Home > Uncategorized > Time vs. Money with Open Source Alternatives: OpenOffice.org

Time vs. Money with Open Source Alternatives: OpenOffice.org

Our most recent computing debate here at Greane Tree Technology Group was whether or not to upgrade our version of Microsoft Office or to consider switching to a free lesser known open source package to fulfill our word processing and other office application needs.

After a little time researching alternatives we found OpenOffice.org: The Free and Open Productivity Suite, a program we had been hearing lots of great things about, but never tested ourselves. From a financial standpoint, we could save a good amount of money going with a copy of OpenOffice, a free alternative to spending hundreds of dollars on an upgrade version of  Microsoft Office.

OpenOffice, a project of Sun Microsystems, is compatible with other major office suites, and  is free to download, use, and distribute.

From OpenOffice.org:

OpenOffice.org is synonymous with quality

  • the roots of OpenOffice.org go back twenty years, creating a mature and powerful product
  • hundreds of thousands of users participated in the beta testing of version 2
  • independent reviewers around the world have recommended the product
  • with a fully open development process, OpenOffice.org has nothing to hide – the product stands or falls on its reputation

OpenOffice.org is easy to use

  • the software looks and feels familiar and is instantly usable by anyone who has used a competitive product
  • it’s easy to change to OpenOffice.org – the software reads all major competitors’ files
  • few language barriers – if it’s not yet available in your language, the chances are it will be soon
  • OpenOffice.org is supported by a global community of friendly volunteers, only too happy to provide assistance to newcomers and advanced users alike

OpenOffice.org is free software

  • you may download OpenOffice.org completely free of any licence fees
  • install it on as many PCs as you like
  • use it for any purpose – private, educational, government and public administration, commercial…
  • pass on copies free of charge to family, friends, students, employees, etc.

Pretty tempting with the following suites:

Writer Writer – a word processor you can use for anything from writing a quick letter to producing an entire book.
Spreadsheet Calc – a powerful spreadsheet with all the tools you need to calculate, analyse, and present your data in numerical reports or sizzling graphics.
Presentation Impress – the fastest, most powerful way to create effective multimedia presentations.
Vector drawing tool Draw – lets you produce everything from simple diagrams to dynamic 3D illustrations.
Database Base – lets you manipulate databases seamlessly. Create and modify tables, forms, queries, and reports, all from within OpenOffice.org
Mathematical function creator Math – lets you create mathematical equations with a graphic user interface or by directly typing your formulas into the equation editor.

Some of our very valuable time would have to be spent learning how to use OpenOffice to give it the evaluation needed to determine if it would be  a good fit for us and our current workflow for word processing,  tabulated data AKA spreadsheets, and presentations. Our feeling was that the time needed to evaluate would greatly outweigh the expense of the Microsoft upgrade, so we downloaded a copy and gave it a test drive.

The download was a bit large, but eventually we were able to run the program. We were pleasantly surprised by how familiar and similar the interface looked like and felt like Microsoft Office.  In almost no time we were creating professionally formatted text documents. OpenOffice’s toolbars, and context menus were equally as familiar and possibly even a bit easier to use.

We wanted to go a bit deeper and decided to test out working with a formatted spreadsheet, trying  color alternatives to spreadsheet rows.  Unfortunately, we had little luck figuring out how to do this on my own, but after a quick web search, within minutes we found the answer to our questions on an OpenOffice help forum and in no time we had our first Open Office formatted spreadsheet.

All in all, our switch to OpenOffice turned out to be an easy one, with the key factor that we saved a good amount of money in our software budget.

Should you consider Open Source Software (OSS) for your organization?

An advantage of using OSS for IT is the total cost of ownership. Although, the total cost of ownership can be diminished or consumed by some of the disadvantages.  OpenOffice.org is a great example of a cost-effective and usable alternative to a widely accepted commercial product, however not all Open Source Software options has the same viability.

Advantages of Open Source Solutions:

  • Initial Investment: Free or fraction of cost of commercial equivalent
  • Maintenance and Updates: Free to low cost  maintenance
  • Support & Help: Free or fractional cost of cost of commercial equivalent
  • Cost of custom IT solution: Fraction of cost versus paying a commercial vendor

Disadvantages of Open Source Solutions:

  • Finding the OSS commercial equivalent can be difficult as they are not always provided by a well known, well advertised commercial vendor, compared to commercial packages that are well advertised, have dedicated marketing strategies and visibility. The time it takes to find, evaluate, install, and use the OSS may diminish the overall cost savings.
  • Maintenance, or updates, may not be available on a regular schedule. Depending on the type of maintenance needed, it could prevent or inhibit workflow which may require time and money in  workarounds.
  • There may be little or no support, i.e. phone, online help, or a community forum. Finding the answer to your question may require costs in research time and money, or both.
  • The learning curve for using the software may diminish the cost savings versus using a commercially well-known equivalent.

All in all, we have found our switch to OpenOffice to be a very beneficial one.   Best of luck to you as you make similiar considerations for your business computing needs in 2010.

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