2007.09.25

Gabe wrote a post about his recent experiences with Office Suite software. I left a comment there, but thought I should expand on it here.

NeoOffice

Here’s the comment I left:

I am very close to being 100% happy with NeoOffice (which is an offshoot of OpenOffice, for Mac OS X.)

I do not compare it to MS Office the way you might. For me, it is free and open source. This means I can install it on the 10+ Macs that I manage for $0 (in reality, I donated money to NeoOffice because I do find it valuable, and want it to flourish. Still, $25 for unlimited copies?) Anyway, the only features I care about is that it can open all those damn MS Office file formats. That’s it. For all I know, it completely sucks in every other respect. I don’t care. To me, it’s pretty much a viewer/converter. I do use it for simple document creation, but I could use other tools for that as well. It even handles Microsoft formats the the Mac version of Office can’t handle!

Sometimes innovation is found in just being an alternative.

Honestly, I’m coming at it from an entirely different direction that Gabe, so I’m in no way trying to discount his opinion, I’m just pointing out that different people have different needs. For the last 10 years I’ve been building web sites for clients, and sometimes those clients send me Word documents, from which I need to wrestle out the text. Believe me, try as you might to ask people to send you plain text files, or even RTF files, they just don’t get it. That’s fine. Today you can send me a Microsoft Word document, and I can open it, and get that precious text out of it. And I can install the software that does it on as many machines as I want, and not have to worry about license keys working, or buying more copies, or having to pay for upgrades, or any of that crap.

Years ago I was really excited about open source software that came out that dealt with things I did every day, text editing, web serving, graphics work, etc. But an office suite? It sounded like a movie with a cruel twist: “You get to work on open source software! By the way, it’s an office suite!” So the real innovation to me is the disruption in the status quo, being the alternative, the “here, this is free, it’s not perfect but may fit your needs just fine” compared to the polished commercial product filled with restrictions and hoop-jumping.

Big thanks goes out to the NeoOffice guys, as well as the OpenOffice folks, and all that contribute to open source software.

2 Responses to “NeoOffice and Innovation in Office Suites”

  1. HeyGabeNo Gravatar says:

    I think you make valid points, Pete. You certainly have the historical perspective in the FOSS movement to understand the contributions that the software has made to today’s proprietary software. One-click export of PDF being standard? Interoperability? Thanks Open source!

    It is exactly for the same reasons that you love NeoOffice that I continue to harp on Open Office. I _am_ dedicated to the Free and Open Source software movement, and will chose to use those tools whenever I can, but Open Office keeps failing me and breaking my heart.

    For example, today I learned that Open Office doesn’t have a version of Microsoft Word’s OUTLINE mode, which is a mode that I find absolutely essential when creating a properly formatted speech from just random thoughts floating around in my head. Score one for Proprietary Software.

    However, at the same time, I found that I couldn’t install my shiny new copy of Photoshop Elements without finding the magic number on one of the sheets of paper I’d not paid any attention to when I unboxed my scanner a few days ago. Score one for Free and Open Source.

    My point, however, remains. For high-end publishing and top-tier use, Open Office just isn’t as good or as useful as the propriety alternatives.

    To play off of something else you said the other day, I hate Microsoft Word, but I hate crashing, instability, and missing features more.

  2. Outlining eh? Maybe they will get Dave’s OPML editor running on Linux.

    But then again, in the commercial software world (of Mac OS X) OmniOutliner is pretty darn good…

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