Hardware

OpenOffice saves a company budget

Jack Wallen had the pleasure of introducing a client to OpenOffice and saving that client a huge wad of cash. Read on to find out how much and just how OO saved the day.

This past week I was troubleshooting an issue a client had. This issue had been haunting the client for some time and no one could figure out what was going on. Here's the scenario.

  • Client worked with businesses and banks using various MS Word templates.
  • When templates were finished they had to be printed.
  • Half of the employees could print correctly and the other half had serious printing issues.
  • All employees used terminal server and ran the templates from MS Office 2003.
  • The employees that had trouble printing had MS Office 2007 installed locally.
  • The employees that didn't have trouble printing had MS Office 2003 (or no MS Office at all) installed.

There were two possible solutions for this client:

  • Upgrade MS Office on terminal server.
  • Downgrade all employees to MS Office 2003.

There was a third choice, of course...since I had been tagged to solve the problem. We'll get to that solution in a moment.

Because of the number of employees in the company, the cost of upgrading the MS Office on terminal server was going to be in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars. If you gasped and made a face, that is the exact reaction the client had. Immediately following that gasp, the client pulled the plug on any possible upgrade. That left us with downgrading to MS Office 2003. Or....installing OpenOffice on the terminal server.

The reaction when I mentioned this possible, FREE (software cost that is), solution? An emphatic, "Let's try that!"

And we did. Of course my biggest concern was if OpenOffice would work with SBA templates. I downloaded a template to my personal machine (Ubuntu 10.04 with the latest OpenOffice) and the template worked just fine. There were small differences (but those differences were mostly in the startup and save process). I also knew the end users might need a little bit of hand-holding as they were not the most tech-savvy users (they knew the business of business like the back of their hands - just nothing about tech). I was okay with that, because their point-woman was savvy and I could simply feed her the support, which would then get dispersed to the users.

The installation is painless...now the true test will be time. If the end-users can get used to a different office suite to handle their templates. But ultimately what this little experience taught me was that as much as people like to claim how cheap the TCO of MS products are to business, there is always a situation that begs to smack that assumption upside the face. This was one of those. Not many business have 10,000 dollars to drop on a software update - especially one that will only serve to solve a printing issue. Yes the printing was a critical aspect of the users' jobs, but not enough to force the hand to upgrading to Office 2007 on terminal server.

There are always options...especially when open source software is a possibility. I would hope that all IT admins, consultants, and students would keep their minds open to such avenues. After all, the most important aspect of our jobs is client satisfaction...and few clients are going to be satisfied when the only option given to them has a price tag large enough to cause cardiac arrest.

Of course, in this situation, there was another option - to downgrade all users of Office 2007 to Office 2003. But in the spirit of finding the most expedient solution, OpenOffice came through like a champ.

Have you come across a similar situation where a piece of open source software helped save a client a lot of money? If so, share it with your fellow Techrepublic readers.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

131 comments
The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Given that OpenOffice has now been basically canned what happens to this client now? Red face coming up for you I think Jack.

NCWeber
NCWeber

I had a similar issue at a private Catholic high school where students were getting new computers with the latest MS Office preinstalled while the school was still running MS Office 95. It got to the point that anything the students typed, the teachers couldn't read. Upgrading was out of the question because it just wasn't fiscally feasible. So I installed OpenOffice (this was back with version 2.0). However, I ran into an interesting problem. The teachers refused to use it because it wasn't Microsoft. No other reason. They do no macros, no templates or any other advanced functions. Just straight typing. I found it ironic that educators were expressing a disinterest in learning. I had a simply (but admittedly underhanded) solution. Since using MS Office 95 was completely out of the question, I saved all the MS icons and mapped them to the OpenOffice programs. I also renamed the shortcut names to MS products. Would you believe the teachers were happy and never noticed the difference? It was a rather interesting revelation in social engineering, I can tell you that. They only want MS Word for the branding, not for the performance. Wild.

dgs010243
dgs010243

I use the Oracle OpenOffice 3.2.1 currently. Microsoft Office costs too high ! So, I renounced two years ago, to MS office, when I was pensioned. I use both swriter and sweb.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

you did call did you not? There could have been a simple solution.

carlsf
carlsf

We have tested OO and have liked the produce and have had no problems. We will be staying with Office 2003 untill such time Micrsoft make the product unuseable/illegal. OO is waiting in the background for that time. There is NO way (115) we will go the Office 2007/10 reason the dreaded "RIBBON.

