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Report Looks at Microsoft Office Alternatives

Organizations have been considering alternatives to Microsoft Office, but not as replacements quite yet.

A study published this month by Forrester Research, "The Next Wave of Office Productivity" by Sheri McLeish, suggests that the current economic downturn may have organizations considering other solutions for word processing, spreadsheet and presentation needs. Organizations appear to be eyeing Web-based and installed productivity suites for segments of their workforce as an alternative to paying Microsoft's recurring Office licensing fees.

Of the alternatives considered in the report, Oracle OpenOffice.org stands out as a free installable productivity suite. It's supported by 10 percent of organizations surveyed by Forrester Research. Corel WordPerfect Office and Adobe Acrobat.com represent lower cost installed alternatives to Microsoft Office. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) options in the report include Google Apps Premier Edition, ThinkFree and Zoho Apps.

Replacing Microsoft Office was not the top motivator in considering the alternatives, according to a Forrester Research survey. Instead, most decision-makers saw alternative productivity suites as "complementary" to Microsoft Office or for use as "specialized apps."

Interoperability has become less of an obstacle to using an alternative productivity suite. The report found that "today, most of the alternatives can open all versions of Office docs, but rich editing and roundtripping remain problematic."

Organizations may have other concerns about using alternative productivity suites. With SaaS-based suites, organizations may have trust issues about storing content in the Internet cloud. SaaS-based alternatives sometimes lag in terms of providing offline access to documents, the report observes.

Organizations could save money by adopting a "fit-to-purpose" strategy, in which information workers are allocated productivity suites based on their actual needs. However, IT shops would have to be adept in determining user needs to go that route. If that's possible, Forrester's research indicates that as much as 75 percent of employees could do fine using an alternative productivity suite to Microsoft Office.

The traditional IT approach is to implement a "one-size-fits-all" strategy with productivity suite software. IT shops following this route typically stick with Microsoft licensing. "Shops that choose this strategy are strongly committed to Microsoft and usually run Exchange, SharePoint and Office," the report states.

Organizations considering the alternatives should carry out the following steps, according to the report. They should define what productivity and collaboration mean within the organization. Second, the "strategic commitment to Microsoft" should be assessed. Finally, organizations should consider segmenting user provisioning to address specific information worker needs. This latter approach could lead to an overall lowering of costs.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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