Last week I ran into a project manager from Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu — one of the most popular Linux distributions for desktop and notebook computers.  In conversation I mentioned that I’m a huge Ubuntu fan, but I run Windows Vista on my notebook because I can’t live without Microsoft Office and Adobe Lightroom. We had a pleasant chat.

Now before your scream ‘oversimplification’, keep in mind I said “can’t live without” and I’m talking about my notebook.  There are a lot of Windows applications I love and most of them are on my fast desktop machine with dual monitors. That’s where I do stuff like photo and video editing.

And just to be clear, I’m a huge fan of open source, but when it comes to choosing software, I’m a pragmatist. I like the collaborative nature of open source.  I like the fact that source code is available if I get the urge to tinker.  And I’d be lying if I didn’t add that I like the price.  I like the idea of installing Ubuntu and OpenOffice for free and not having to deal with pesky software activations if I change my hardware.  I want as much performance as I can crank out of my hardware and in that respect Ubuntu Linux beats Vista hands down.  But I’m not willing to give up interoperability or convenience.  I’m not willing to use medocre applications. And I can’t afford to look like a moron when I send someone a “PowerPoint” file and they can’t open it – or worse – it looks like it was formatted by my 3-year-old daughter.

I’m also not one of those annoying people who will use open source software just because it’s open source. I have Windows-less friends, and I respect their choices. All things being equal, I’ll choose open source.

But if the application is poorly designed or doesn’t do what I need, it’s gone.  If the application has unresolved year-old bugs, it’s gone. And for applications that are important to me, I vote with my wallet. I reject the assertion that ‘open source’ necessarily means better software. I compare open source applications head-to-head with commercial closed-source software.  Availability of source code and price are simply points of comparison.

I’m also passionate about my photo editing software and for that I make no apologies. I use Adobe Lightroom for 95% of my photo work because it is by far the best application I’ve found.  And if you’ll excuse a brief soapbox, I get annoyed when open source enthusiasts tell me that I could use one of countless mediocre open source photo editing applications.  Of course I could. And if I wanted to use inferior software, I would.  Perhaps I view the world differently, but my primary applications dictate the operating system and hardware, not the other way around. Have something better, I’m dying to see it.  But tell me to compromise in my creative persuits and the conversation ends there. If only Adobe did Linux…

For mail, writing and presentations, I use Microsoft Office. I regularly collaborate with others and interoperability is not a desire – it’s a hard requirement.  I must be able to work with Office 2003 and 2007 files. Like it or not, in today’s business environment Microsoft Office is the defacto standard.  If what I see on my screen isn’t the same as what a peer or client sees, and I’m using another product, it’s my fault.

A few years ago, I tried OpenOffice and concluded that it didn’t meet my interoperability requirements. It worked just fine and it provided the basic functionality that I needed – but that wasn’t enough.  For example, I had ran into issues with tracked changes, and that in itself was a show-stopper. And opening a complex PowerPoint presentation took forever.

But my new acquaintance suggested I try OpenOffice 3.0.  When I mentioned my previous experience with it, he explained that, among others, their legal department used it and routinely exchanged complicated Word documents with tracked changes. So this past weekend I downloaded and installed.

I have a lot more testing to do, but so far I’m impressed.  I loaded complex Word documents and they looked just fine.  I opened a 100+ page PowerPoint presentation and it seemed to take only a bit longer than PowerPoint 2007.  And OpenOffice 3.0 supports the new Microsoft Office 2007 file formats.

So perhaps the time has come – time for another look at OpenOffice.

4 Responses to OpenOffice: Time for another look?

  1. kingthorin
    Apr 15, 2009

    The only deficiency I’ve found with OpenOffice 3.x is how it handles comments during editing/review. In MS Word you can insert a comment associated with any text or object, in OpenOffice you can only insert a comment associated with a change (and then their comment display isn’t as user friendly as Word’s either).

  2. Evolving Squid
    Apr 15, 2009

    The OO version of PowerPoint still has problems with basic powerpoint files that were created in MSOffice. I actually had to install MSOffice on my laptop because of that. The specific powerpoint in question required about 30 minutes of editing after being imported to OO.

    I prefer the OO file format for saving, and it’s definitely coming along, but if it can’t be 100% compatible with MSOffice, it’s quite limited.

    There are minor issues handling Word files too, but I don’t find those to be insurmountable… except that the stuff I present to a customer has to work properly in MSWord – usually as a contract requirement. That it work properly in Open Office adn require half an hour of tweaking in MSWord is not acceptable.

    Now, ideally, customers would stop asking for MSWord versions and require PDFs, which is my preferred delivery format and shouldn’t matter whether I produce the document in OO or MSW.

  3. Evolving Squid
    Apr 15, 2009

    Oh, I should add… I am referring to the most recent version of OO as of 3 weeks ago.

  4. kingthorin
    May 08, 2009

    I just installed 3.1 and you can now “Insert:Note” just like MS Word’s comment functionality! YAY!

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