With open-source productivity suites getting better and better, the cost of Microsoft Corp.s Office is looking higher and higher to FN Manufacturing LLC.
Last year, FN Manufacturing began testing OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 with the hope of mitigating the costs associated with an enterprisewide upgrade to Microsoft Office 2003. FN Manufacturings goal was not necessarily to entirely replace Microsofts Office suite, but to find and deploy a more cost-effective office solution where and when possible. And for Ed Benincasa, an eWEEK Corporate Partner and vice president of MIS at FN Manufacturing, the more the OpenOffice.org suite matured, the more compelling he found the open-source alternative to be.
“Microsoft Office is a good product, but its expensive to deploy in circumstances where you have light users,” said Benincasa in Columbia, S.C. “Were looking for a mix of office suites to help keep costs under control while meeting the needs of our end users. From a cost standpoint, Microsoft Office everywhere just doesnt make sense for us.”
In March 2004, eWEEK Labs worked with FN Manufacturing to gauge the usability and capability of OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 versus that of the then-just-released Office 2003. At the time, FN Manufacturing was using Microsoft Office 97 and Microsoft Office 2000 and was facing a forced upgrade because Microsoft had discontinued distribution of new licenses for those versions.
In addition to comparing OpenOffice.org 1.1.1s and Office 2003s capabilities, the precision machining manufacturer wanted to determine the training issues and costs it would face were it to move users from Office to an open-source alternative. Although tests determined that users would have little problem making the switch, formatting incompatibilities that emerged during the evaluation concerned Benincasa.
Cautious but undeterred, he conducted a deployment cost analysis last November and determined that FN Manufacturing could save as much as $80,000 by forgoing a wholesale upgrade to Office 2003 and Windows XP and deploying OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 on the organizations 225 desktops running Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Desktop 9 or 10.
The potential savings were compelling enough for Benincasa to get buy-in from management to begin deployment of OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 in areas of FN Manufacturing where potential incompatibilities would not be an issue. In December, Benincasa and his IT managers deployed OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 on warehouse operations desktops and upgraded shop machines from OpenOffice.org 1.0 to Version 1.1.1. Using these machines, users view construction and operation control sheets but do not create or make changes to documents.
“Weve been using OpenOffice.org on the shop floor for about a year now, and we havent had much difficulty,” Benincasa said. “Since these machines are for viewing, compatibility issues havent really come up.”
For a larger-scale deployment of any non-Microsoft productivity suite to office workers, however, Benincasa wants compatibility issues completely resolved. As long as Microsoft formats are used by the majority of business users, the reality is that IT managers must ensure the documents created by their users are compatible with those created by colleagues, business partners and suppliers.
“[The forthcoming] OpenOffice.org 2.0 needs to be really successful in meeting the Office format in order for it to have a chance at the large deployments; otherwise, itll always be restricted to small, specialized deployments,” Benincasa said. “As long as Microsoft is the industry leader, OpenOffice has to work with Word documents.”
During eWEEK Labs testing last year, FN Manufacturings advanced users ran into issues when trying to maintain formatting in complex Microsoft Word documents and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The final version of OpenOffice.org 2.0 will reportedly resolve the compatibility issues that came up in testing last year, although Benincasa said that in his tests of OpenOffice.org 2.0 Beta 1, framing issues and problems with edited graphics in Excel still existed.
Compatibility issues would inevitably be solved, said Benincasa, if the forthcoming version of the Microsoft suite, Office 12, supported the OpenDocument format. However, Microsoft has stated that it has no plans at this time to add support. The software giant did, however, recently announce it would support Adobe Systems Inc.s PDF.
“It would be ideal to see a standard format so that you could interchange documents between suppliers without issue,” Benincasa said. “I believe open standards is where we need to go. We should be able to exchange documents worldwide and open them without issue.”
While compatibility continues to hold back a larger deployment of OpenOffice. org 2.0 at FN Manufacturing, the other concern Benincasa had last year—user acceptance of OpenOffice.org—has turned out to be a nonissue.
“With all the work we did with eWEEK Labs and in our own evaluation, we have consistently found that users will be comfortable with any differences associated with OpenOffice after an hour or two in a classroom environment,” he said.
A focus group comprising six FN Manufacturing employees who rely on productivity applications at varying degrees and levels is currently using OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 as its main office suite. The focus group was formed, Benincasa said, to determine the ease with which most users would handle a transition off Microsoft Office and develop a familiarity with OpenOffice.org. So far, Benincasa said, most users seem satisfied with the open-source alternative.
When OpenOffice.org 2.0 is released, Benincasa said, he will upgrade the 25 desktops currently running the suite. He and his IT staff will then test the productivity suite for compatibility issues with the goal of rolling it out to the 20 to 30 percent of FN Manufacturings users who require access to a word processor and spreadsheets but are not power users.
“I think well always have Microsoft Office in the organization, but our management is also very supportive of us using OpenOffice.org,” Benincasa said. “We simply want to have the ability to deploy the right products to the right people at the right time.” ´
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected]
FN Manufacturings Open
- 2003 FN Manufacturing conducts tests with users to determine the viability of making the switch to OpenOffice. org; the company deploys OpenOffice.org 1.0 to shop-floor computers
- January 2004 FN Manufacturing begins considering the OpenOffice.org suite as a possible replacement for Microsoft Office for all users
- March 2004 The company conducts a two-day on-site test with eWEEK Labs to determine the potential issues associated with deployments of OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 and Microsoft Office 2003; 18 employees participate in the test
- November 2004 Ed Benincasa, FN Manufacturings vice president of MIS, prepares an ROI study that shows the company will save $80,000 by moving desktops from Microsoft Windows and Office to SuSE Linux and OpenOffice.org
- December 2004 Benincasa upgrades shop-floor systems to OpenOffice.org 1.1.1 and deploys the updated suite to warehouse operations
- January 2005 FN Manufacturing starts testing OpenOffice.org 2.0 betas
- October 2005 Existing OpenOffice.org desktops upgraded to Version 2.0
- November 2005 Benincasa will begin to deploy Linux terminal services to some areas of the organization, with plans to deploy OpenOffice.org more widely to employees who dont need the advanced features of Microsoft Office
Source: eWEEK Labs reporting
Questions to Ask When
Considering a Microsoft Altnerative”>
Questions to ask when considering a Microsoft Office alternative
Microsoft Office alternatives have the potential to reduce the amount of money an organization spends on software licenses and to broaden the hardware and software that can be used. Any such switch, however, requires careful investigation. Here are some issues to consider:
- Will there be file-format compatibility? While the Microsoft Office alternatives eWEEK Labs has tested tend to do a good job of rendering and creating Microsoft Office-formatted documents, theres no substitute for testing with your own files and those of your partners. We suggest a pilot program to identify potential incompatibilities. Saving documents in a controlled and widely accessible format such as PDF is a good way to ensure that documents will render properly.
- What will it cost? Even if you go with an Office alternative that is free, you must factor in the costs of retraining. These costs will depend on how closely your users are tied to Office-only features—all the alternatives weve tested feature the same core productivity functions as in Office, implemented in much the same way as in Office. Again, a pilot program is the best way to gauge the user disruption that a new suite might engender.
- Does my organization stand to benefit from the cross-platform support Office alternatives offer? Applications such as OpenOffice.org tend to support more operating system platforms than Office does. An organization with a diverse platform base stands to benefit more from a suite migration than would a Windows-only shop.
- Where will we turn for support? Before embarking on any sort of broad migration, audit your organizations office suite support needs to ensure that your IT staff and users will have the resources they require, whether from a vendor or from an open-source community.