Why would you NOT use OpenOffice?

If some people are to be believed, they have good reasons they don't use OpenOffice. "Sure it says it is free, but I would have to retrain my staff because all the menus are different" would be one of the common ones. That was until Microsoft decided not to use menus anymore, so that excuse is gone. Another was that it couldn't handle the files made in MS Office. Well, welcome to the new versions of office where most people still running MS Office can't read the new files anyway, (unless they know about a download that needs admin rights to install).

They said MS Office starts much quicker than OpenOffice. They didn't realise the reason their PCs took a minute longer to boot is because it was quietly loading office components in advance of you using them. I would rather my PC booted in it's current 15 seconds, and took another 10 seconds to load OpenOffice if I call on it, than wait 2 minutes or more for boot so Word sprang into action in a second - that maths seems like a loss to me, how about you? The newer fast loading technologies that came in with Vista can make your PC take up to 5 minutes to boot, to cut 10 seconds off load for applications you use frequently. Maths teacher to Bill Gates: "go to detention".

For OpenOffice

The arguments for using OpenOffice are many, the main three being: it's free; it runs on anything - Mac, PC, Linux, mobile phones whatever; it's files are truly open and able to be used forever. Others are that it is a full suite providing all the programs normal versions of MS Office supplies and more., yet is more able out of the box to read your new and old MS Office files than versions of MS Office is! That's right, the newer versions of MS Office ban old files, the older versions don't read new files without a download and an update. If you have a lot of MS Office files, then OpenOffice is actually a better choice.

MS Office had too many features that they couldn't fit in the menus, so they unilaterally decided to make the ribbon which is driven by the universally despised paperclip AI technology. And why couldn't it fit all in the menus? They said they had features that each one was only there for one or two companies. To me, the old customisable toolbars and menus could cope with this - round up the least used 2000 features and make the user insert them if they wanted them. They ASKED for the feature, so knew it was there to go out and find it and place it in the menu. We didn't want it, down to 99.999% of users, so why do we suffer for that decision?

Other reasons against MS Office are compatibility with other platforms. Sure, there is a Mac version, but it doesn't actually interoperate properly with the macros, and doesn't tie into the version on PC so is possibly less compatible than just using OpenOffice anyway. Cost - the full suite is an expensive item, and again 99.999% or more users don't use any features that weren't there in the prime period of Office 97. How many multimedia online presentations do you want embedded into an invoice you are just printing anyway? How many millions of hours have staff around the world wasted chasing an image around the page in Word because they didn't even know how Publisher worked, even though you paid for it in the bundle and it is sat taking up diskspace?

Proprietary formats

Proprietary formats are terrible things in practise. In the early nineties I made 30 issues of a monthly magazine in an early version of Pagemaker. I backed them up religiously, knowing the writer wanted them in an archive for eternity. Just four years later they were gone. Not only had Pagemaker moved on to where special utilities were needed to convert up any part of the content, the backup software was gone too. Now, that backup software was proprietary, so I would have to decode the backup system, maybe a weeks work to do well, then decode the files, then move them up to the new version of Pagemaker. Pause for breath: but the backup software controlled the hardware directly in a proprietary way, and computers had moved on to where the new motherboards didn't act the same way,. the processors timed differently etc.

Those backup disks went into a skip. Did I learn? Ask me what I am doing this weekend? That's right, I have loads of old labels and DVD covers for a business in Pagemaker 7 format. I need to edit them up a little, just a little. I can't cut and paste from Pagemaker into any other publishing program. I found the same with Publisher incidentally. So, I need to start them all over again, and for damn sure it is going into OpenOffice Draw, then in the the worst case, years in the future, I can boot up an old virtual machine with code I can download for eternity and publish them to PDF or whatever is around then if need be.

If you have old files, there are a lot of threats to them. Ageing disks and viruses are normally considered the worst problems. Wrong. As I have shown, the makers of the proprietary software, and the backup software, are likely to be the ones working hardest against you.

Lock In

Why would they do it? Surely it annoys the customers and that is bad for business right? Not in a monopoly lock-in, the exact opposite applies, and that is why governments are meant to fight them. Take this scenario. In a company who gets the new machine first even though it is hardly used? The boss. This machine is forced to have the newest software on it by MS Licensing. Who then needs a new set of software, and probably a new machine to be able to run it? The secretary. At that point the domino cascade starts, and everyone has to have a new machine just to read the memos being circulated in the endless small-minded nagging emails that go around a business.

The IT guy is working weekends trying to sort out hardware and software incompatibilities. You may have to get new printers and scanners like in the great shift to Windows 2000 that left us with a room full of such devices that had no drivers for anything past Win 98. Vista had a similar problem. Now at this stage, Microsoft is very happy, Intel is very happy, HP is very happy, in fact everyone is happy except you and your business. Also, your taxes went up because your government tied itself into this cycle too. And your local council taxes. And your local schools had to choose whether to be out of date or cut other spending. Prices went up in your supermarket because of their upgrade cycle, and that of their suppliers. Don't think that this is an exaggeration, all those billions that go to software companies every year come directly out of your pocket, just in many subtle ways.

The government applauded the growth in the IT sector, even though most of the money went through tax havens to America, and the rest only matched the grants they gave them in the first place - out of your money - to build factories here. At the same time the government also raised interest rates to try to dampen spiralling inflation, so your mortgage went up as well.

Maybe now you understand why countries like China, India, Brazil (that's nearly half the planet) want out of this as fast as they can, and are hard at work on Open Source alternatives for the state. I reckon if they can run a country of hundreds of millions of people, it is a bit arrogant of your IT guy to think it can't cope with your office system! Maybe he just wants the job security, because this system benefits him just as much as MS.

I have to admit I understand this, because when I put a system in place I often don't hear from the client until they want to change something, or the hardware has got old and frail. Maybe I should sell fragile rubbish just so I get return custom on a predictable timescale. Or like MS, break your old systems every time I need an income increase? Yup, I take it all back. Can I sell you something that will break in a year and that needs constant work to keep running, I have a house to pay for!