Dare to try something different?

Recently I was asked by two IT industry reporters I’ve known for a long time whether I would continue to evangelize the use of Linux for knowledge worker desktops. I answered yes. I also understand that the adoption of a Linux desktop is not perceived as trivial. We are all very fortunate today to have so much choice in our desktop operating systems. We can select from two shipping versions of Windows, multiple Linux distros (although I’d be failing in my job if I didn’t specifically mention SUSE Linux) and a resurgence of Apple Macintoshes running OS X. So rather than go into a pitch for Linux, let me instead offer a conversation on an alternative for your day to day office productivity.

We all know, or should, about Microsoft’s excellent Office suite. Office is available for Windows and OS X. Linux? Uh, that would be no. So let’s agree that Office is a fine offering and proceed to look at what I believe is a viable alternative for a high percentage of knowledge workers. The offering is an open source project called OpenOffice delivered by contributors to openoffice.org

Open Office includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation builder, a database, and HTML editor and a drawing program. What I find most important about OOO is the flexibility in file formats made available. As an advocate of the Open Document Format (ODF) I choose to default to this format. However, I work with folks from lots of different organizations and many of them have a large repository of Microsoft Office formatted documents. OOO reads and writes the standard Office formats natively. In fact, Microsoft has worked with Novell and other players in the open source community to develop translators to permit the translation of their new OpenXML formats to ODF.

Since the preservation of documents over time is one of the most critical elements for business users, there has always been some reluctance to try a non-Microsoft suite. I think the MS products are excellent, but Open Office does have one advantage. It’s open source and therefore has no license cost at all. You may have users (ok I’m sure you do) who could be fully functional immediately with Open Office and continue to use all their existing documents that may exist in Microsoft or other proprietary formats.

So here’s my challenge to you. Don’t believe me. Try it yourself. You can download a free copy of Open Office for Windows, or Linux at www.openoffice.org. If you are a Macintosh OS X user, there is a Mac version but it requires you install the X11 windowing environment. If you want to maintain the real Mac look and feel, instead download NeoOffice from www.neooffice.org. Open Office provides a viable alternative to other Office suites, with a very familiar look and feel and could save you and your company money.

Until next time, peace.


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