A Reasoning in Favor of Implementing OpenOffice.org

As computer use permeates our society, the implementation of productivity software—commonly referred to as office suites—has become increasingly important to our professional, academic, and personal lives. These products provide the tools needed to draft letters, create databases, analyze data with spreadsheets, and present information. To meet consumer demands, many companies have created software packages, but Microsoft has dominated the market with the Microsoft Office Suite. On April 30, 2002, OpenOffice.org—a free, open source application suite sponsored by Sun Microsystems and other corporations—was released to challenge Microsoft’s sovereignty. Through the implementation of OpenOffice.org, corporations and individuals can reap the benefits of a full-featured office suite while reducing overhead costs, and without sacrificing technical support options.

At the heart of any productivity suite is a word processing application. OpenOffice.org’s Writer fulfills this role by providing a wide range of document creation tasks from writing letters, theses, and books to publishing newsletters, posters, and flyers. Through the use templates and fields, users can create form letters or automate common tasks such as formatting reports and pre-filling information such as the author’s name and the current date. This application also includes features for controlling styles, creating tables and indexes, generating bibliographies, and developing web pages. In essence, Writer performs all of the functions available within Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, and other word processing and desktop publishing applications.

Calc is OpenOffice.org’s equivalent to Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3. As with the other spreadsheet applications, this software offers a variety of tools for organizing and interrogating data. By entering functions into cells, a user can perform both simple and complex calculations or display a modified form of the text stored in another cell. In regards to enhancing the presentation of the data, Calc offers the user extensive formatting capabilities, including conditional cell formatting, along with the ability to create nine types of charts, each with multiple variations. When compared feature to feature with competing products, this spreadsheet application shows that it possesses the functionality needed to meet the demands of individual or corporate users.

For the creation of presentations, OpenOffice.org includes an application that has been titled Impress. This aptly titled member features a significant number of transitions, animations, and effects to be used to develop slideshows. Once a user is ready to publish the presentation, Impress offers a variety of output formats including its native format (ODP), Microsoft Powerpoint, PDF, Flash, and HTML. The ability to save the document into any of these formats allows the user to make it available to audiences regardless of the venue.

If the users require a means to work with or create a database, they need only to open Base. This application is capable of creating small specialty databases or advanced applications with multiple views, forms, and role-based queries. Base also allows for the creation of databases to be accessed directly from within the other applications in the suite, such as the bibliography database used with the referencing functions of Writer, by selecting the option to register the database. To work with an existing database from another application, Base offers a connection utility. This utility can be configured to interface with MySQL, Oracle JDBC, dBase, Microsoft Access (2007 and previous versions), ODBC, and other database formats.

Unlike most productivity suites, OpenOffice.org presents users with a graphics design application. Draw provides the suite with enhanced features for developing flow charts, diagrams, and clip art for use in the other applications, particularly Writer and Impress. For the purpose of comparison, this productivity tool is akin to such commercial applications as CorelDraw, Adobe Illustrator, and Microsoft Visio. The inclusion of Draw in the OpenOffice.org package greatly enhances the value of the offering over that of its competition.

A notable advantage for OpenOffice.org is the ability to run natively under various operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS, Sun Solaris, and Linux. The cross-platform functionality of OpenOffice.org is further highlighted by its being the only office suite that maintains almost the exact feature set and interface across these platforms. This means that users will experience little productivity loss if they are required to use the application on an alternate operating system. This feature is most important when users work in a multi-platform environment or share files with users on other platforms.

In addition to the comprehensive features offered within each of the applications, OpenOffice.org provides file compatibility with competing products. OpenOffice.org’s native file format, known as the Open Document Format, was ratified as the international standard, which means that any application adopting this standard will be able to share files with OpenOffice.org without the need for file convertors. Some applications that already support ODF include Google Docs, WordPerfect, KOffice, and Lotus Symphony. For applications that do not support the international standard, OpenOffice.org is able to read and save into alternate file formats such as those for both current and past versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This functionality allows OpenOffice.org to serve as the ultimate cross-platform productivity suite.

The technical support options for OpenOffice.org are mostly available in the form of community forums. These forums provide solutions, tutorials, and other assistance to users by allowing them to search the archives or share information with each other. While this model may seem odd to some, the user must keep in mind that the developers of the suite are also part of these forums and will often interact directly with the end users to provide clarification or discuss suggested enhancements. As the user community increases, OpenOffice.org will benefit from the direct input provided regarding functionality, support, and documentation, which in turn benefits the users. Through this synergy, the open source office suite provides vast opportunities to revolutionize productivity applications. This support model tends to be a concern in the corporate world because it is a departure from a standard help desk, but it is actually far more efficient than waiting on hold to have a technician read answers from a script or put the user back on hold to escalate the question. For those that insist on having a more traditional technical support option, support is available through third-party help desks and consulting firms for a fee.

When reviewing software products, one major consideration is the cost of implementing the package. In this regard, OpenOffice.org has the distinct advantage of being available without licensing fees regardless of use. In comparison, Microsoft Office Professional carries a per system cost of $499.95 and Corel WordPerfect Office regularly sells for $299.99 per license. While this may seem like a simple decision, other expenses related to the implementation must also be considered. The cost of re-training employees is one of the most common reasons used to prevent the implementation of OpenOffice.org. It is believed that it is better to stay with an application that the users are familiar with rather than introduce a new product. In the case of Microsoft Office, this argument is nullified due to the substantial retraining required to upgrade to Office 2007. Another hidden cost within an implementation is related to installing the application itself. There is little difference in the amount of time spent installing or upgrading a commercial office suite versus installing OpenOffice.org, which means the general cost for this process will be similar. While these additional costs do need to be considered, OpenOffice.org proves to be the most cost effective option for all user environments.

With the current emphasis on cost reduction within all user groups, corporations, academic institutes, and individuals need to consider OpenOffice.org as a viable option to meet their requirements without sacrificing application quality. With its rich feature set and strong cross-platform features, the open source suite offers users a view into the future of productivity applications as well as a chance to take part in shaping that future. Now is the time for all users to let go of their complacency and make a positive change in their choice of software.

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