Office Suites / Replacements

First, Congratulations to Kirk Langer for his semi-annual posting. They are rare, but good.

Concerning Sun’s committing a couple people to the aqua port of Open Office, I am not impressed. Sun makes me yawn almost as much as Microsoft. First, I know that Star/OpenOffice has been around for quite a few years now, but here’s some problems I have with it…

  • What does Sun know about client applications? They make servers, an operating system and Java. In many ways, they are like Apple in that they do a bit of everything but where Apple excels at creating user experiences, Sun does not. Sun shines (sorry) when they are providing the technology and tools to let others deliver great experiences. When Sun tries to do it themselves it generally strikes me as nothing more than a technology demonstration to encourage developers to take those ideas further.
  • Star/OpenOffice has always felt like a “me too” application that tries hard to mimic Microsoft Office without delivering ways that people can act better/smarter. I guess simply providing a knock-off of MS Office without the enormous price-tag is a noble-enough goal, but I would much prefer that they show some innovation and publish a product that is a joy to use.

So what would I do? I’m not sure, and I’m glad that I don’t have to be the one to decide but here are some thoughts.

  • I would analyze/list the “word processing” needs of our community. This would certainly include note-taking, outlining and report/research paper writing among others. What features do these tasks require?
  • Tabs?
  • Indenting?
  • Margin control?
  • Headers, Footers?
  • I would match these feature needs with grade levels and subject areas, then against available products to see 1) how we can deliver applications that best suit the needs of those using them and 2) how we can do this with as few applications as possible.
  • Developers have long realized that word processors can be evil. Why do I want my text formatted before the text has been finalized? When people send me word documents to put online, the first step is always unformatting all of that text so that I can then format it to match the site. Text-editors are much cheaper and easier to use than word processors and often do the required job just as well.
  • Office users feel the need, to the detriment of their document, to use strange features that have been packed into the program. Random bits of clip art get dropped in, text gets wrapped, warped and justified in unnatural ways and typefaces that have no business knowing each other are thrown together.
  • Many people with real layout needs use Office that would be able to better use their time in an application that was actually designed to do layout.
  • I don’t think there is a perfect solution right now. If one is looking for something that is cross-platform and does what is needed there really is no solution outside of OpenOffice and it is good news that the Macintosh platform may finally get a version of it that doesn’t require X11 to run. I would prefer to see something like Google Docs used, but at this point there are many things that it does not have, such as tabbing, margin control or headers and footers. There’s hardly anything simpler than an MLA formatted document, and I’m not sure if Docs could even do that.

    I’m very interested to see where we go as a district regarding this. I think that between a potential OpenOffice port, improvements to Google Docs/Spreadsheets and new web-based apps that will undoubtedly appear, it is clear that Redmond should definitely not be counting any checks before they are cashed.

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    This entry was published on May 9, 2007 at 8:53 am and is filed under Safe, Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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