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Office Suites

Software solutions are the building blocks to efficient and effective work. Besides delivering needed personal functionality, software often needs to produce content in a format that communicates well with others and must be maintained and upgraded to perform at its maximum capacity. 



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Captured from the April 2009 WELSTech listserve discussion:

Ken B., Star of Bethlehem

We currently use MS Office products in our office and in the grade school's computer lab. We need to upgrade soon and are thinking about going to something free. I have a few questions for the hive. 
  1. Is anyone using Open Office (or the equivalent) for their staff? Any complaints?
  2. Is anyone using Open Office in a grade school computer lab? Any concerns about the kids not being able to pick up Microsoft products when they go on to the next level?
Perry L. 

Open Office and Neo Office (Macintosh) seem to work well in my wife's school environment. However with the issue of different home computers for students, she is looking at cloud computing and word processing in the form of ZoHo Online Tools - including Writer. If you broadband connection is fairly good, this is a good option. I will report back their test results as her school is just starting to get going on this software.

Update: Open Office 3.0.1 for Intel Macs is out and works fine. Neo Office is still in the 2.2.5 version, but the 3.x version is in beta. Neo Office is based on Open Office code base, so its several months behind Open Office releases. Neo Office runs on PowerPC and Intel Macs, which is its advantage to people with older Macs.

iWorks 09 for Macintosh only is $250 for a school site license. That is a very reasonable price compared to other paid software options. iWorks 09 has Pages as its word processor which reads and writes MS Office 2007 format.


Joshua S., Dir. of Technology, Kettle Morain LHS

These questions recently came up on a different listserv that I subscribe to. I originally wrote this response for that group: (I've added a few comments in brackets to clarify items for this listserv)

The high school where I work is on a Microsoft contract [we pay a set yearly fee for which we get yearly licensing for whichever versions of Windows we'd like to run, whichever version of MS Office we'd like to run and client licensing to connect to MS servers], so we have kept up with the latest versions of Office as they have come out so we are on our second year of MS Office 2007. We have an introductory computer course that teaches Microsoft Office basics. I teach an elective advanced course that follows the introductory course, a computer graphics class, a computer programming course and a web design course. We install OpenOffice side-by-side with MS Office on every computer and I use open source or free software for all of my other computer classes - GIMP, Inkscape and PhotoStory for computer graphics; Visual Basic Express for computer programming; Notepad, IE, Firefox, Opera and Visual Web Developer Express for web design. The advanced computer course makes use of OpenOffice and Google Docs in addition to MS Office.

A couple of observations that I have made from my experience: 
  • Although the upgrade to Office 2007 produced a negative initial reaction, it has been incredibly smooth. Questions about how to do
    things in Office have gone down. I credit Microsoft for having done some good product research. The students and faculty who have the most problems with 2007 are those who knew the 97-2003 versions inside and out. Students and faculty who were only casual users of the older versions or who had not used Office previously find the interface to be intuitive.
  • In my advanced class, I teach the students to do identical tasks in Office 2007, OpenOffice 3.0 and Google Docs. I have discovered that Office 2007 is by far the easiest of the three to work with. The students tolerate OpenOffice, but its feature set and ease of use just doesn't seem to match Office 2007. The students generally dislike Google Docs because it is slow, clunky and has fewer features (it does have some very cool features that neither Office nor OpenOffice can do). (FYI - clip art is not really a feature that we deal with much, so its not the hangup here). [One objection frequently raised to OpenOffice is its lack of clipart compared to MS Office]
  • I still recommend OpenOffice to people as a low cost alternative to MS Office, but many of them would prefer to spend the $100 to get the home/student version (and if you have several home computers, the multi use license brings the price per computer down to only about $30 per computer).
  • I have often been criticized by students for using open source software in my other courses, especially GIMP & Inkscape in place of
    Adobe products [like Photoshop and Illustrator], but we just don't have the budget to support that. I also like to be able to put the software used in the class into their hands for use on their home computers. I don't market the class as being open-source.

I completely understand that if you don't have a Microsoft contract, it changes your whole perspective on this. If we did not, I suspect that we'd be all OpenOffice or OpenOffice plus MS Office for faculty/staff. I think the hardest part of doing that for us would be to find a textbook that teaches OpenOffice.

[ I also support the network at my home church and grade school (45 computers). In that setting, we opted to purchase MS Office for the
faculty/staff at about $50 per computer. All of the computers have OpenOffice installed and it is the only office software on the student's computers. This has seemed to work out fine since the students don't do much with the office software. ]

Ryan R., Faith Lutheran Church & School, Fond du Lac, WI

We are looking at switching to Open Office as well. As far as not being able to pick up MS Office from Open Office, I don't think that is much of a concern considering the changes that are constantly taking place in MS Office. They will have to adapt to a new version and the changes therein regardless.


