Sum of their parts

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2004-04-26 Print this article Print

In any case, all testers liked Office 2003 and said staying with Office would likely provide the smoothest upgrade path. "It'll be easier to introduce Microsoft Office 2003 to users here at FN Manufacturing than OpenOffice because it's a lot more user-friendly than OpenOffice," said Joan Curfman, business systems supervisor at FN Manufacturing. "Training will definitely be more detailed and will take a lot longer on because the interface isn't that friendly. Users here have problems using what we already have. They'll probably find even more difficult to use and learn."

Benincasa said training on would be conducted in-house, leveraging the knowledge developed within the organization through this eVal and FN Manufacturing's previous tests of the suite.

A move to could be just the beginning of FN Manufacturing's open-source journey. Benincasa has been pondering a move from Windows to Linux for some of the company's desktop systems, a path the multiplatform would help clear.

Sum of Their Parts

We tested the word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications in 1.1.1 and Office 2003 separately, but some of the testers' assessments applied suitewide.

Open-source eValuation

eWEEK Labs tips for testing the viability of open-source applications in your own organization

  • Identify where open source can be successful: While many users may not be ready for open-source productivity applications, chances are such apps could be effectively used on manufacturing plant floors, in warehouses and in retail locations; identify several potential scenarios for open source within your enterprise

  • Compare attributes of the open-source alternatives with your needs: Consider an application's functionality, cost, market share, support and maintenance issues, reliability, performance, usability, and security

  • Develop a pilot program: Give a user test group the opportunity to experiment with the new application at work and even at home; ask users to record their thoughts on training, compatibility and support issues

  • Build a core of knowledgeable users: IT managers with user advocates will have an easier time persuading their organizations to make the move to something new; these users also will be able to help lower training costs at organizations that choose to conduct training in-house

  • Develop a training program: Determine whether users will be trained in-house and how much time will be necessary for users to perform daily functions while training without productivity loss (or, at least, without significant productivity loss); keep in mind that some applications will take longer to learn than others Source: eWEEK reporting

  • Almost every person who tested Office 2003 expressed appreciation for Office's Task Pane-an interface feature that lets users carry out operations related to the document at hand, such as using the thesaurus while working on a Word document. Testers also said they valued Task Pane as an interface to Office's help system, which they found to be effective.

    As for, most testers said they liked being able to launch any of the suite's document types from the application they were using. Testers also said they appreciated having all their application instances available from the Window tool bar menu item. The Window item in Offices apps, in contrast, shows only open instances of like applications.

    Word vs. Writer

    All the eVAL testers said they create and work with Word documents every day.

    The testers who worked with Office 2003 said there were few differences between Word 2003 and earlier versions of the Microsoft word processor. In a comment echoed by many of our testers, Rick Miller, an engineer at FN Manufacturing, said, "Most tasks I perform are the same or similar [whether in Word 97 or 2000 or in Word 2003]."

    That's not to say that there weren't issues: One tester, for example, complained that a key combination had changed and that Microsoft's context-sensitive smart-tags feature got in the way during testing. By and large, however, users were agreed that their familiarity with Word would minimize the time required to get up to speed with Office 2003.

    However, the testers who worked with said the suite's word processor application, Writer, seemed familiar as well.

    FN Manufacturing Validation Engineer Doug Shaffer said that Writer's "layout and command locations are similar to Microsoft Word's" and that it was "very easy to perform the standard basic tasks in Writer."

    Browning's Sanzone, who tested in addition to Office 2003, said that documents took longer to open in Writer than they did in Word. This can be attributed to the fact that Writer must carry out an import operation when it opens documents saved in Microsoft's Word format. For short documents, there's no noticeable difference, but for large files with complex formatting, Writer can take as much as 10 seconds longer than Word to open the same document.

    In general, though, of the applications we evaluated, Writer presented the fewest file-format-compatibility problems.

    Several testers said they were impressed with the ability of Writer to save documents as PDF files, a feature they believe would save money as well as time because PDF export for Word requires a Microsoft add-in that must be purchased separately.

    Next page: Suite considerations

    As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at

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