Commercial, Open Source App Suites Offer Alternatives To Microsoft Office


In a keynote speech at this year's Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft COO Kevin Turner exhorted partners to go out and convince customers to give up their old editions of Microsoft Office, the company's ubiquitous desktop application suite.

Turner's intention, of course, was that resellers get those customers to upgrade to Office 2010, the latest release of Microsoft's cash cow product, not switch to some other competing software. But there's a growing number of commercial and open-source alternatives to Office, making that an option for solution providers and their customers.

"Microsoft Office doesn't dominate the way it used to," said Doug Heintzman, strategy director for IBM collaboration solutions, including the company's free Lotus Symphony personal productivity application suite. "This is a very dynamic and changing landscape."

That may be a bit optimistic. Microsoft puts the number of Office users worldwide at some 750 million and Office is estimated to hold a 94-percent share of the desktop productivity software market.

It's indisputable, however, that businesses and consumers today have more personal productivity application options than they have had in years. The cloud-based Google Docs (part of the broader Google Apps line) is probably the best-known alternative to Office, although the online Zoho Office Suite also is gaining converts. Other Office alternatives include a number of free products, such as the aforementioned Lotus Symphony, and open-source products such as OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice.

Are businesses migrating en masse to these products? Hardly. Earlier this year Forrester Research surveyed 150 IT decision-makers about their use of alternative productivity tool suites and found that, generally speaking, the level of adoption remains relatively small. But the study did find some usage of alternatives either as complementary tools to Microsoft Office or outright replacements in certain segments.

When asked if they had any interest in Web-based alternatives to Office, such as Google Docs and Zoho, 44 percent said they were "somewhat interested" while another 15 percent were actively looking at such applications and 10 percent were piloting/experimenting with them. But only 3 percent were actually implementing them or had them up and running. Twenty-seven percent had no interest whatsoever.

Interest is lower for OpenOffice.org and suites such as IBM's Lotus Symphony (which is based on OpenOffice.org). While 5 percent already have such alternatives or are implementing them, 50 percent are not interested in them at all. The rest are somewhat interested (29 percent), actively considering them (7 percent) or piloting/experimenting with them (9 percent). And fully 75 percent were not interested in "lower-cost substitute productivity tools" such as Corel WordPerfect Office.

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