No painless switching to Open Office

The French parliament has said ‘au revoir’ to Microsoft, according to a Yahoo News report:

[…] Starting [next June], French deputies will use desktops and servers running Linux, Mozilla’s Firefox web browser, and, a free open-source alternative to Microsoft’s Office software. […] Why the change? The French parliament […] believes it can save money using open-source software, despite the near-term costs of switching from Microsoft systems and retraining all employees.

The Yahoo story discusses differing views on the realities of any organization making such a switch, especially from a cost point of view.

I would imagine costs could be substantial including indirect costs through lost time and productivity in employee retraining, for instance.

I also use the latest version of OpenOffice from time to time (mostly for creating PDFs from Microsoft Office files now that I uninstalled the Office 2007 beta). OpenOffice is very good and while it does open/save almost any document you create with Microsoft Office 2003, it’s not absolutely 100 percent compatible.

For instance, I’ve had problems with complex Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. The reverse, too, where some files with lots of formatting created in OpenOffice Writer lose things when opened in Word.

And my experience with Word files created with the Word 2007 beta is that OpenOffice sometimes cannot open those docs if they’re saved in the new .docx file format.

I doubt, though, that Microsoft will lose too much sleep over this move by the French parliament.

Still, from little acorns, etc…

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. steve

    I’ve had all sorts of funky formatting issues opening Powerpoint 2000 created files in Powerpoint XP & 2003, so if even Microsoft themselves can’t get it right….

    The other side of this coin is that the French Parliament are no longer bound to a blackbox container for holding their information. Which gives superb long term cost recovery. The Australian Archives moved to use of ODF (as implemented in Open Office) for this very reason.

    I’ve been through several “Office” – from Office 4, to 95 and on, upgrades over the past 15 years, and everytime the staff are typically sent on retraining anyway.

  2. Dave

    There have been several moves in a linux direction in government organisations on the continent – isn’t Munich which has also switched across?

    I think there are signs that the newest linux distros are getting very close to Windows in terms of ease of use and out-of-the-box functionality. I’ve recently installed the latest Ubuntu release as a dual boot on my PC. Everything worked first time, with no problems. All the software anyone might reasonably want to use is already there, and if I want to install anything else, I just look through a list till I see what I like, and install it straight away.

    I reckon I will be spending less and less time in Windows from now on as I get used to things. I’m fed up of the malware, the viruses, the frequent crashing. As linux becomes more and more newbie-friendly, I think (especially with Vista on its way) people are going to be giving it a go and liking what they see.

  3. Doug Haslam

    I have been wathcing with interest– and using at times– OpenOffice for a while now (2 years? I’ll have to check my download logs)– on one machine, anyway. As an individual, I find it close enough for transferring between Office at work and workign from home on OpenOffice. I don’t have Office 2007 issues– yet. In fact, I’m far from a geek but have an old beater laptop tunning Mozilla Firefox Browser, Mozilla Thunderbird email client, and Open Office (and not much else– it is a beater), and don’t miss Office at all in this context — especially for the price.

    I’ll be interested to see if other larger entities make the switch.

  4. steve

    I’m not sure I would agree on the ease of use viewpoint Dave. :-)
    Why? We have a now 3 1/2 yo. A year ago, I rebuilt a PC for him to use: dual booting between XP and SUSE10. It took me almost no time to have that 2 1/2 yo happily playing TuxPaint and Tuberling and other Educational games on the SUSE side. My involvement in getting him in and working was practically nill.
    Took me ages to teach him to work his way around XP to achieve a similar level of “productivity” :-) .

    And he still gets XP “wrong”. Having to teach & show him to automatically ignore all the warning messages that Windows continuously throws at him is such a great introduction for his future life online. /irony.

    I’m unsure how much more “newbie” friendly a business based distribution like SUSE10 could get if a 2 1/2 yo, who can’t even read, could & can happily drive it. One of these days I intend to fire up a Educational/Kids linux distribution for him – something which is even easier.

