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We are starting to do some project and application roadmapping, and am thinking about OpenOffice (and StarOffice) as a replacement for OfficeXP and Office 2000, which is on the bulk of our PCs.

  • Roughly 120 users and PCs
  • OE Windows XP Pro on virtually all desktops.
  • Office 2000, Office XP, properly licensed (knock on wood).
  • No Software Assurance
  • Windows Server 2003 and Active Directory
  • MS Exchange 2003 - not sure yet about Exchange 2008
  • Outlook 2003 on top of lower Office installs
  • "newish" but aging PC inventory .. very little change in the last 12 months.
  • Windows SharePoint Server for the intranet .. it's use is growing

How much should I consider the Open Source alternatives?

What sort of things should I be concerned about?

What hidden issues and second-order consequences should I be aware of?

I am looking forward to hearing pros and cons, and any other comments.

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12 Answers 12

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Every year or two, I install OpenOffice and the problem is the same - documents don't format/translate quite right to/from their MS Office counterparts.

It doesn't seem to be overly wacko-paranoid to observe that Microsoft is good at stamping out competition. All they need to do is tweak things just a bit in each service pack & patch to make sure things don't translate quite right, and they continue to lock me in, because I don't have the resources to handle the additional support requests.

I think this is surmountable if:

  • your users are extremely flexible
  • most documents leave your office in a different format (say, PDF)
  • you don't do a lot of document sharing outside the organization

Otherwise, I'd say the business disruption is more costly than the licenses (unfortunately).

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3  
+1 for your surmountable points. We have installed OpenOffice into several businesses and found pretty much the same thing. We have found that document sharing outside the organization is usually fine as long as it goes out as a .PDF or is a document without much formatting (letters, contracts, etc) and is saved as a MS Office document. –  KPWINC Jun 17 '09 at 18:59
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There was a detailed post on Word alternatives at ./ not too long ago, basically, even the Mac version isn't quite compatible, if you really need compatibility, you need to be running the same versions, nothing else quite works. –  Ronald Pottol Jun 18 '09 at 3:36

The short

OpenOffice doesn't play nicely with SharePoint, Exchange, or Group Policy. Since these are integral parts of your environment, why introduce something that will make your life more difficult?

The Long

A few OpenOffice pros:

  • Free. I assume this is why you're looking at it in the first place.
  • Opens/saves as pretty much any file format out there.
  • Cross-platform (doesn't matter for your intranet, but possibly interaction outside?)

A few OpenOffice cons:

  • File format compatibility is not 100%
  • Painfully slow
  • Clunky, unintuitive UI
  • No VBScript
  • Excel gurus will blow up your car for making them use Calc (ditto for Access/Base)
  • Default save format is .od*. Most of your users won't change this, so bring on the confusion!

There's also a lot of little things in MS Office that has made it the definitive Office Suite, like Word's fantastic templating/styling system and the slick Document Map and Outline views.

Assuming OpenOffice's feature set meets your needs, it comes down to price. Extra administration, transitionary training, dealing with users upset over losing features (through ignorance or technical disparity), extra hassle in exchanging documents, extra support cost incurred by using a non industry standard, etc. If your user base is flexible and your support system is ready to handle it (think Higher Ed), OpenOffice is probably a viable alternative.

In the situation you describe, I'd stick with MS Office. While the cost of switching will depend on how your organization values time, you're going to continue paying in small ways as long as you use OpenOffice.

On a purely personal note, I've used OpenOffice and MS Office personally and professionally. I can't stand OpenOffice for all the reasons I listed above. Microsoft's merit notwithstanding, MS Office is the industry standard because it's that damn good.

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+1, because I couldn't agree more: MS Office is actually good. –  Massimo Dec 1 '09 at 20:49

Switching to OpenOffice:

Pros:

  • Free licensing
  • File compatibility with many formats

Cons:

  • Will need to train users on using new UI
  • Hope you don't use any applications with Word/Excel plugins
  • User Backlash (I see this with any kind of change like this)
  • You will begin to receive calls because other companies won't be able to read ODF files
  • Files 'don't quite look right' - Compatibility with Word is all over the map
  • Harder to administer via GPO

Call me a pessimist, but I would stick with Office right now if it is in the budget. If you are looking to slash some costs, you could switch over to OO but support is going to be a headache for you and your IT staff.

