Migration in-depth, part 1: Why Health First is dumping MS Office

There are two big IT projects going on at Health First Inc., and Linux is at the heart of both of them. Health First, a family of Brevard County, Fla., nonprofit health care facilities, is migrating its desktops to OpenOffice and bringing in many Novell's Nterprise Linux Services. Weaning 6,000 IT users off of Microsoft Office 97 on 3,500 PCs is no small feat. It's manageable, however, if an IT shop takes it one step at a time, according to Danny J. Wall and Daniel Bray, Health First IT network administrators. Their primary pain comes from integrating OpenOffice with Health First's almost 500 applications.

In part 1 of this in-depth migration story, Wall and Bray explain why Health First is backing away from Microsoft Office and choosing OpenOffice. Next, they describe the OpenOffice implementation process. Then, in part three, Wall tells us how Health First is bringing in and will be using Novell's new Linux services.

Danny J. Wall
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Danny J. Wall
Why have you stuck with Office 97 this long, and has that decision caused any problems for you?
We are still using Office 97 because we have no need to use the features on Microsoft's newer Office products. @3086 Why have you stuck with Office 97 this long, and has that decision caused any problems for you?
Using Office 97 causes some problems, as some people are exporting spreadsheets out to Office 2000 and some external incoming e-mails will have an Office 2000-formatted file attached. So, we did see the need to upgrade, and we thought OpenOffice would be a good choice. How did you pitch OpenOffice?
We did a presentation on what OpenOffice can do, stressing that it can read many different file formats and that it is a viable and obviously inexpensive alternative to the extremely expensive Microsoft platform. We showed that some departments could easily get transferred from Microsoft Office platform to OpenOffice. For example, a lot of our nurses and secretaries use Office mainly for viewing attachments and writing a letter now and then. They would be our first target.

Daniel Bray

Was the lower cost the primary attraction for your CIO?
The major plus was obviously the cost. The financial difference between Office and OpenOffice was our foot in the door.

You see, our CIO and some CIOs from other health care organizations tried to get a not-for-profit organizational discount on Office from Microsoft. We can't afford to roll out a $2 million application when we are stretched, budget-wise, to take care of our patients. Basically, Microsoft would not offer a not-for-profit organizational discount. Obviously, that steamed our CIO, and he really liked the fact that we could save the company $2 million.

I have to say, though, that the financial advantage wouldn't have done it without the functionality and technical ability of OpenOffice. Which OpenOffice capabilities get the most favorable responses when you show them to users?
They liked the fact that OpenOffice can export directly out to a PDF file. That capability eliminates yet another cost factor: We don't have to have Adobe Acrobat in-house anymore because we dissolved that licensing issue by just using OpenOffice to export out to a .pdf file.

The same thing applies for Macromedia Flash, another costly feature. We don't need to buy or license the Macromedia Flash utility because, again, OpenOffice can natively export out to a Flash file that can be read by any browser.

So, those are some of the technical abilities they really like, and they also add to the financial advantages of OpenOffice.

We showed that some departments could easily get transferred from Microsoft Office platform to OpenOffice.
Daniel Bray
Network administratorHealth First Inc.
Did you see any problems using OpenOffice?
Oh, yes. Of course, a company the size of Health First has many employees who are not computer-literate. So, the most common problem is that they are unfamiliar with OpenOffice, but that is not a showstopper.

The biggest problem is going from a closed Microsoft Office platform to an open platform like OpenOffice. For instance, when you have Microsoft Office, the Web browser is integrated with everything in Office, so your standard links and your plug-ins with the Web browser are proprietarily written to look for just Microsoft Office. So, when we are rolling over to OpenOffice, some of the links on the Web pages don't work the RIGHT way because again Microsoft has you locked in. Once you use their browser and their OS, you have to use it their way or no way.

That is a harsh problem. If we had Linux out there in the organization, we obviously wouldn't have any problem because everything would be written to open standards instead of a proprietary system like Microsoft Office. Why are you working with Novell on the OpenOffice migration project?
Novell is going through the same thing, converting from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice. They are sharing their experiences, like coming across some macros or some functionality inside the product that just doesn't work the same way in OpenOffice as in MS Office, and pointing us in the right direction.

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