Life Without MS Office Isnt So Tough

Opinion: More and more companies are considering alternatives such as StarOffice, OpenOffice and WordPerfect-and forcing Microsoft to earn its premium pricing.

The only reason most companies buy Microsoft Office is because theyve convinced themselves that they cant live without it. More should try that—and in the process, force Microsoft to do a better job of earning its money.

The other reason why companies keep buying MS Office is because they already have so much of it installed that adding some WordPerfect or StarOffice to the mix is more trouble than its worth.

But if you add enough of the lower-priced office suites, the savings can become mighty interesting. After all, StarOffice in single-unit quantities costs only $80 a desktop.

Consider whats happening in the Australian state of New South Wales, where the government is moving 1,500 users from Outlook to Suns StarOffice. They expect to save $1.5 million a year as a result.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about the switch to StarOffice in New South Wales.

While the dollar amount of the savings, $10,000 a desktop each year, seems excessive—even if were talking about those 71-cent Aussie bucks—its not impossible. Or maybe this is the number for moving a larger number of users or some servers.

But no matter how the savings are calculated, having an extra $1.5 million puts more money into projects or reduces taxes. Both are worthy goals. My bet is that the 1,500 users will, after a bit of squawking, get along just fine. Maybe better, since Microsoft Office can overload users with features they never use and would prefer not to see.

For Microsoft, there is a deeper meaning here. Its that the NSW government has decided, at least for this department, that Microsoft is no longer earning its premium pricing. If more businesses, particularly SMBs (small to midsized businesses), were to ask the same question, theyd get the same answer as the Aussies.

The current Microsoft response seems to be one of denial. Redmond keeps trying to make a case that Linux isnt less expensive than Microsoft servers. And maybe they are right, though they have yet to make the case convincingly enough to really sway industry opinion.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about Microsofts "Get the Facts" campaign against Linux.

But even if they are right about servers—Ill call that one "jury still out"—what about desktops? Suppose all we do is take a bunch of older Office installations and, instead of buying a Microsoft Office upgrade, convert the users to StarOffice, OpenOffice or even WordPerfect instead.

Every installation would be a bit different, depending on the pricing you get from the vendors—OpenOffice is free—and what the installation and conversion costs would be.

My bet is that training wouldnt be a huge issue for most companies, though support costs might change, and that would have to be figured in. Then wed want to project forward a few years for a TCO (total cost of ownership) before its time to upgrade again.

Its hard for me to imagine that most companies wouldnt save money by switching off of Microsoft Office. And their users, after a bit of alarm, really wouldnt notice. Very few users take advantage of the features that Microsoft competitors dont offer, and file compatibility—once a battleground—has been assured for many years.

The rise of Linux has caused many companies to re-evaluate their purchasing. Companies that have never questioned their reliance on Microsoft Office are asking questions. And when they do, Microsoft will often come out the loser.

The bottom line for customers is that its worth the effort to explore other Office options, which work quite well and can save you money. The bottom line for Microsoft—the challenge, really—is the subject of my next column.

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