Rndmacts
Rndmacts

I really like the fallacy being foisted off as fact that a movement to Oo is free, that is simply not true, if you have many users who are using Word then there is a training cost, it is not intuitive. And Oo is not so good yet that it can read a Word document and not drop some of the formatting or make some other change, time is wasted while you go through the document and find all the changes that have been made to the document. I have used both and there are always differences, some of them subtle but they are there. In the original scenario you do not tell us how many machines are involved but if the upgrade is going to cost $10,000 then we are talking more than 250 machines, if a company is that cheap on their IT budget, then moving to Oo is going to cost more in lost production and don't tell me there is no loss, I have never seen a large scale changeover where everything went smoothly. But if 10K is that big an issue with this company I hope they paid your bill promptly because this company sounds more like it is ready to declare Chapter 11. And for the lawyers in here where have you been, during the word processor wars, Word may have won the office environment, but WordPerfect won the legal and medical offices. They have modules for both disciplines that include templates and dictionaries, Word never compared in this field.

ramki.akella
ramki.akella

If it is just a printing problem, why not convert it into PDF format and print it. Why should you propose moving into OO for a simple reason? Am I missing something?

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

You know where Mr. Wallen's allegiance is to. Open source. Definitely anything non-Microsoft then - probably non-Apple as well. Reminder that "free" isn't always an advantage.

Marek27
Marek27

same problem in my old company. same solution from my side, but it was turned down because one of the directors wanted word and excel and nothing like OpenOffice = explanation - "I don't want to learn a new package, why should I, the old one is just fine for me, why can't we use it everywhere, we should talk to Microsoft ... ". until now they are using office 97 and 2000, illegally ...

Zwort
Zwort

Every machine that I touch runs OO. It's a matter of routine for me now to uninstall any MS product and replace it. It's too much trouble, and that is before the security problems.

Chris_Clay
Chris_Clay

It's good to see real world articles, written by people that are in the field and working with systems, etc. As the author pointed out, things aren't so rosy and bright as Microsoft likes to portray. Going with OpenOffice has saved many companies thousands upon thousands. Personally, I've been down this path and I choose OpenOffice because there is not much of a learning curve, and it just works, and it works well, for FREE.

sirloxelroy
sirloxelroy

Our company runs about 20 Mac Workstations with Mac Servers. Unfortunately Microsoft or Apple have never decided to fix a major issue. On Mac OS X 10.4 and higher Office 2003 and higher change the date modified on just opening a document. This is unacceptable in a Law Firm. As such we looked at many options, some even included an AD server. In the end we ended up going with NeoOffice/OpenOffice as the most stable, compatible, and cost affective solution.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

for those lovely Java royalties, SCO style.

jdaughtry
jdaughtry

I would never send a OO-produced .doc to a contact without checking it out in MS Office first. Tabs, indents, bullets etc get mangled in the process of transferring. Softmaker has a lower-cost (but not free) alternative that really DOES work.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Did Oracle give a press release stating that they'd discontinued development on there own OpenOffice codebase?

aharper
aharper

Open source projects continue with community support all the time, and usually do better without corporate ownership. Bottom line: Dinna fash yoursel' lad, we'll be fine.

glgruver
glgruver

Actually, I did not bother them this time. Last time I talked to them about a driver issue, I got the "N I H" response (not invented here), so I guess that's the answer. I just got my login problems with Sun Microsystems resolved, so I will be talking to them. My daughter is no help either. I got her started on computers many years ago, now she is a Micro$oft addict. Oh where did I fail? What's a father to do? Well, at least my son appreciates OO. :-)

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

that by that time the version of OO you tested will be invalid and you will have to test a 'new' version all over again?

glgruver
glgruver

Don't get me wrong, I have used OO for several years now and I really like it, but no matter what machine I use it on or what version of OO I use, it seems to take forever to load. Even using the portable version takes a long time to come up on the screen. It does seem to load somewhat faster on my Ubuntu machine however. Micro$oft conspiracy anyone?

