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Mailbag: Thoughts, More

Doug recently asked readers about their thoughts on, which just released version 3. Most of you had positive things to say:

I have been using OpenOffice since its inception (actually, before that with StarOffice) and I like it. I use Microsoft Office 2007 in the workplace as that is the business standard, and I use OpenOffice 3 at home as it can do everything I need and more. Your beef that it's big, complex and not exactly fun may be true, but when has an Office suite been fun? Free, useable and does 90 percent of what MS Office does sounds very, very good to me.

I have used it for years in an effort to decrease spending in our IT department. So far, everyone has adjusted well for their needs. I would like to see more VBA or macro support. I give it two thumbs up!

I've recommended OpenOffice for both home and office use with good results. My only caveat is "it's better than Office, but it ain't Office." If you require total compliance with a bit of VBA code thrown in, then pony up for Office. If you're interested in getting the job done and don't have the compatibility worries, OO is more than capable.

A number of years ago, when I had retired from Microsoft, I took a serious look at the desktop Linux efforts and OpenOffice. What bugged me in general about them was that they were so busy trying to emulate Windows and Office that they weren't doing anything innovative. Their value proposition is "You don't have to pay Microsoft a licensing fee," and that's about it. And note that I didn't say they were free or even cheaper, since training, compatibility and other cost of ownership issues far outweigh licensing costs. From my perspective, they just totally blew the opportunity.

So what is the opportunity? It was to create completely different and more compelling experiences than what Microsoft had done. Where was the new thinking in UI? Where was a new paradigm for information work? Basically, the open source community shows a complete lack of imagination and innovation on the desktop. The world doesn't need cheaper software -- it needs revolutionary software.

With each release, OpenOffice has grown and matured and got better. OK, so it doesn't have all the features of MS Office, but the features it does have generally work as you expect. It doesn't have as many dedicated books as Office 2007 (but, hey, I don't need a book to use it). Office 2007 has thousands of features...but once I can type text, insert images, put in a table of contents and print out labels for my Christmas cards, I'm happy. If it can open my late 1980s files, it's good (newer versions of Word forgot the backward-compatibility thing). If it can do a PDF, better (and I have a utility for that, anyway). If I can open a 60-page .DOC, put comments on it, e-mail back to the sender, I'm delighted (with 3.0, commenting works more like Word 03 so that box is now ticked).

The negatives: PowerPoint import can be tempramental (for me, this is not an issue but I can see how it will affect some). ODF is not fully supported at work (so I save as PDF/DOC). Sometimes -- and far less than before -- complex DOC formatting is a bit messy. There's still an expectation in business that DOC/XLS files will be exchanged and businesses may pay for the security of knowing MSO will open/close these 100 percent of the time.

For me, it's a simple choice. In my company I use Microsoft OS products to run critical applications -- but we are not wed. I'm grateful to the Microsoft market for generating work for me. I run a virtual or real Windows OS (or two) to support some critical products (mostly Adobe) and run Linux and Mac OS X for everything else.

With that as context, I don't find the features offered by MS Office worth the license fee. Looking forward, I prefer the product that will do what I need and save documents in a format that conforms to an open standard. I'm really tired of the format lockdown game. My impression is that Microsoft adopts standards only after every means to thwart them are exhausted.

One reader thinks not enough has been said about the price of Microsoft Office:

Hmm...for some who regularly gripes about the price of a Mac, I am surprised you have not commented on the price of Office. Oh, that's right, you probably got someone else to pay, so it did not occur to you that the rest of us have to actually buy it.

I have to admit, I've never actually paid for it either, as I have always managed to wrangle a copy from my employer, and did experience sticker shock when I saw the price. At a suggested retail of $400, that's almost half the price of an "overpriced" Macbook.

Speaking of "overpriced" Macbooks, this reader thinks that as long as people keep buying, Apple shouldn't change a thing:

I think Apple has one of the smartest marketing strategies in the free enterprise system! It is no wonder that all Apple users are thrilled with their platform. Why wouldn't they be when, for less money, they can switch to the alternative? That pretty well ensures that all Apple users will be happy, loyal customers. How many other companies wish they could be in that situation?

As long as Apple is meeting its profit goals and, at the same time, ensuring a base of 100 percent-satisfied customers, why should it change? Cadillacs are just Chevys in fancy clothes, but Chevys take heat all the time. When was the last time you heard anyone complaining about a Cadillac?

More reader letters coming tomorrow! In the meantime, leave us your thoughts by writing a comment below or sending an e-mail to [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on October 22, 2008 at 11:52 AM