Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Pick An Office, Any Office

"Psssst... buddy.... you wanna' use our version of Office?" With everyone and their dogs getting into the already-crowded Web/Offline/Open Source Office lately - it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

Just in case you haven't updated your scorecard lately - here's some of the offerings:
  • Sun Microsystems - Star Office. $69. This is the granddaddy in terms of "open" productivity software*

  • Open Office Org - Open Office. Free. This is an off-shoot (open source) version of Star Office*

  • IBM - Lotus Symphony. Free. Based on Open Office 1.0 code - supports Microsoft XML as well as Open Office XML and PDF.

    *Share the same file format

On the Web 2.0/SaaS side we have:
  • Google - Google Docs. Free. Basic word processing, spreadsheet, email (gMail) - although a presentation package is rumored

  • Yahoo - Zimbra. Messaging and collaboration, email (Yahoo! Mail) - still hasn't really jumped in yet - but it looks like they are testing the waters with the Zimbra acquisition.

  • Zoho - Zoho Office. Free. Full featured word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, pro jets, collaboration, etc.

  • Thinkfree - Thinkfree Office. Free. Looks a lot like MS Office - includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

Most of the online/web solutions allow you to save/upload/import/export into any of the Microsoft formats (which are read by the offline Office versions - more or less). So, you have a bunch of companies who are trying to get you to dump MS Office with free or low cost versions of their open source or hosted software.

Which one will you choose? Personally, I use OpenOffice (as I have said here many times). I just got fed up at paying Microsoft thousands of dollars in licensing for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. The results have be generally good - I use the suite on a regular basis, and have hardly any complaints (it's harder to bitch about something if it's free and you're not contributing to making it better).

I must say that the Thinkfree folks absolutely BLOW AWAY Google Docs and Zoho on their implementation - IF you're looking for a free, online replacement - that's where you want to go. It has really, really advanced functionality in the word processing department, and very good support in the spreadsheet arena. The online version is free (for now), they have a desktop version for $49 and a mobile edition for playing slides shows on iPods as well as the full suite for a Windows Mobile device. Thinkfree also has a Premium edition that will allow online/offline synch of documents.

If you don't already have a Microsoft Office bias - any of the tools - including any Open Office variant - will be fine - as they have all the stuff you really need (although the feature sets vary). The best idea is to download one or two of them and compare them with their online cousins and find the one that's best for you.

Hey, let's face it. In today's world - 85% of people just need a simple word processor with spell checker, a basic spreadsheet, and a decent slide presentation application. For years I've used notepad (and BBEdit on the Mac) to write HTML and create database-driven websites.

I used to manually type stuff on a typewriter and then use call outs to specify the font, size, leading, and kerning so a typesetter could set the type, so that I could WAX it to a board and shoot negatives so I could then have it published.

If you need more than what the free/online tools offer above - shouldn't someone else be fidgeting with that stuff so you can concentrate on the business?

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