    I suspect that when people say “newbie friendly” what they really mean is “different”. Different doesn’t mean worse (or better). It means Different. But for my money, if a 2 1/2 can drive a linux system quicker & easier than an XP system? Then linux being newbie friendly is here and has been for a long time. I hope no-one is suggesting that experienced mature adults aren’t as clued in as a 2 1/2 yo? ;-)

    From my perspective as Dad and Sysadmin, the Suse side causes zero pain. XP is forver doing something stupid necessitating live powercycling, or uninstall/reinstall cycles of various applications.
    Or just general handholding through complex and difficult tasks like, for example, starting a childs educational game.

    And don’t get me started on the need of Windows for our boy to have Administrator-Rights to even play some of his games. And Microsoft wonders why they have so many security problems. Sigh.

    rant over. :-)

  5. Dave

    Steve – what I mean by ease of use is mainly about hardware. Too often people have problems getting linux working with their various bits of kit, whether they be graphics cards or USB based devices. Take this guy’s experience as an example.

    Me, I was lucky. Everything worked first time. Well, everything but the USB modem my broadband providers gave me. I wanted linux badly enough to buy an ethernet modem to get up and running. But really, that shouldn’t be necessary.

    And I know that this is an issue with the hardware side, and not necessarily Linux. But to get people buying into the linux desktop, stuff has to work first time, which is the case in the vast, vast, majority of Windows boxes.

    And I’m not a Windows lover, by the way. Hell, I help run a blog called Living Without Microsoft!

  6. steve

    Dave: No offence was meant. :-)

    Seriously – Windows works well on modern hardware because most punters rarely install or reinstall on their OEM pre-built machines. I recently went thru the exercise of reinstalling Windows XP on my Dell Inspiron 9400 laptop (Purchased at the beginning of 2006) a few months ago.

    The *only* way you can install Windows on that machine, is by having a basic working Windows XP install already on the machine. Booting from the CD that came with said laptop “Black Screens” and locks the machine dead.
    When I finally got a basic install in there on the partition I wanted, I then spent a fun filled several hours installing all the drivers it needed. The only device that Windows all on it’s own recognised was the Firewire port.
    No graphics beyond basic SVGA, no network/wireless, no usb. Nada.

    Vs. Insert any Live Linux CD I’ve tried and everything except the inbuilt modem was detected and worked flawlessly. Tho sound was a bit iffy under linux in the first few weeks post purchase.

    I’m a sysadmin by trade and have been doing the Dos/Windows thing *professionally* since the very early 90’s. I’m even Microsoft certified. :-) Tho more unix these days. It took me ~ 8 hours to get a working windows XP install on that laptop.

    I had to boot my badly borked default Windows partition, use that to install a new windows install into a small 3Gb partition; boot into that new partition/install and then from there wipe and install into the original partition. Even then I still couldn’t do a complete re-format/reinstall. Could only manually delete most of the files.

    I’d argue that the myth here is that *Windows* is easy to install. ;-)

    And then once I got Windows back on my original partition, it was CD/Driver reinstall/reboot hell till everything was working again. And I *still* hadn’t installed any Apps. Wheee…. :-)

    Keep in mind, that the Windows XP CD I was using was the one *supplied* by Dell *for* my Laptop. And it wouldn’t even boot.
    For every example of Linux being hard to install, I’m quite sure I could find one where Windows is just as painful.

  7. Solveig Haugland

    The part of the French government that deals with taxes, I believe, switched to OOo a year ago, so it makes sense to use the training, lessons learned, etc. to switch another part of the government over.

    No conversion is perfect, though the Sun programmer in charge of the Writer filter for Word is working on a new version. Might open up a whole new set of possibilities if it turns out better.

    I find conversion works better from documents that were in good shape in the first place. If you convert something chock full of carriage returns, tabs, and empty tables, you’re going to have far more problems than if it was put together nicely with styles.

    If the French can show employees the benefits of learning a new program, that it benefits them, the change will be a lot smoother. The core features really aren’t that different, though of course as you get into the advanced stuff there is more relearning to be done.

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