James M., Luther HS

Here is an interesting article from the April 2009 Tech & Learning magazine that may answer some questions about Open Source software in
schools - http://www.techlearning.com/article/16504


Andrew W., Director of Technology, Trinity-St. Luke's Lutheran School

While we have not yet moved to Open Office, it will happen in the next year or so by us. There are relatively no compatibility issues with going between Open Office and MS Office documents.

I use it personally and with a couple committees I am on. It is easy to teach to other users. I believe it is a viable solution for budget tight times. Might I also suggest you check out Google Documents (docs. google.com)? The future of 'cloud computing' is upon us!!

Andy O., Grace Downtown, Milwaukee

The biggest incompatibility I've found that made OpenOffice a non-starter for us is that document security is completely ignored. Say you have a protected spreadsheet that was created with MS Office, opening it in OpenOffice strips the password and lets you unprotect it without entering a password. Some conditional formatting doesn't translate over either.

Another reason we use MS Office over OpenOffice is that the tools we use for patch management make it easier to keep updated than
OpenOffice. When we had OpenOffice, we found that it would get installed and then never updated because our tools didn't have
visibility into it.

For Google Docs, just be aware of the risks of cloud computing, especially given its recent privacy issues:

http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/03/07/huge-google-privacy-blunder-shares-your-docs-without-permission/

Convenient, easy to use, cheap? Yes. Secure? Jury is still out...

Jeremy J.

Joshua Schoeneck clearly has the time and resources to teach students about both products in his advanced High School course, and I think that's great. If you only want to teach the basics, however, I don't see much justification for purchasing any office product.

I also suspect that it is typically easier for someone to learn Office 2007 after learning OpenOffice instead of the other way around. Of course, that's not to say that OpenOffice is difficult to use. I've given it to several people with very basic tech knowledge and they have been using it quite successfully.
If you would like to eventually move toward a Linux environment, it's a great idea to start by using cross-platform products in Windows. When your users are comfortable with OpenOffice, Firefox, web-based groupware, etc, a transition to a different operating system that uses all the same applications is more seamless.

By the way, I believe the documented bug for the password issue Andy Ognenoff mentioned is 

http://qa.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=39527.

Basically, OpenOffice is unable to password protect files that are in MS Office format. Therefore, if you re-save a password protected MS document after opening it in OpenOffice, it will be saved as unprotected. This certainly is an incompatibility, but I wouldn't go so far as saying that OpenOffice completely ignores document security. Password protection in OpenDocument format works just fine as far as I know.

Remember, Microsoft's document format standards are proprietary (sort of...long story), so it's amazing that OpenOffice is even able to use them as well as it does. On the flipside, the OpenDocument format follows an open standard, so anyone is able to make a product that uses it to full effect.

When considering the use of any Microsoft product, I feel that thought must be given to its impact on the Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace,_extend_and_extinguish) strategy. Office 2007 is a very clear part of this strategy, and as a matter of principle I am reluctant to recommend using it. I wouldn't be dogmatic about it, but I certainly feel that we should at least be aware of the issue.

Sallie D., St. John's, Sleepy Eye

At St. John's LES in Sleepy Eye we run Open Office on all computers including the teachers (about 25 total) .... For us the financial savings of open source outweighed the software perks of fee-based options. 

Since Open Office can read and save into MS Office formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt), if needed the kids can transport files between home and school on USB drives seamlessly. It's actually a good skill for them to learn.

In computer lab I introduce the kids to Open Office Writer and Calc using the tutorials at www.InPics.net. They aren't perfect (screen shots are sometimes from older versions of the software), but they are very adequate for our introductory needs. 

John H.

There are free applications which are useful and not highly complicated. OpenOffice is very useful. There are some things Word can do that OO doesn't, such as when adding Headers/Footers one cannot have the first page different. But the differences are minor. OO comes as a suite comparable to Office Suite.

GIMP is good for photo graphic manipulation.

Inkscape works for line art.

OO, GIMP, and Inkscape also work well on Windows platforms. I can't say if they do for Macs. Check to see if there is a variation for the Mac. I believe OO does have a Mac flavor.

I haven't had much problem adapting to the Linux netbook I bought ($30 cheaper than the Windows). The drawback was the small screen and small keyboard. So when Circuit City went out of business and I still had a CC gift card I bought an eMachine for $350 with Windows Vista. So far seems to run OK so hopefully all the bugs have been exterminated from the program.
put in some distribution system.

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