Thursday, June 18, 2009

Office suite software

From the moment I filed my dissertation in the spring of 2005, I made the switch to OpenOffice. For the most part, I've been pleased. There have been a couple times in the past few years when I needed some mundane feature of Microsoft Office. Often it was something as simple as being able to search for pilcrows. Initially, it had been that I preferred the transitions available in PowerPoint to what was available in Impress, but that's improved over the years (and I admit, since I left academia, I have used slide show presentations less often).

In preparing one of my recent SBIR applications however, I ran into some of the random frustrations that had gotten me to abandon Office in 2005. For instance, I had page numbers centered in a footer throughout. One page (with a Gantt chart) was set to landscape, forcing me to create a separate footer style for landscape. So far so good. I cut and pasted a biosketch from another document to be edited in the new file. Suddenly, the new page and the subsequent one had no page number in the footer. Odd, so I added one. Then I noticed page numbers were duplicated in all the previous pages (save the landscape one) The code was somewhere, but the numbers just didn't appear on those two pages.

Hmmm... Aaargh! I forced a work around, creating new page styles (left page; right page) for the final two pages. But it was silly and more importantly a waste of time.

But time is what office software is supposed to save us. Don't they call it "productivity software"? I long for the days of WordPerfect 5.1 and the marvels of 6.0, with the Reveal Code feature. (Of course, nostalgia can let us forget that in those days it took 10 minutes or more to open up and scroll to the bottom of a document of 30 pages on a PC XT. I know, it was my Master's thesis in progress.

Today I discovered that IBM has launched a new free office suite called Lotus Symphony. Last week, I joined the Microsoft Partners program, and gained access to a whole slew of their software at a discount for internal use. (Well, almost. There's a bug in their website that prevents me from gaining access to the license keys, so I can download software, just not use any of it yet. Not exactly the big confidence booster!)

In any case, I'll be trying out IBM Lotus Symphony, and giving Microsoft another shot to convince me to come back. I haven't given up yet on OpenOffice, but with Sun Microsystems being bought out by Oracle, after IBM backed out... especially with IBM launching their own competition (it even uses the same open document formats), it makes you wonder whether OpenOffice will retain the support it has so far enjoyed, or whether it will fade away.

It's looking to be a whole new world out there in terms of software licensing and pricing. What's the value proposition? What's the commodity? Is it hardware? Is it storage and hosting? Is it advertising? Anybody's guess how this will play out.

I'll let you know what comes of my test drives. Any relevant comments are welcome.

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