Robin Miller: How OpenOffice 2.0 stacks up against Microsoft Office

Author Robin Miller compares OpenOffice 2.0 and Microsoft Office in this interview. He also calls for the open source community to come down from its IT ivory tower and deliver personable and usable training options for first-time OpenOffice and open source software users.

OpenOffice 2.0 has the chops to replace Microsoft Office in business offices, with a little help from StarOffice

and better training vehicles from the open source community, says Robin "Roblimo" Miller, author of Point & Click OpenOffice.org from Prentice-Hall PTR.

Miller compares OpenOffice 2.0 and Microsoft Office in this interview. He also calls for the open source community to come down from its IT ivory tower and deliver personable and usable training options for first-time OpenOffice and open source software users. Besides authoring Point & Click Linux, Miller is editor in chief of Open Source Technology Group, which has a network of IT-focused sites.

More on OpenOffice:

Another of our TechTarget experts, Solveig Haugland, is an OpenOffice.org trainer, and author of the OpenOffice.org 2.0 Resource Kit from Prentice Hall.

Solveig is also a former Sun Educational Services course developer, and thoroughly supports the ideas Robin presents of plenty of hands-on practice, clear steps, and understanding what the learners need and giving them the confidence to succeed. You can see her step-by-step tutorials, on TechTarget.com, as well as other tutorials at her blog and her training site.

You can read Solveig's take on OpenOffice.org and StarOffice training.

If IT managers have tried OpenOffice 1.0 and decided against it, why should they give 2.0 a shot?

Robin Miller: 2.0 is better, faster and smoother. The interface is much easier to use.

What's your advice to IT directors who encounter user resistance to a switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice 2.0?

Miller: One [IT manager] I know told people: 'This is the latest office update.' He said no more than that and just put it on their computers. One day they came in, and they found it, and that was it. Nobody complained.

This is not any greater change than there is in moving between one Microsoft Office version and another. People are apparently conservative, and they use computer software by rote. A lot of it is just what they are used to that day. For instance, I've used both Office and OpenOffice, and I like OpenOffice better. I am used to it.

Some people won't change. There are people that use OS2.

What barriers to OpenOffice adoption are the most troubling to you?

Miller: A big thing is training. Training is a huge defect with all open source [products] and with the open source community. The people who use OpenOffice first, the early adopters, seem to be technologically sophisticated. They're far more sophisticated than the people who just want to type the letter. They seem to look down on the unsophisticated user and say, 'It's easy!'

We have all had the math teacher who could solve all of the equations on the board faster than we could follow. What we learned was that the math teacher really is a whiz. That's nice, but we didn't learn anything [about solving the equations].

The people who want to type a letter like instructions. People have to be shown how things are done in OpenOffice, either in person or in a video. It's very hard for them to learn from a text document. They have to be given confidence, and they have to be shown in a way that they understand. The open source community hasn't been good at doing that.

How do some standard office suite features in 2.0 compare with those in Microsoft Office?

More on OpenOffice:

Finding hidden treasures in OpenOffice 2.0's Charting Wizard

OpenOffice 2.0 tips: Creating database forms

Miller: The spreadsheet utility in 2.0 is now able to handle a much larger spreadsheet, at least as large as Microsoft Office's at this point. It is admittedly slower than Office with really huge spreadsheets, so huge they're probably not that functional anyway.

Are the chart and graphics capabilities of OpenOffice 2.0 a big improvement over 1.0?

Miller: It could be a lot better, but that's no reason not to use OpenOffice.

Give [Sun] StarOffice to the people in an organization who use charts and graphs. You pay about 75 bucks for the same thing as OpenOffice, but with more bells and whistles, which means you get more charts, graphs and templates.

What you may pay extra for in StarOffice is a trivial amount of money compared to what you'd pay for any Microsoft product. [Sun] doesn't pay me to say this. Sun doesn't like me.

Or, use the power of open source. We are seeing a great number of third-party, free templates, charts and graphs for OpenOffice coming out.

What benefits come from the improvements in OpenOffice's Base utility?

Miller: The big thing that you can do easily is use the OpenOffice Base utility with MySQL and other much more industrial-strength databases that would knock [Microsoft] Access to death. Database [content] can be put directly into your documents. You can do that with Microsoft Access, but it is a major pain.

What are some other feature comparisons between OpenOffice 2.0 and Microsoft Office?

Miller: Let's import a picture from our digital camera that we want to place in a text document. Let's crop it, lighten it slightly and change its size. It's not so easy in Office; but with OpenOffice, you just call up Draw and right click on it. That is a feature that OpenOffice has that Microsoft Office doesn't even touch. It is just not there.

Another thing that ties people to Microsoft Office is Outlook. I have used it and do not find it impressive. I use Thunderbird for my e-mail, and it beats Outlook in stability and ease of use by many miles.

Microsoft sees e-mail as part of the office suite. With Linux and open source, e-mail functions are seen as different functions. There is a logic to that, because people often work offline. So, you separate online work from offline work. It is not what the Microsoft-for-life person is used to, but it's a more logical division.

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