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Office software: GoogleDocs, OpenOffice or Microsoft Office?

Can GoogleDocs or OpenOffice outperform Microsoft Office? SearchEnterpriseLinux.com office suites expert Solveig Haugland compares the three in this Q&A. She also gives advice on how to choose between OpenXML and OpenDocument.

Do you think the release of Office 2007 will spur many enterprises to migrate to OpenOffice? Feature-wise, will Office 2007 be any better than OpenOffice? What about Office 2003?

Solveig Haugland: I definitely think that Office 2007, especially its cost and the fact that it's so different from the Microsoft Office that users are accustomed to, is making many organizations consider OpenOffice.org. The amount of money saved on upgrades dwarfs the significant, but comparatively small, amount of money needed to be spent on transition tasks such as converting documents, training, productivity while users get up to speed, etc.

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Regarding whether Office 2007 is better than OpenOffice.org, I'm glad you asked that. Whether it is "better" isn't really the point. A 5,000 square foot house in Aspen is better than my 1,500 square foot house in the suburbs outside Boulder. But I can't afford that big house in Aspen and I don't need it. It would be irresponsible to spend my finite funds on something I don't need.

That said, Office 2007 might or might not be better than OpenOffice.org; it depends on what you need and what you like.

What is the difference between the Microsoft's OpenXML format and the OpenDocument Format? Are they interchangeable? Where is ODF most heavily used/adopted as a standard?

Haugland: OpenXML is the file format Microsoft has proposed as a standard for document formats. Although offered by Microsoft as a standard, it has a strong Microsoft product bias. OpenDocument is a competing standard, sponsored by companies like IBM and Sun, without a bias toward any particular office product suite.

There are converters for both Microsoft Office and OpenOffice that will read/write both formats, so it's probably not critical about which you choose. Most open source-oriented people favor OpenDocument, as single vendor-sponsored standards typically end up favoring their products.

How does OpenOffice compare to Google Docs? For instance, when it come sto sharing files with co-workers, does OpenOffice have that capability?

Haugland: OpenOffice.org has far more features than Google spreadsheets. If you need only very simple features and you absolutely need to edit files at the same time as other co-workers, then you might want to try Google spreadsheets. However, there are other issues with Google spreadsheets such as speed and security, if your organization has qualms about having its data on Google's computers. Test both types of spreadsheets first with typical daily tasks before you make a decision.

If one user opens an OpenOffice.org spreadsheet, and another user tries to open the same file, the second user can only view that spreadsheet. But I think that's a good decision; what if both users are changing the same cell at the same time? That could cause problems.

You might also try to break your spreadsheets into smaller parts. If you have a spreadsheet with 20-30 tabs, see if it's necessary to have them all together.

Dell's IdeaStorm website was inundated with requests for pre-loaded Linux and OpenOffice on PCs. Is OpenOffice pre-loaded on any desktops currently?

Haugland: I believe that OpenOffice.org is pre-loaded on computers from small distributors, but I'm not aware of large distributors that have OpenOffice.org pre-loaded.

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This was first published in April 2007

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