Going Office cold turkey…

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The office move that I’m currently experiencing (I’m moving offices – physically), is going reasonably smoothly, at least for me as a Mac user.

Working near a standard PC user however, has demonstrated to me the gulf that separates a Mac user from a PC user. Over the past week, this PC user has had to call IT support at least once a day. But this aspect, although entertaining to a Mac user, is not the focus of this article.

One thing that struck me is that they haven’t installed Microsoft Office on this PC. No, in order to cut costs, they’ve installed Open Office. This is part, I have learned, of a drive to rid themselves of Microsoft Office entirely.

PDF has supplanted Word as the format that which documents must be formatted in for emailing purposes in my company. This is, in part, because we deal with a lot of overseas companies in the Far East and they communicate almost solely in PDF.

They aren’t giving up on Windows completely (they’re still a Windows-centric organisation, using Microsoft SQL Server, and various other proprietary Microsoft products), but Office is definitely on the way out. The writing seems to be on the wall for Microsoft here, how they will react is anyone’s guess – but it’ll probably be sneaky, underhand and potentially illegal.

Their first assault is to supplant the PDF with their own proprietary format. Good luck with that BG. I’m sure more will follow when Vista finally materialise.

My department has used the Mac version of Office since it was set up. I’ve used it in every job I’ve ever had, not because I like it, (I absolutely hate Word & Powerpoint, but love Excel), but because I felt that it kept me compatible with the rest of the company I was working for, and the outside world.

It also kept the Windows IT department off my back, so they had one less reason for recommending the replacement of all my Mac’s with PC’s – not that this has ever occurred. I’m reasonably lucky, but I think it’s more to do with the fact that I’m a pretty good tech guy on the Mac or PC, and PC IT people are uncertain they’d win an argument with me.

This has resulted in a chance to also rid myself of Mac Office completely. So I dutifully downloaded NeoOffice, installed in on a test Mac to see if I could really do it.
Word, as I said, I’ve always hated. I only use it to read other people’s documents. Indeed, when creating a text document that other PC’s may need to read, I always start off in the Mac’s TextEdit, and when it’s finished, open it in Word & re-save. I know you can do this all from TextEdit, but I take this extra step, just to be sure. Word document’s open fine in NeoOffice.

Powerpoint, gladly, I’ve never had to use much. I need it to open other people’s Powerpoint documents. Strangely, one of the main uses I have for it is to open PC users Powerpoint documents to print them, because for some reason Powerpoint’s printing on the PC is very flaky. Powerpoint document’s open fine in NeoOffice also.

Excel however I use daily, and have for years. A lot of my work is connected with marketing, and I use Excel to sort address files, do budgets, get price lists, perform calculations on address file databases and numerous other tasks.

Of all the individual suites that Office contains, Excel is the yardstick by which I will measure NeoOffice.

The results of this are mixed. Although NeoOffice opens and renders quite complicated spreadsheets ok, it is only useful for the most simple of documents.

NeoOffice’s speed is its biggest issue. Spreadsheets seem to lag a bit sometimes, and opening big Excel documents with multiple pages and complex calculations can take minutes rather than seconds.

Re-saving these documents in Excel format, makes little difference, however re-saving in NeoOffice format, makes a big difference, the document loads almost immediately. However this screws up your file compatibility, which is the main reason for switching in the first place.

Apart from that, things seem fine. Although I will dip into Excel occasionally (mainly when I’m in a hurry), I can safely say that I will never upgrade Microsoft Office again, nor will I buy it for any new Mac. I really think that, in the long term, Office’s days are numbered both on the Mac & PC.

This all begs the question, does the OpenOffice movement open a door for Apple to rid themselves of their Microsoft dependancy for good?

Apple are very careful to remain best buddies with Microsoft, because in the past it has been quite rightly observed that if Microsoft pulled the Mac version of Office, the platform would be mortally wounded. However are we now seeing a faint glimmer of hope with NeoOffice?

Apple have released Pages & Keynote, which can be vaguely compared with Word & Powerpoint, and rumour has it that ‘Numbers’ is on its way, which would also compete with Excel. But these are not in direct competition with Office. iWork are commendable, feature-laden applications, but they are no Office replacement in the eyes of business.
You must remain compatible with Office, or you are not taken seriously in the business world. With businesses now moving towards OpenOffice, is there an opening here for Apple?

What about keeping iWork as an Office replacement for the consumer, but have an Apple-sanctioned and supported version of OpenOffice installed free on every Mac? I don’t think that it would cost Apple much in development costs (with Apple’s knowledge I think they could iron out the speed issue), and would allow them to remain compatible with the business world, and showing that they take business seriously.

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