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

[i]And for the lawyers in here where have you been, during the word processor wars, Word may have won the office environment, but Word Perfect won the legal and medical offices. They have modules for both disciplines that include templates and dictionaries, Word never compared in this field.[/i] Yep you are correct even if a lot of the Cheap Legal Offices do now use Word and M$ Office these days WP was and still is much better for their needs. But here the OP was speaking about loading Office 2007 onto the Terminal Server, that's not cheap in any ones books, it's much cheaper to have Office on every machine and then only grab the Templates from the Server but here I'm supposing that wasn't an option. There is however one thing I have to say about Office like OO different versions of M$ Office does have problems with Formatting so switching from 2003 to 2007 is likely to have the same Loss of Production and retraining Costs as moving to OO. At the very least but with the Office Licensing the move to OO is going to be cheaper. I'm not sure that it would suit every company/business however here I'm supposing that it suited this business who appears to have M$ Office on every workstation and then on the Terminal Server. I wouldn't be surprised if they moved the TS to Office 2007 that the office 2003 systems started having the same problems as the office 2007 systems where having with the 2003 Terminal Server. So in addition tot he TS Licensing there would also be the additional cost of Office on the Workstations not to mention the cost of Lost Production with the move to 2007 and the Ribbon Interface. Here I had one company who had horrendous costs associated with Office 2007. It revolved around the M$ Rep telling them that it was exactly the same as what it was replacing but with a better User Interface. So when they sent in a Tender to a Government Department in the new Word Format it was not possible to open it and it was thrown into the Recycle Bin as unusable. No questions asked and a 20 Million Contract which normally this company could expect to get they where not considered for. Yes Training would have prevented this [i]maybe[/i] but as they where told by the Guy from M$ that it wasn't necessary to train anyone why would any company waste money unnecessarily? Another perfect example of never allowing a salesperson loose near an end user if nothing else. :^0 Col

eclypse
eclypse

I would submit that you will not get 250 seats of M$ Office for $10k. And as has been stated before, even moving from one version of M$ Office to another is not smooth, either, and has training and lost productivity costs on top of licensing costs.

tbmay
tbmay

And too many crooks in the IT industry accommodate them to stay in their good graces.

kingttx
kingttx

Is your law firm in the States? I've constantly looked into using OOo for law offices (sister-in-law has a law office) and some of the templates simply won't open correctly in OOo. Have you run into this?

aharper
aharper

...and for a law firm, I can't even recommend moving to Google Apps. Glad NoeOffice worked for you, and it's one area the Java issue worked in your favor. Mac and PCs handle dates differently, but Java is Java.

Red_One
Red_One

The Java royalties would not apply in this case. They only come knocking when you mess with the JVM (as MS and Google did). The only restricted Java is JavaME. Use of Java as a language is free guys and gals. I can't wait till Google and/or IBM buy up and split up Oracle. Tell Larry to go fishing.

ScienceMikey
ScienceMikey

Whenever I install OO.o, I also install the free MS Office viewers: XL Viewer, PowerPoint Viewer, and Word Viewer, along with the "Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007 File Formats". This allows users to read or check a DOC or DOCX file edited or created with OO.o for MSO compatibility without having to purchase MS Office.

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

I use OO exclusively, most others I work with use office 2007 and some are still on 2003. I create new documents with OO, and edit exiting ones created in MS office with OO and saved. No one where I work has ever had any problem with opening any document I have created or edited in OO with MS office so far. Of course we do not get too crazy with weird fonts, formatting, etc, usually sticking to the standard fonts and formatting most of the time.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Given Oracle's recent decision to pull the plug on OpenSolaris and now this I say the writing is on the wall for any future OO.org (free) development.

