Office Suites: Microsoft, OpenSource and the 80/20 Rule

By James Gaskin
Do you like to save money? I strongly recommend individuals and small companies trying to save money take a serious look at OpenOffice. Too many companies automatically pay hundreds of dollars to install Microsoft Office on every computer. Go to and learn more about this free (as in no money needed, period) office productivity suite.
Let me stress this is a money issue, not a features, usability, or security issue. Well, maybe a little bit security, since OpenOffice doesn’t support the inter-application macros and scripts that MS Office does, there are fewer security holes for hackers to jump through. But the primary issue here is money: you can get 99 percent of what you need in an office productivity suite with OpenOffice for free. OpenOffice will not make you smarter, thinner, or a better writer, but it will keep coins in your pocket.

I switched to using OpenOffice as my tool of choice over two years ago. Hundreds of columns, articles, and most of a book have so far been written in OpenOffice, and not one editor, customer, or friend knew the difference. Even when people send me Word documents with revision tracking turned on, I edit them in OpenOffice Writer and send them back with no problems. The same happens with spreadsheets and presentations – people send them from MS Office, I edit them in OpenOffice and return them, and nobody knows.
The only difference I’ve found is that OpenOffice doesn’t include a Flesch Readability calculator like MS Word does. This tool rates your writing and reports what grade level of education is required for comprehension. Most newspapers and consumer magazines aim at an eighth grade level. MS Word has this tool but OpenOffice Writer doesn’t. I can’t find any other difference beyond OpenOffice refusing to allow macros and ActiveX programs to run, which slightly limits large corporations with their own macros. The rest of us should be happy for the lowered security risks provided by blocking those programs and the viruses that rely on the security holes they open.
My 80/20 rule mention in the title comes from the fact some companies will not trust OpenOffice enough to put it on every computer. That’s fine. Save yourself money by putting OpenOffice on eight of 10 computers, and put MS Office on the other two. If some problem with OpenOffice appears, or someone really wants to test their document on the Flesch Readability calculator, you’re ready.
Remember, if you try OpenOffice and it doesn’t work, you can then buy MS Office. But if you buy MS Office then find out OpenOffice works just as well, you can’t get your money back. Oops.

Editor’s Note:
MS Word power users who rely on graphics and complex formatting in their documents may find that there are some compatibility issues that could be a deal breaker. Check out the first look at 3.0 beta on ZDNet.
Gaskin.jpgJames E. Gaskin writes books, articles, and jokes about technology and real life from his home office in the Dallas area. Gaskin has been helping small and medium sized businesses use technology intelligently since 1984.

One thought on “Office Suites: Microsoft, OpenSource and the 80/20 Rule

  1. Simon

    Absolutely true.
    Where I thought the 80/20 rule came in was that 80% of users only use 20% of the features in Microsoft Office. OpenOffice is ideal for these folks.

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