The sun shines this week on the OpenSource community. The huge corporate behemoth Micro$oft has finally recognized that truly free products like OpenOffice are legitimate contenders in the office productivity tools environment.
Okay, Steve Balmer (CEO Micro$oft) did not exactly come out and say it, but their recent announcement that they will bake into Office2007 full support for the ODF file format is good enough endorsement for me.
Time for a brief, but important history lesson...
ODF stands for OpenDocument Format. It is a free and open file format for electronic office documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents. It is an ISO/IEC International Standard, which means that its specifications are freely available and free to use. Most of the opensource office tools have implemented the ODF means for saving file data.
Up unitl Micro$oft Office 2007, Micro$oft's files were stored in a propriety format, that made it difficult for other software packages to read. Micro$oft started to get pressure from large customers (especially governments) about the fact that documents created by M$ Office 2000 or 2003 may be difficult to use years after those suites were no longer available. So, not to be outdone, Micro$oft developed its own "standard". Their standard, known as Office Open XML. M$ was able to bully its way into getting ISO certification so it could say it now had an open format.
Here and Now
More and more people are discovering the power and ease of use of OpenOffice.org, though corporate IT and governments in the United States have been reluctant to switch to it. Much of the reluctance has been due to "concerns" about compatibility with the M$ product. With the release of Service Pack 2 for Office 2007, that should no longer be a concern.
Back to the Future
The OpenOffice.org suite has developed to a very mature offering of word processor, spreadsheet, drawing and presentation tools. I would venture to say that it would meet virtually ALL the needs of 95 percent of people who currently use Microsoft Office. Only an extreme power user (most Access) would find a few features missing. So now that Microsoft will soon be offering full support for OpenOffice.org documents, we shoud start insisting that our government entities stop spending millions of dollars on commercial software when they could get just as effective tools for absolutely free.
They'll come back with the argument that support is lacking, and that the training costs of switching will be high. I don't buy it, and they hope you won't think with an open mind. They jump like lemmings at each new version of Microsoft Office that comes out, even though most of their users don't take advantage of even 5 percent of the features of the old one they abandoned. Users switching from any version of Microsoft Office to Office 2007 are in for a big surprise, and will require a lot of training.
have you ever called Microsoft for support on an MS Office product? It does not happen even in big IT environments. There is tons of free online support for OpenOffice.org, and it's much easier to learn.
Give it a whirl. Or at least take a look.