Dr.C
Dr.C

Just accept that your daughter is now a woman, and like the rest of womankind needs to be treated accordingly. Convince her that your generations thinks MS is cool? Or that OO.o is more expensive than Prada? Or accept that it is a lost cause. So just keep on being nice to her and wait for her to fall out with MS.

carlsf
carlsf

Not feeding the greedy cow Microsoft, and falling for their "you have too have"

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The portable version would be expected to take much longer than a local install since it has to bring all it's files into memory plus the portablapp environment it runs within. With a direct install, the issue may be loading JAVA behind it. In terms of load times, MS Office has the advantage since Windows will load most of it at boot time.

yogi_john
yogi_john

I use OOo on Linux at home. I was reviewing a .doc file from work and some paragraph indentations were incorrect. I opened the file back at the office and everything was fine. I did not investigate but I suspect it was related to tab or space width, possibly to multi-level numbering setup.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

So just how does that imply in any form that OO is dead? All it implies is that Oracle is working on a Cloud App nothing more nothing less. ;) Col

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

Oracle Live, you complete office, storage and database needs in a neat little cloud shaped can.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Not what you believe them to say. ;) Col

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Actually, less than thirty seconds to type "aptitude install libraoffice.org" or "aptitude purge openoffice.org3 && aptitude install libraoffice.org" assuming I had a reason to migrate my workstation and assuming that was the package name. Heck, let's say that for some currently unsubstantiated reason, Jack's client had to drop OOo. They're still saving money; no document format conversions, no software license expenses, minimal if any user re-training. The change isn't any greater than switching from Notepad to Wordpad to edit text documents; no data format change, minimal interface change, no additional licensing costs. Again "not a big deal" But, we're still missing a key bit of information; Oracle has not chosen to stop developing OpenOffice yet. Do you have information stating that Oracle is no longer developing OpenOffice? You can't claim that an optional future software change is proof that Jack did not previously save a company money by implementing OpenOffice. I think your reaching and imagining reasons to claim your pre-judged outcome rather than basing your opinion on current evidence.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

We'll have to see how much in the interface changes and if it does so for the better or not. Since it's starting from a common point, we're not yet looking at re-training costs. Data conversion would be a big cost but again, we're on the same code base and data formats; just under a new branding. No data conversion related costs at this time. On *nix workstations you just push out the package manager commands to make the change. The variables would be how the replacement works and if it looks for pre-existing config files. Any rational distribution is at least going to provide a transition period of six months or a year where the new codebase branding looks for the old codebase config. Make the package an upgrade to the old package or replacement and your golden since it'll stamp overtop or remove the original OOo packages during the process. For example; Debian would use a virtualpackage just as they are currently doing for Mailx as a virtual package for the newer name Bsd-mailx. If your OOo on windows boxes then it'll depend on how you manage those installs. Config can still be transitioned based on the rebranded codebase inheriting them. Actually install roll-out can be scripted to do an uninstall-old/install-new. We're not talking an Office2003 to Office2007. It isn't Wordperfect migrating to Word. We're not looking at drastic interface and data file format changes. We're not dealing with software which intentionally makes data file interoperability a problem. In the words of Mr Jobs "not a big deal". Since you bring up expenses though; what's your list of expected differences and costs? (edit): The above does, of course, assume a company chooses to migrate to the forked codebase since there is no formal announcement from Oracle that they intend to discontinue OOo development. No current requirement to change software means no additional expense. Got anything else to support your claim?

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

These guys paid Wallen to setup OO - money spent. OO stops getting developed / starts to charge. You now either need to pay or again move to another 'free' Office suite which will cost some money in set-up (at least).

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Do you have supporting evidence or information for your one word response?

carlsf
carlsf

Well for starters they are streets ahead of MS here in producty and cost. Sorry I have used MS for years (30 to make the point), but due to MS costs and the way they keep making their Office Suits and O/S so unproductive. Why would I spend $$ on a new O/s or Office Suite then spend still more in upgrading H/W, then there is the cost of Training, NOT to mention the loss of income while users get up to speed. SORRY but MS are fast loosing us a a client (115) users. Why change things just to make a sale or convince users/clients to pay them still more $$.

carlsf
carlsf

I would NOT start gloating just yet. And you can be sure that MS wont be getting any $$$$ from this client. There is NOW the CLOUD.... And I would suggest Google as their cloud is interesting with the way they are moving.

aharper
aharper

There's the news. Once things stabilize again we should see a good deal of new development.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

particularly "End of Line" - and that may have been part of your problem between the systems. I've been "bitten" by that a couple of times.