Author: Yogi Schulz

Recent changes in Microsoft’s licensing policies have upset management in many organizations.  Now managers are asking if there are credible alternatives to Microsoft Office.  Here’s an analysis of the alternatives.

The Case for Microsoft Office

Everyone agrees that MS Office is a powerful, robust, full-function product.  If anything, it’s so feature rich that many use only a small subset of the available functionality.  For example, many of us have received documents containing ridiculous use of tabs and spaces that indicate a lack of knowledge of Word’s formatting capabilities.

In case you’re wondering about any bias I may have, I happily use MS Office daily.  Many years have passed since I moved over from WordPerfect 5.0 and Lotus 1-2-3, products that were clearly leading edge at that time.}

The huge advantage of MS Office is its ubiquity that ensures the smooth exchange of documents among organizations.  Its widespread use also simplifies training and hiring because almost everyone has some familiarity with the product.

The downside to MS Office is its license cost.  Roughly speaking it’s about $300.00 to $400.00 per seat per year.  (The cost ranges in this article assume an upgrade about every two years).  In recent months, Bill Gates has been quick to remind anyone who will listen that the price is downright cheap for the power that MS Office delivers.  However, that price is high enough to cause many, because we’re all under cost pressure, to think about alternatives.

The Case for the Alternatives

The main advantage of the alternatives to MS Office is lower software license cost.  The cost advantage is modest for products like WordPerfect (about $300.00 per seat per year) or much more for SmartSuite (about $200.00 per seat per year).  The difference is substantial for open source products like StarOffice that typically cost below $100.00 per seat per year.  The absence of some MS Office features can also be seen as an advantage given the large number of end-users who don’t need or won’t use the missing features.

The main disadvantage of the alternatives is incompatible file formats.  Incompatible file formats makes it difficult to exchange documents among staff using the various Office products.  All the Office products offer a rich selection of file format translators but none of the translators is perfect. Even small deviations from perfect generate annoying frustrations that can quickly eradicate the license cost savings.

Here’s a summary assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the major alternatives.

CorelCorel offers the WordPerfect Office suite.  The product is well regarded and has a loyal following in government, legal and professional word processor organizations.

Using the WordPerfect Office suite only makes sense if your organization has a long history with the WordPerfect word processor and operates primarily in one of the organizations listed above.

LotusLotus, an IBM subsidiary, offers the SmartSuite. This credible product emphasizes smooth integration with MS Office.  It is particularly well suited to organizations that use Lotus Notes; a widely used collaboration environment.

Using the SmartSuite provides the most advantages if your organization actively uses Lotus Notes and has a long history of Lotus 1-2-3 use, the spreadsheet component of SmartSuite.

OpenOfficeThe OpenOffice open source software development community develops and supports the OpenOffice suite that shares much of its software with StarOffice. For proponents of open source software development, this community is an advantage. For organizations that just want to plop a CD into a drive, install software and work, this open source software is a disadvantage.

StarOfficeSun Microsystems offers the StarOffice suite that offers a few functional additions over OpenOffice.

The main advantage of OpenOffice and StarOffice is that versions are available for Windows, Linux and Solaris.  This advantage avoids having to roll out PCs for the technical staff who already has a Linux or a Solaris machine installed on their desks.

Using OpenOffice and StarOffice provides the most advantages if your organization operates with a variety of desktop operating systems, has little need to share documents outside the organization and has the technical capability required to support an open source product.


The cost differences among Office alternatives, that seem modest for individual licenses, can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for larger organizations.

If your organization licenses thousands of seats and operates within one of the profiles described above, then the corresponding alternative to MS Office offers clear advantages.  If your organization doesn’t fit into one of the profiles, you’ll avoid a lot of pain and keep the benefits if you stick with MS Office.


Office Software Suppliers

Apple – AppleWorks

AppleWorks includes functions for word processing, spreadsheets, painting, drawing, presentations and databases.  You can also work with Microsoft Word and Excel documents with the included file translators. (AppleWorks has since been supplanted by Apple’s iWorks suite, including a word processor called “Pages”, which can open Microsoft Word documents, and can export files to that format.)

Corel – WordPerfect

WordPerfect Office description:

Component Category
WordPerfect® 10 Word processor
Quattro® Pro 10 Spreadsheet
Corel® Presentations™ 10 Slide show creation
CorelCENTRAL™ 10 Personal information manager
Paradox® 10 Database
Language Module Language-specific writing tools
Microsoft® Visual Basic® for Applications Scripting tools
Dragon NaturallySpeaking™ Speech recognition
Adobe® Acrobat® Reader® Portable document reader
Bitstream® Font Navigator Font management
Quick View® Plus 5.11 File viewing tool

Koffice – Koffice

ships with SuSE, the German Linux packager.

Linux only; no Windows version

see also

Lotus –

SmartSuite Millenium Edition 9.8

Lotus Word Pro

Lotus 1-2-3

Lotus Freelance Graphics

Lotus Approach

Lotus SmartCenter

Lotus Organizer

Lotus FastSite

Microsoft – Works

Microsoft Word

Works – spreadsheet, calendar, address book, database

Money Standard

Encarta Standard

Picture It! Photo

Streets & Trips

Under $100.00 – OpenOffice

The Open Office open source software development community is developing and maintaining the Open Office product.

OpenOffice is based on the same core code as StarOffice and receives contributions back to that code from the Sun developers as well as anyone who wishes to contribute.  Key characteristics:

1.      open source

2.      no support

3.      no cost

Sun MicroSystems – StarOffice

StarOffice is a supported product of Sun Microsystems and provides the following additional features over that of OpenOffice:

1.      professional quality testing

2.      templates

3.      support and development from Sun.

4.      professional installer

5.      dictionary


GNOME project – AbiWord

Management Update: Sun’s StarOffice – Challenging Microsoft’s Office SuiteGartner

Sun Chips Away at Microsoft Office is a site devoted to Sun’s involvement in Free & Open Source projects.