability Office - Link
  • AppleWorks - Link
  • EasyOffice Premium - Link
  • iWork - Link
  • Lotus SmartSuite - Link
  • StarOffice - Link
  • WordPerfect Office - Link
  • 602PC Suite - Link

Free/Open Source






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