Interview

OpenOffice.org, StarOffice gaining momentum, expert says

Jan Stafford
Are OpenOffice.org and StarOffice even making a dent in the enterprise software space? Do they even have a chance in the business market against Microsoft Office?
There's a lot of action going on now internationally. The European Union is commissioning a study regarding switching several governments to open-source. The U.S. Defense Department and Scottish police are using StarOffice. Sun is giving away StarOffice to many educational institutions; it's available to any educational institution for the cost of the media.

[Businesses are switching, too.] Ernie Ball Music, after being fined by Microsoft, has switched to open-source.

There is a

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bill before the Oregon legislature, sponsored by Phil Barnhart, which would require state agencies to consider open-source software when considering software, system or network computer purchases.

The public sector and education is a logical place for use to be growing, since these groups have an obligation to examine whether tax dollars are appropriately used on software, or on things like police, teachers, and so on. It also makes sense for anyone running their own business, for whom a purchase of several hundred dollars isn't trivial.

Sam's Club and other companies are selling computers with a Unix operating system preloaded, and OpenOffice.org included or recommended. And, of course, Red Hat and other Linux packages include OpenOffice.org or StarOffice.

I believe that use will continue to grow, perhaps not from commercial centers first, but from the public sectors, school and home use. But, eventually, because students will have used it in high school and college, or because governments require an open-source file format, OpenOffice.org and StarOffice will become as widely used or more so than Microsoft Office is now. What are the advantages of using OpenOffice.org?
There's very little risk in trying out OpenOffice.org. It's free, of course, and conversion between OpenOffice.org and Word, Excel and PowerPoint is pretty good. One can use OpenOffice.org to send files to people who require Microsoft files without them ever knowing the files weren't originally created in Microsoft Office.

The advantages are the thousands or millions of dollars you'll save each year on license fees, as well as not worrying about making sure everyone has current licenses, or worrying about being fined.

I also find the XML file format in OpenOffice.org to be a marvelous advantage. The file sizes are tiny: I've created a 100-page Writer document [the Word equivalent] that was less than 100 KB. One can also just unzip any OpenOffice.org file with WinZip or another utility, edit the source .XML files, and re-zip them. This opens up a huge amount of control. For instance, a simple script could do mass updates with no user interaction at all. Are OpenOffice.org and StarOffice similar? Why use one and not the other?
I recommend OpenOffice.org to everyone, unless support from Sun is a requirement. OpenOffice.org and StarOffice software are pretty much the same, except that StarOffice has other extras: templates, the Adabas database, a WordPerfect filter [on Windows], etc. You can create all the templates you need, including [by] simply opening all your current templates in OpenOffice.org and saving them in the OpenOffice.org template file format. Some IT pros have told us that it's hard to integrate OpenOffice.org with enterprise-grade databases. Is that true?
The ease with which you can integrate OpenOffice.org with databases will vary with how much use each has, and what you want to do. For instance, if you simply want to do mail merges, then it's pretty easy. If you want to create many data entry forms, then more work is involved and more potential database issues. Just connecting to a database such as Oracle is reasonably simple. Just choose Tools -> Data Sources and click New Data Source, then enter the appropriate connection information. There are many OpenOffice.org tools for filtering, doing queries and so on. What are the support options for using OpenOffice.org or StarOffice in an enterprise environment?
If support is a requirement, consider buying StarOffice, which is supported by Sun Microsystems. You could, alternately, choose a few employees to become internal OpenOffice.org experts, training them and scheduling them to be internal support. The OpenOffice.org mailing lists and list archives provide a great deal of information, and books and training are available from several independent companies, as well. Could you offer some tips for getting started with OpenOffice.org?
I strongly recommend that you assign one or two employees to spend a few weeks experimenting with document conversion, database connections and other functions that you need. Or hire someone to do the same things. Then take a look at the report, and you can compare the work involved with the money you'll save switching to OpenOffice.org.

After that, you might want to switch to OpenOffice.org. So, train someone [or] a few internal experts to play with OpenOffice.org for a few weeks to see how the switch will go. Be sure that the assigned person tries everything you need: installation, printing, document conversion, interaction with other groups or companies that still use Microsoft Office, etc.

If, later, you find that you need support from Sun, you can easily switch to StarOffice. You can keep Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org or StarOffice running on the same machines at the same time, so the switchover doesn't need to be instant. They play nicely together; I've never had any problems and have all three installed on both my computers.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Best Web Links on choosing open source software

SearchEnterpriseLinux.com news exclusive: "The TCO question: Can Linux beat Microsoft, part 2"


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