In a recent post I mentioned that I had built a spreadsheet with OpenOffice. OpenOffice.org is an open-source application and it is free. I do not use it because it is free. As I said in the ZDNet interview, the issue is not "free" — the issue is "freedom". OpenOffice is a multi-platform office productivity suite compatible with all major file formats and it runs on both Windows XP and on Linux. I use both operating systems and I don’t want to have to remember the idiosyncrasies of two different office suites. OpenOffice is identical on the two platforms. Some people worry about file compatibility, but I have not found that to be an issue.
Serving on a number of boards and committees means constantly interchanging documents — including some that are quite complex. I create spreadsheets and text documents in OpenOffice and distribute them to colleagues who use Microsoft Office — they have no problems opening and using them. I receive documents that were created in Microsoft Office and I have no problem opening and using them. In fact I saw a study in Queue Magazine that showed that OpenOffice is more compatible in opening files from prior releases of with Microsoft Office files than Microsoft is!
Does OpenOffice have all the features that Microsoft Office has? Is the interface and integration as polished? No. Does OpenOffice have the features that I need and does it get the job done for me? Yes. Will OpenOffice be around for the long pull? It depends on what you believe. One theory is that Microsoft has sucked all the applications into Windows and that the next step will be to suck all the content into the applications. (It was reported in the press today that Word will have a live link to eBay). After the content is sucked from AOL, Yahoo, Comcast, et al into the Windows applications, MSN will be the only Internet service provider left. That is one theory.
The other theory is that governments and schools will decide that they don’t need and can’t afford all the features that Microsoft, no matter how great they may be. As schools and governments ramp up their use of Linux and OpenOffice (or other open-source alternatives), businesses and individuals begin to migrate also and the center of gravity begins to shift. At the recent Demo 2004 conference, a poll of the attendees showed that 40% believed in case #1 and 60% believed in case #2. Time will tell. For me, I am enjoying the use of OpenOffice and I find it meets my needs very well. I am the only presenter I know that does not have PowerPoint on their PC.