Waste of no money?
Oxford Archaeology is in the middle of a process to upgrade from Microsoft Office 97 to OpenOffice 2.2 (initially, but there's more to it than the current version). There are a number of reasons why the decision was made, some easy, some complex. What follows is a question and answer session around the subject of office upgrades and why this particular path.
Q. Microsoft Office 97 was perfectly adequate for our needs. Why would we want to waste time and money upgrading it?
A. A question with lots of answers. Here's just a few... Microsoft have a policy of ending support for older products; Office 97 had its support withdrawn a while ago which means, for example, that any security flaws found since have not been patched. Microsoft Office also saves files in non-documented file formats, which means that the irreplaceable data that we store in those formats may be lost to future generations. More modern office suites have functionality that makes process automation easier and therefore all our jobs easier.
Q. Ok, so an upgrade has to happen. Why not upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office?
A. Another question with lots of answers. Cost is one factor. The money spent upgrading to the latest version of Microsoft Office can be better spent on training in the use of office suites. There's still the undocumented file format and future data loss issue. Flexibility is another issue; the latest version of Microsoft Office is only available for recent versions of Microsoft Windows (XP or Vista), whereas OpenOffice is available for Windows 98 onwards, Apple OSX, Linux, Solaris etc.. And when the next version of OpenOffice comes out (every 6 months or so, at time of writing the next version was due in September 07), the file format will not change, the look and feel will not change and the cost of upgrading to get the new functionality is zero. And for the next version, and the next, etc. etc..
Q. But sometimes I have to work from home, where I only have Microsoft Office; will this cause me problems?
A. Nothing major, as OpenOffice is good at reading and writing Microsoft Office formats (but not perfect, as the file formats are not documented). However, to ensure absolutely no problems, you can download and install OpenOffice. For free (and legally).
Q. I've been told Microsoft products are better. Does that mean we are choosing an inferior product?
A. Well, better is a very tenuous term. For example, if you have Windows 98 or 2000 on your computer, Microsoft Office 2007 is rather less use than a chocolate teapot. Same for users of Linux or Apple. On the other hand Microsoft Office 2007 does have more features than OpenOffice, while OpenOffice has features Microsoft Office does not, like direct PDF output, strong style control and an international standard document format. OpenOffice is also free to use and redistribute and upgrades are free, so any genuinely useful features in Microsoft Office 2007 that are not in OpenOffice 2.2 (current version at time of writing) will probably be in OpenOffice 2.3 or 2.4 (less than 12 months away) - or could be added as a plugin. Inferior? No. More like swings and roundabouts.
Q. Does OA's choice of OpenOffice have anything to do with this Open Archaeology thing?
A. Oh, yes. Using OpenOffice supports both the Open Standards and the Open Source threads, and contributes something towards the Open Data thread by being free and using a widely supported document format (contributes by making the files more accessible).
Q. But everyone else uses the .doc format. Isn't using this new format going to cause problems?
A. Well, actually not everyone else uses the .doc format (or formats, as actually there are several) inside their organisations; there are still plenty of law firms for example that use WordPerfect, and then there are others who are standardising or who have standardised on software that read/writes ISO26300, the same format that OpenOffice uses. And then there is a small minority that have started to make use of Microsoft Office 2007, which has two(!) new default formats which are only supported by Microsoft Office (2007 and 2003 with a downloadable converter). OpenOffice actually deals quite well with the various versions of the .doc format, but more importantly the takeup of ISO26300, particularly by government organisations, is growing extremely quickly; changing now is just a bit ahead of the curve.
Posted at 09:35AM Jun 24, 2007 by Chris Puttick in General |