Running from Open Source: or how my ‘school’ is avoiding Open Office implementation July 7, 2007Posted by NAyK in Confessions, Discussions-Conclusions-Hopes, Open Source, OpenOffice, Recommendation, Software, Windows.
(this page has been edited on 17 July, 2007)
I have a real open source crisis at my hands. My ‘school’ IT department has been pushing for the implementation of Microsoft Office 2007 in our 60 machines. The funny thing is, since our IT head is also our supplier, he too is pushing for this because he probably gets a commission. I’m the only one who has offered an alternative, Open Office, naturally. But for now I’ve only been able to delay the purchase; and it could only be a matter of time before MS Office hits our desktops. But let me start at the beginning.
A while back I wrote about why my school would not adopt open source. (Post is found here) At that time, I did not have any influence in our IT affairs. Only in the past month I’ve got representation in our IT Committee; and the first major issue I had to discuss was the purchase of 60 Microsoft Office 2007 licenses to replace our current Star Office 7 licenses!!! Why was Office being pushed? Because Office 2007 has grammar check and Star Office doesn’t!
When I heard about this proposal, I spent half the day preparing for the meeting, downloading articles about the positives of Open Office as an alternative, as well as an article about how grammar/spell check deteriorates the language of students etc etc etc. I then drafted a two-page document arguing for Open Office adoption, partly hinting that by Open Office 2.4 they are expected to get Grammar check… blah blah blah.
Well, the IT head, seemed to suggest that “Office 2007 is ‘better’ for the students”, because “it’s faster” and had “better features” etc. And I really had a tough time to get anybody to understand, let alone adopt, my argument.
I eventually got the committee to stall the purchase. Partly because it does COST money, and any caution and the possibility of an alternative was welcome.
Better still, I soon discovered after the meeting that Star Office 8 is ‘free’ for academic institutions, and so at least for now we can upgrade all our Star Office 7s into 8s. Interestingly, our IT guy had told us that Star Office 8 is a paid programme and didn’t do his research that it is free for academic institutions!!! So with this new development, I’m sure I can buy some more time for our ‘school’.
But I have the feeling that since my tenure at the committee is limited, it’s only a matter of time before the inevitable eventually happens; we will probably settle for MS Office 2007!
My thoughts, during/after the incident
When I thought about it, keeping open source philosophy aside, I think if someone was to give us Microsoft Office 2007 for free, we’d take it. I like the new interface, and it really feels like a very good programme for academic writing. That’s what makes the argument in the favour of open source alternatives so difficult. When Open Source advocacy happens outside the philosophical-moral discussion about a “free”/”better” world, the battle is reduced to which programme has the better features. When I compare, MS Office to other programmes (especially if I pretend I am a beginner), it really ‘feels’ better. And I say it again, if I got everything free, even I would find it difficult to despise Office 2007.
This makes it all the harder for academic institutions that use administrative budgets to buy programmes without hurting their own pocket. In effect, it does look like we are getting something free! So why not, people will argue, choose for the best!
Of course, feature-wise speaking, I eventually discovered that MS Office 2003 (we have some copies of that as well) is not the best in everything. It’s grammar check is terrible. It catches only the most basic of errors, but more sophisticated errors are usually missed. (I guess that’s why other suites are a little slow in adoption of grammar check because it is difficult to implement.) I must say in contrast, I prefer and love WordPerfect X3 for all my academic writing, though I found find it difficult to recommend it to simple/normal users. It’s power for full control, as well as it’s long-document stability is quite admirable. Plus, it’s grammar check seems more accurate and powerful.
Ultimately, however, WordPerfect cannot even be considered because it’s a paid programme and why would anyone ‘pay’ for anything but Office 2007, because, with the academic license, it’s only “a few dollars more”!
All this to say, I feel I’m fighting a losing battle. For now we don’t have Office 2007, though we might pretty soon. We will only settle for Open Office if Star Office makes us pay for its software. So, all in all, not a pretty picture for open source implementation in our ‘school’.