Real SMB IT: Open Source Office Productivity Software

June 2, 2009

First, for all the open source advocates that are going to jump down my throat, yes I use a lot of open source software.

But for the small to medium enterprise, I have to say beware what you read. Most open source advocates that get published – including one by Richard Bray in the print edition of Informationweek Canada wax poetic about the benefits of open source office productivity software including  OpenOffice among others. (note: the InfoWeek Canada Web site is so bad I can’t get a link to the electronic version – excellent for a “tech” journal!!!)

The one problem? – they are all navel gazing

They assume your business and office productivity software are all internally focused.

We all use office productivity software to create or consume text, numbers, presentations and the like, and if 95 to 99% of all your creation or consumption are internal only to your organization, definitely, Open Source or other software can be a benefit.

But Here Is My Problem

Our business (and possibly yours) does not exist in an internal vacuum. We create and consume data of this type, but that 95 or 99% is going to, or coming from other businesses outside our walls.

E-Mail Attachments

E-Mail Attachments

And when this data is entering or leaving your walls, new rules apply. If you look at my e-mail in box, all those attachments? Yes, most are in the format of that 800 lb. gorilla.

And while many Open Source software packages do a pretty good job at being compatible with the basic functionality of that 800 lb gorilla, they often break down if those documents get more complicated.

As an example, these two screen shots are the same worksheet in a complex Excel spreadsheet, (using multiple worksheets and pivot tables). Well, you can see the difference. And before someone says that an expert could probably ‘tweak’ the original to get it working, guess what – these come to us by the dozen per day, and it is non-technical admin support staff that receive and manipulate some of them.

Excel

Excel

Open Office

Open Office

And since we have the equivalent number of documents leaving or premises, the bottom left image is what it looks like if one of our customers tries to open the default OpenOffice format. (eg. the sender forgot to do the “Save As” to put it into the format the customer can actually read)


The SMB Takeaway

I like OpenOffice, in fact for my home PC’s I use it. (it even does a good job of converting Microsoft’s new .docx format, which even older versions of Microsoft products can’t do without their conversion utility) But before jumping on the band wagon, look outside your business first.

Full size image of Excel sheet

Full size image of OpenOffice sheet

Full size image of Opening Open Office ODT

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