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4  
+1 OO.org UI is horrible compared to Office 2007 ! –  Antoine Benkemoun Jun 17 '09 at 19:45
    
I personally use it for some old WordPerfect files which I can not get MS Office to open, but otherwise I can not stand using it. –  Dave Drager Jun 17 '09 at 19:49
    
@Antoine: there are some/many people who think exactly the opposite... –  David Z Jun 17 '09 at 22:35
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@Antoine: you like the O2K7 UI? You're honestly the first person I've heard who likes it, at least compared to O2K3 (our users revolted when we tried to upgrade, and many installed OO.org instead ... the rest are now back to O2K3). –  Jess Jun 18 '09 at 5:46

If you're using SharePoint, I would say stay with MS Office. OO.org is a good office suite, but you're already at a high integration level with Microsoft products, and switching is going to be a big hassle at this point.

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You will also struggle to find a better Exchange client than Outlook and when you include the Outlook 2007 integration to Sharepoint, it's a tough thing to beat. –  Kevin Kuphal Jun 17 '09 at 18:46

We just upgraded about half of our users to OpenOffice. We've found that OO is a fantastic substitute for users who:

  • Do not use any Office automation (i.e. VBA scripts)
  • Do not run Powerpoint
  • Do not need formatting to be perfect (particularly headers/footers)
  • Do not use Access
  • Do not integrate with other apps (Salesforce, Web Exports, Sharepoint, etc)

For those who switched, we gave them Thunderbird with Lightning, and they love it (more than Outlook, although we weren't using Exchange). It would be hard to convert an entire company, but I'd suspect that in almost any company certain positions don't need the whole Office suite.

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and if you are using Exchange, get DavMail. –  gbjbaanb Jul 24 '10 at 12:50

I agree with most of the points made here, but wanted to make just a few points about/in defense of the latest version of OpenOffice.org:

  • version 3.1 is a major improvement in speed and memory use; particularly with Base/Java disabled. With the quickstarter enabled, time to open a document is finally comparable with MS Office, and in some cases even faster.

  • The go-oo flavor of OpenOffice.org (Novell's fork) has always been a step ahead as far as compatability with MS Office, rudimentary VBA macro support (though still very hit and miss), and performance/usability improvements. However, after waiting a few weeks for the go-oo build of 3.1, this is the first time that I was unimpressed enough by the differences to actually migrate back to upstream version of 3.1.

  • 80-90% of "typical" users of Word and Excel will be able to migrate to OpenOffice with minimal retraining. It can also be set to save files as .doc, .xls, and .ppt files rather than .od* by default, which helps with the initial rollout.

  • I haven't played with OOo-basic much, but it can also be automated with a variety of languages including JavaScript and Python using the UNO bridge.

  • I think it looks good, as a Windows and Linux user I like the simplicity and intuitiveness of the interface, and would compare it favorably to Office 2007 (though not necessarily to Office XP/2003).

  • It's freakin' free!!! For my part, I think the developers (and their corporate overlords, who admittedly have their own agenda) take a lot of heat and don't get nearly the gratitude or respect they deserve for creating, maintaining, and improving OOo.

On the whole, I've found 3.1 to be the first version of OpenOffice.org that's really convinced me it's a viable alternative in many (though certainly not all) cases to shelling out for MS. The thing that bugs me more than anything about organizational use is the lack of AD integration; if anyone knows any tools or tricks for this I'd love to hear about it.

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If your organization is seriously thinking about replacement for Microsoft Office, then you should consider other alternatives for MS Exchange and SharePoint, because they don't mix with OpenSource client applications. Also if your organization is using Active Directory, then you are losing application management by Group Policies.

Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 brings support for ODF 1.1.

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+1 for GPOs and the backend stuff. OO is fine for smaller environments, but once you get to the stage where you have GPOs and backend servers, it doesn't really cut it. –  Jimmy Shelter Jun 17 '09 at 19:18

Microsofts ODF support is pretty shaky (It creates a to the spec file but OpenOffice can't open them, this is an issue with the spec and some areas left up to interpetation) Although this can be considered much like OO.org's .docs not being correct either.

