Open source office suites and paperwork

I recently read that Openoffice, the most known volunteer open software office suite, might be lacking funds and volunteers enough to continue. Openoffice has done a great job, but considering Google has its own free office suite online and that Microsoft Office give access to their (light version) suite for free, I suppose the need isn’t as pressing as it was just a few years ago.

Openoffice is open source, though. And all these other tools are in the cloud, requiring you to be online.

Quite an interesting theme, open source, isn’t it? It’s not black and white. In some areas of IT, such as in the banking industry, it’s completely out of the question to use open source in most situations, because of security and liability should something happen.

Another thing that interests me is that people often seem to believe that open source is completely free. While most IT-professionals know of the cost of learning curve and support, there are other costs too.

Here’s an example that I feel explains it well: 
It would be like saying that the cost of going to the cinema is just the cinema ticket – but there’s the drive there (gas and maybe tax for entering a congested traffic area), there’s parking, there might be a meal before or after and there’s definitely snacks and soda. So, all in all – while the cinema might be open source or free, it might be a lot more expensive than paying for movie-on-demand in your living room. Not only that, but at home you could have your kids and all their friends over for movie night – while buying cinema tickets and sweets for 10 kids will definitely be more expensive than renting “Frozen” on demand. You could say it’s not the same, but to make it more similar you could purchase a large projector to view the films, these can be bought at a somewhat reasonable price today. You would save in the money quite fast if you were an avid film goer. Now, on the topic of movies being released to cinema first.. that’s another issue.

Rubens (2014) has an interesting article about why one shouldn’t use open software in all cases. Notice that he says “not always”, not “never”. I find that I do quite agree with him. His most important points, summarized:

  • When it’s easier for unskilled workers – a tool should aid you not hinder you. There is a learning curve for new software and it might not be worth it if many of the users will only use it now and then, but need it to work, when they do.
  • When it’s the standard, pure and simple. Third-party developers make add-ons and specialised tools for the system that might be beneficial.
  • When there is better support available for proprietary software.
  • When warranty and liability matter.
  • When you need reliability and stability for a long time, it might be best to go with an established vendor.

While I am a big fan of collaboration and open source, there are many cases where I prefer to pay for a big name brand instead. This might be because it is better than the open source alternatives, more established, I know there will be new features available regularly and that they know their customers and what we need. Also, it just works – and should I need support, I don’t need to fix it myself which I need to in most other cases. The fact that there will be third party applications and add-ins for my well-known software is also a definite plus.

Open source can certainly help some type of businesses save money, others will not save anything. It depends on who the business is catering to, who is the user – are there end users that will be using this open source tool, or is it simply used to run servers for a different kind of business? The government chief information officer for Hampshire (UK), Jos Creese, said to Forbes magazine (Gordon, 2014)  that whenever they had sat down to look at costs switching from Microsoft desktop applications to open source, Microsoft had compared cheaper.  He says that “the true cost is the total cost of ownership and exploitation, not just the licence cost.”

While everyone (except maybe the proprietary companies) loves the idea of open source, it might not always be the right choice. This could be the cost for the employees time using it, support, but also warranty and liability damage. While it should always be considered as an option, one should do like the information officer did and sit down to compare in detail. Or, if time is money – go for the safe and tried option.

I can only shudder to think of how horrible my workplace would be should be switch from good old, user-friendly Microsoft Word to Openoffice. I As a more advanced user, I use more advanced tools – I tried using Openoffice on my new travel-laptop (private) for a week but I went crazy from the lack of functions. The same with Google Docs, and Word online didn’t have what I needed. Then again, a third user group exists: ad hoc users that doesn’ need an office suite very often, maybe once or twice a month. Openoffice is brilliant for these users. If you only need to write some stuff and put some colour on it, Openoffice suite is great!

 

 

Bibliography

Gordon, K. (2014) Using Microsoft Is Cheaper Than Free Software Says Government Chief Information Officer – Forbes [Online] Available from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gordonkelly/2014/05/08/using-microsoft-is-cheaper-than-free-software-says-government-chief-information-officer/#5fff098a2936 (Accessed: 08.10.2016).

Rubens, P. (2014) 7 Reasons Not to Use Open Source Software | CIO [Online] Available from: http://www.cio.com/article/2378859/open-source-tools/7-reasons-not-to-use-open-source-software.html (Accessed: 08.10.2016).

Image source: Maurits Verbiest, Flickr, CC generic licence. https://flic.kr/p/nxebjJ