Linux Today: Linux News On Internet Time.

Community: Building a Levy Against the Next MS Office Hurricane

Mar 24, 2006, 01:00 (7 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Roger Moore)

[ Thanks to Roger Moore for this article. ]

Listening to the National Public Radio on my way home last night, I heard a report mentioning that experts predict, once again, a very active hurricane season this year. This morning, at work, I read Groklaw and found links to screenshots of the latest MS Office applications.

I am an IT Manager, so the first thing that comes to my mind when I see this is not "whoa cool, new toys with more eye candy!" but "oh no, how am I going to integrate this? Will it work on our existing servers, or will I have to upgrade them again? How long will I be able to hold on to our existing versions of Office (Office 2003, by the way) before being forced to upgrade by incoming mail attachments in the new format? Would it be viewed as irresponsible on my part to not upgrade and forgo MS's support?" All of a sudden the news about the next hurricane season came to mind again, but with a vision of a huge MS logo in front of it.

Personally, I have been using OpenOffice.org for years. I even installed it on my business manager's computer so that he could get a feel for it and for the most part he likes it. His only gripe was that his Excel formula-writing skills do not seamlessly migrate, but he acknowledges that that is a reasonable compromise. Everyone else in the office uses MS Office. We are an architectural firm, so Linux is out of the question as desktop OS for now since our main application, Autodesk Architectural Desktop, is only available on Windows. However, I have been slowly introducing some free software into our environment.

Everyone is encouraged to use Firefox. Everyone uses KeePass to store their passwords. And, recently those that received the latest computer upgrades received The Gimp instead of Photoshop, in spite of owning valid Photoshop licenses.

I haven't yet dared to install OpenOffice.org on everyone's computer. Why? Well, for one, because I am relatively new in this company. But also because it really offers no obvious functional benefits for the users over their current office suite (although I think the AutoComplete feature in OpenOffice is awesome). Our firm sends and receives a lot of Word documents as email attachments and I would hate to have our users complaining about formating lost in translation (even though I can count in one hand the number of mistranslated documents that I have ran across in all my years of using OpenOffice).

And then if we were to deploy OpenOffice, what format should we choose to save our files on? Yes, I know all about the advantages of ODF (Open Document Format) for data retention, but are we willing to incur the cost of the complexity introduced by having to deal with two document formats? Policies will have to be implemented and users trained on them, for what to do when Word documents are received from the outside, and what format to use when sending documents to the outside. The latter one is the one that worries me most.

If we were to implement ODF for internal use, should we continue sending MS format files to the outside? That would mean that the users have to remember to save the files on the right format for the right circumstance, and this is bound to fail once in a while. On the other hand we could simply send ODF files to the outside, maybe with a brief explanatory note about what it is and how to open it. But, how would our contacts feel about that? Sure, OpenOffice.org is available without cost, but so is the metric system, and we all know how well received it was here in the USA. In spite of all its benefits, the metric system was finally abandoned, and the ones promoting it simply gave up. Will the same thing happen to ODF? Fortunately, at the moment, momentum seems to be on the side of ODF.

In Europe ODF is being received quite well. In Massachusetts, ODF continues its march towards becoming the state's official document format. The ODF Alliance seems to be quite busy and have prepared some great informational materials to use in this cause. All of this sure is encouraging, and makes one feel not so alone in the struggle.

How far is our firm willing to subject itself to the MS dictatorship? I guess that is a business decision that my business manager will have to make. I will speak to him about these issues and see what he decides. If he wants to try the ODF route, I will be all for it. If he thinks that continuing to pay the MS expense is the way he wants to go, at least I know what to do next.

Our friends in New Orleans still have some time to try to prepare for next hurricane season. The rest of us still have some time to try to prepare for the next MS Office. However, in both cases, the time is very short. If you want to help build a levy against the next MS Office upgrade, the time to do it is now. If you are an IT person, now is time to talk to your business manager about the alternatives to MS. If you manage a business, are you informed enough about this alternatives so as to be able to make a sound and informed decision? Don't believe everything you hear by marketeers. The alternatives are real and they are great. However, action is needed, and it is needed now.