Step Into your New "office"

By: Chris Smith (The TeknoCoach)

You may be pondering the installation of Microsoft® Office products (Word, Excel®, Outlook®, and maybe PowerPoint®) or looking to upgrade to a more recent release of the Office suite. Although the Microsoft Office suite is excellent business productivity software, it's not cheap (you'll pay anywhere from 150 to 700 dollars per instance, unless you're getting some volume discounts through a reseller). There are alternatives for you to consider, and those alternatives have both pro's and con's.

First, let's look at the alternatives (grouped by the individual components within the Office suite):

1. Word- There is an almost countless number of alternative word processors out there, such as:
a. OpenOffice.org Writer (the entire OpenOffice.org suite, which is part of Sun® Microsystem's open-source strategy is available at openoffice.org)
b. WordPerfect® (the entire WordPerfect Office X3 suite, which is owned by Corel®, is available at wordperfect.com)
c. Lotus Word Pro (which is part of IBM®'s Lotus SmartSuite, available at lotus.com)
d. Adobe ® FrameMaker® (available from adobe.com)
e. StarOffice Writer (the entire StarOffice suite, which is part of Sun® Microsystem's proprietary software catalog, is available at staroffice.com)

2. Excel- There is also a large contingent of spreadsheet software options out there, such as:
a. OpenOffice.org Calc
b. Quattro Pro® (part of the WordPerfect Office X3 suite)
c. Lotus 1-2-3 (part of Lotus SmartSuite)
d. StarOffice Calc

3. PowerPoint- There's not quite as much direct competition in this space, but there are counterparts in all the suites previously mentioned, as detailed below:
a. OpenOffice.org Impress
b. Presentationsâ„? (part of the WordPerfect Office X3 suite)
c. Freelance Graphics (part of Lotus SmartSuite)
d. Adobe Presenter, formerly Macromedia Breeze Presenter (available from adobe.com)
e. StarOffice Impress

4. Outlook- Excluding the web-based email services (such as Googleâ„? gmail or Yahoo!® Mail), there are some good alternatives, such as:
a. Mozilla Thunderbirdâ„? (available at mozilla.com)
b. Lotus Notes (available at lotus.com)
c. Eudora, which will likely fold into or combine with Mozilla's Thunderbird in the not-too-distant future (available at eudora.com)

Next, let's look at some of the pro's and con's of each of the major vendors' offerings:

1. Microsoft Office-

+ Pro's: It's the "Big Daddy" of the bunch, no doubt. It has the most users, the biggest development budget, files you generate with it are practically universal, and it's got "hooks galore" into Microsoft's Windows operating system.
- Con's: It's the "Big Brother" of the bunch. It's toward the higher end in cost, all things considered, and it's not very petite regarding system requirements (but that's not a huge concern if you've upgraded your PCs anytime within the last 2-3 years).

2. Sun Microsystems' OpenOffice.org-
+ Pro's: It's free with some "strings" attached (mostly an agreement that you'll participate somehow in the overall open-source development process). It's also completely compatible with Microsoft Office formats.
- Con's: Because it's open-source, "support" is a relative term (but the Help functions are surprisingly well-organized so that it's not a huge concern). You also have to be careful to save into Microsoft Office formats if you're planning on transporting these documents anywhere (not hard to do, but you have to remember to do it).

3. Corel's WordPerfect Office X3-
+ Pro's: These guys have been around for a long time (remember when Word and WordPerfect were the 2 big players in the word processing space?).
- Con's: The product is solid, but there aren't any major feature differentiators (WordPerfect is not all that different from Word, Quattro Pro is like a less-talented older sibling of Excel's, etc.). For all of Corel's past brilliance in the area of desktop publishing, it hasn't seemed to carry-over into the 21st century (at least not with this suite)

4. IBM's Lotus SmartSuite-
+ Pro's: IBM is, obviously, another long-time player in the space (Lotus 1-2-3 is pretty much the "grand-daddy" of spreadsheets), with lots of capital to throw around. Support is good if you can get to the right channel.
- Con's: Similar to Corel, there's just not any strong differentiators here (unless the whole Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino architecture makes sense to you, in which case, please let me know, so I can consult with you). The product offerings are good, but they're almost too complex.

5. Sun Microsystems' StarOffice-
+ Pro's: Just like with OpenOffice.org, compatibility with Microsoft Office is a plus.
- Con's: Support is a little better than for its OpenOffice.org counterparts, and the same warning exists for document portability as listed above.

6. Mozilla's Thunderbird-
+ Pro's: This product is quickly getting to be very robust. It's not yet to the usability level of Outlook, and it has one-thousandth of Lotus Notes' complexity and scalability, but for a free product, it's pretty awesome!
- Con's: Similar to the observations about Sun Microsystems' OpenOffice.org offerings, the open-source nature of this product can leave a little to be desired in the area of support, but most of the normal functions are relatively intuitive.

7. Eudora-
+ Pro's: Another "grand-daddy", this time in the email client space. Very stable and reliable utility
- Con's: Time will tell what happens to this stalwart, but it appears to be in good hands (Mozilla)

The "bottom line" is that you do have some legitimate choices with your business productivity software, and you can "mix and match" (many of these solutions can be broken out... for example, Word can be purchased unpackaged from the Microsoft Office suite or Lotus 1-2-3 can be purchased unpackaged from Lotus SmartSuite). Take some time to investigate your options before opening your wallet.

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