Microsoft Office is too dangerous to leave with users
Paul DeGroot from Directions on Microsoft was recently quoted by CNet saying a very scary thing about MS-Office: "The chances you are going to switch out are pretty well nil. You have way too much money invested."
It may not be politically correct to say so, but the leopard cannot change his spots, nor the Ethiopian his skin. Paul's comment came after a conference at which Microsoft claimed one million developers were basing applications on MS-Office 2003, and a quick glance at Microsoft's historical spots makes it obvious that this is just another lock-in-and-squeeze cycle. MS-Office has traditionally come down in price until competition effectively ended, and then increased again. At the end of the last such cycle the price more than doubled.
The OpenOffice suite is within hailing distance on a feature by feature basis (in some ways, ironically, it excels), and there's no way for Microsoft to undercut the price, so they must compete in other ways.
One of the major roadblocks to competition on the desktop is the need to run a specific application or two all of which require MS-Windows. The WINE project is eroding that barrier, but running the entire interlocked behemoth represented by MS-Office and all of the dependencies needed to support its integration is still no mean feat.
Perhaps more tellingly, there's not much point in "escaping" a monopoly on the desktop if a Line-Of-Business application still depends upon MS-Office.
MS-Office Pro is currently AUD$570 retail; how much would you be prepared to pay for it if your business became dependent on having it? $1000 per desktop? $5000? $50,000? However much that is, it's the price point that Microsoft will be chasing as soon as they can reasonably expect to get it.
Short-term, they will almost certainly discount MS-Office a little in order to discourage defections, but if enough customers are locked into using it the price will go up again, probably to the $1000-1500 a seat mark. And by "extending" file formats and the like, they will force you to update it regularly.
Eventually, development of OpenOffice or some other suite may follow MS-Office into the darker corners of your computer and provide enough application-level compatibility for you to migrate off again, but given Microsoft's dexterity at milking patents, it's a poor plan to bet your business on.
Meanwhile, if you let your users continue to use MS-Office on their desktops, some of them will be finding and using the encouragements Microsoft is building in, and will gradually enslave your business to MS-Office by stealth. An Excel macro here, a dynamic object embedded in Word there, sooner or later it all adds up to "we can't change" and you're no longer in control of your own IT. You're forced to "spend good money after bad".
How can you protect yourself? By carefully planning for and rolling out an alternative office suite now.
Just as eliminating MSN Messenger and replacing MS-Outlook with Thunderbird (or presently Evolution) improves your corporate security, so does replacing MS-Office with OpenOffice.org or another office suite.
Careful planning will avoid rubbing your users up the wrong way. Any change produces resistance, and by minimising the changes (converting beloved templates, making conditions under the new suite better, sending copies home especially with people who only have MS-Works or MS-Word there etc) you can maximise acceptance.
Make OpenOffice the default or only office suite on new installs. Use it yourself, for everything; train your technical people up on it so they become used to using and installing it by default and your other users will see the "elites" using it.
Since OpenOffice is now available to more than 10% of all desktops and the file format is about to become a European standard, it is now more socially reasonable to send office documents in the OASIS format adopted by OpenOffice.
If you know the recipient is able to read OASIS documents, make a point of sending them that way - and if you don't know, ask. And ask again every six months or so. "For security and portability reasons, we use the OASIS open standard for documents as implemented by the OpenOffice suite throughout our enterprise. Are you able to read OASIS documents yet?" And include a CD, it costs less than a buck.
In fact, if you ever snail-mail documents on CD or DVD - even if they're in MS-Office format - add them to an OpenOffice CD and send that rather than just sending them a frisbee with only the inner five millimeters used. It's a powerful answer to "I can't read this" and some recipients will be floored at being given powerful software for free. It's good PR.
Up front, this looks like needless bother, but the alternative is having recipients balk when they can't read your documents as produced by the latest version of MS-Office when you update. Every time you update. Which you're essentially required to do when your peers do, otherwise you can't read their documents.
Secure your future now by dodging this bullet. Start the migration to a safer office suite today.
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