My organization moved last summer to fully run on Office 2007 and dispite the training curve it seemed to go pretty smoothly so I would presume a migration to Openoffice would be similar. We had a large number of preview sessions and made very clear in our communication what to expect and to let them know there would be NO exceptions to the migration. We had Training on board with it and using Office 2007 for several months beforehand (Our IT department had been using it for a year beforehand). We discovered application issues with one program, ADP/HR Perspective that was tied in extremely close to Office 2000/2003 and wouldn't run if we left only 2007 on the machine (Fortunantly Access 2003 could co-exist with an Office 2007 installation so we were able to avoid the application issue, with OpenOffice we would have been stuck requireing office licenses anyway) It went smooth and as people have become familiar with it they realize they like it a lot.

For something like a change like that you are going to need to sell it to everybody and cover every base.

  • What apps might have issues?
  • What is the training budget going to have to be?
  • You will be trading off integration with things such as the Sharepoint (which you said was growing so there is momentum that may resist) and the integration with Exchange and GPOs.
  • What features about OO.org make you think it is a better deal?
  • What about performance? OO.org is Java based and a bit sluggish (I think this has to do with the UI packages they choose to use)
  • File compatability with the outside, if people on the recieving end don't have OpenOffice they will have trouble with your docs (few remember to change the default save format). I occasionally get a sales person sending me .od* files that they can't open and think the files are corrupted. I keep a copy of OO.org on my flashdrive for those cases.
  • How hard of a sell is it going to be to the rest of the executives?
  • How are you going to handle updates? Office gets updates through windows Updates or a WSUS server if you have one setup so its easy to maintain, I think each OO.org install wants to download its own so you would need to make sure they can get through the firewall and then there is the PC security requirements (c:\Program Files is read only to non-administrators so you will need an administrator to update unless permissions are setup right)

Remember to take politics into account too, some battles could be a phyric victory and cause you ill will with people you may need support on for something else. Personal opinion is there is no compelling reason why OO.org is better than Office. Its just technology for technologies sake. If you were starting up and didn't have all the other functionality then yes, it might be a good choice. Right now, your better off spending the money on getting everybody to at least office 2003 and continuing the momentum with sharepoint

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MS Office is so standard that the savings from switching to OpenOffice would likely be outweighed by the costs of working around the problems and issues. Training, compatibility, etc.

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same with upgrading from Office to Office. That ribbon required a lot of training and user support. I hear the next version has yet another different interface. –  gbjbaanb Jul 24 '10 at 12:51
  1. SharePoint doesn't mix with OpenOffice. This can be a substantial problem.
  2. OpenOffice tends to be slow (especially with Folder Redirection). Haven't tried 3.1 yet, but heard that they improved it.
  3. OpenOffice is a memory hog. On XP 512MB of RAM is a minimum.
  4. Compatibility
  5. Manageablity (Group Policy, administrative installs).
  6. Office 2007 SP2 now supports PDF and ODF (so-so but works) out of the box.
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As most others have mentioned, (to summarize) it can, but it isn't likely. It highly depends on your industry.

And ultimately, either way you need at least one copy of MS office if you plan on publishing .doc files. Most of the time, .doc files don't come out quite right.

But, this aside the product works wonderfully and can be successfully used internally. This alone -- if a majority of your employees use OpenOffice -- you can save money. Then only customer-interacting parties would need MS Office.

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It's been beaten to death already, so I won't mention the cost of re-training your users (which will be massive).

Another cost to measure in is the toll it will take on your support staff. Technological inertia is a huge force, and with 120 users all switching to an unfamiliar product at the same time, they're going to get lost, confused, angry, and tech support will bear the grunt of it.

It might be as simple as increasing shifts for the transition period, but you might lose some awesome team members, simply because they're sick of dealing with it (assuming you have some tech support people, otherwise whoever it is who DOES do the support will hate you, unless it's yourself, in which case you're making more work for yourself).

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