Exploring Office Productivity Suites…

In August, I became an independent consultant, which meant that I needed to figure out how I was going to use software in my day-to-day job and how I was going to afford it.  Software licensing can be a costly thing, but thankfully I have another company looking after me on some of that.  The one thing I really wanted to look into was office productivity suites, as I wasn’t sure that a Microsoft Office product would be right for me at the right price.

Microsoft Office 365

My husband works at an IT company that deals with Microsoft BPOS and Office 365.  Thanks to him, I learn about Microsoft products that I as a developer would normally not care much about but that I as a business owner may care about.  Office 365 was one of those.  Since there were trial subscriptions for their various plans, I tried trials for two different plans – one that gave me the cloud based stuff and one that included Office Professional Plus.  Here are my initial thoughts:

  • A cloud-only version would not work well for me, as there are many times when I may be on a plane or just disconnected from the Internet in general and want to work on my documents without that tether to the cloud.
  • While I like that it has Office Web Apps, it also has SharePoint (which I wouldn’t use, as I prefer other tools), Lync, and Exchange (which, to me, doesn’t make sense for a single user company).
  • The Office Professional Plus was nice:
    • It was handy for when I had to work on a client’s Access database.
    • Having Office available when disconnected from the cloud was handy.
    • OneNote… such a great way to organize thoughts, links, receipts, plans in general
  • The licensing scheme is typical of Microsoft –  P plans versus E plans.

I would like it if it were more a la carte – give me the cloud part plus Office Professional Plus, minus SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync, and I might be good.  Otherwise, for me personally, there’s a lot of fluff and confusion and not really something for me.  I also didn’t like the idea of setting one of my domains to point to their services – as a long time web developer and domain owner, there are some sacrifices I’m willing to make but moving my domain to point to a SharePoint site didn’t settle well with me.  (SharePoint is a great option for some people, but it’s just not my personal cup of tea.)

However, if you’re looking for this combination, I can recommend a company in Cleveland to help you decide what plan may be right for you.

Note: After letting my Office 365 trials lapse, my Office Professional Plus license also expired, as expected.  There does not appear to be a nice way to upgrade Office Professional Plus with a registration key.  The help file says to contact your system administrator (which is annoying when you are the administrator).  After talking with my husband, there may be 2 spots to edit this – Add/Remove Programs (yay for Microsoft intuition) or the registry.  There isn’t an option under the Help menu like where most Microsoft activation and registration dialogs live.

Microsoft Office (standalone, no cloud)

I’ve been working with Microsoft Office products for a long time in my development career.  One of my first programs while learning VB was learning how to get it to talk to an Access database.  I was used to writing school essays in Word documents.  My drafts for my book were written as Word documents.  My presentations have been done in PowerPoint.  My email – at least 6 accounts – has been in Outlook for awhile.  Microsoft Office, for me, was like my fleece blankets in the winter – something that has kept me in my comfort zone.

However, after that Office Professional Plus expiration after Office 365 trial expired, I was not happy with that user experience.  It made me think that Microsoft Office was more like that holey pair of jeans that I’ve been meaning to get rid of.  On top of it, Office’s licensing model seemed to be pricey to me.

OpenOffice.org

After realizing that I wasn’t content with licensing models or prices, I remembered that there were open source alternatives to Microsoft Office.  After all, I was working on a keynote for Software Freedom Day 2011 here in Cleveland talking about open source.  Going back to my Linux roots, I remembered OpenOffice.org and figured I’d check it out to see how it works.  Here were my thoughts:

  • If I work with a book publisher again, it’ll be in my personal VM, which has Microsoft Office through my MSDN subscription (for personal use, not for my business).
  • While I can access the Access data by converting it in OpenOffice Base, I won’t be able to deal with Access databases in their MDB format.
  • I can still write presentations, using OpenOffice Impress.  I used this to write my keynote slides.
  • While there’s no mail client, I can always find a separate email client.  This isn’t a must-have but a nice-to-have.

While working with OpenOffice.org, I found myself missing Outlook.  However, a quick tweet yielded an Outlook replacement – Windows Live Mail!  Other than missing Outlook, I felt fine using it – and I can save their files to other formats if need be.  For example, for my keynote, I made my slides available via both OpenOffice’s ODP format and the PowerPoint format.

Conclusion

For me, as a small business owner, I personally find more value in spending money on training and on partnerships with the right teammates rather than on an office productivity package.  The cloud wasn’t something for me, as I preferred to be detached.  After re-evaluating my situation and taking a couple office suite setups for a test drive, I think OpenOffice.org plus Windows Live Mail is the right decision for me.  In this case, the least confusing licensing model, the cost, and the best value for my investment  were the deciding factors.  Does this mean I’m anti-Microsoft? No.  This just means that, as a business owner, Microsoft is a potential vendor but may not always have the right solution for me.