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Running from Open Source: or how my ‘school’ is avoiding Open Office implementation July 7, 2007

Posted by Nigel Ajay Kumar (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’.



1. Blip - July 7, 2007

Hi there,

A tad recognizable…. I used to work at a school where the director tried to push MS software. Fortunately, the management team didn’t fail to see that the school couldn’t possibly force parents and students alike to fork out serious money for software that had an alternative costing zero.

These decisions are hardly ever based on rational arguments. Have a look at Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” if you want to engage….

Good luck!

2. Joe - July 7, 2007

The price shouldn’t be the only aspect to consider. How it helps students to fit with the professionnal world and quickly find jobs is probably more relevant.

3. dave - July 8, 2007

I feel for you on this. But at least you have options. When I was at highschool there was no openoffice. I’ve got my son using at home there will be no MS machine’s under my roof.

BTW: I submitted this article to fsdaily.com – a digg style site for free software articles.

Good luck.

4. Olaf - July 8, 2007

You might try to argue that if students are supposed to write documents or presentations compatible with school computers and the school wants to give them the opportunity to work on them at home without having the families paying a premium for an Office suite, OpenOffice would be the route to go. So without paying anything extra on schools side the school is able to support the students’ families and also prevent teasing students to illegally pirate software to circumvent high costs. That also helps the schools moral obligation towards students behavior in the legal world.

Furthermore OpenOffice is the same program as StarOffice so by using OpenOffice you just get a free upgrade to your current software and all existing documents are fully readable (you can basically turn the format lockdown around).
You will also get an open and standardized file format sure to be readable for a very long time while MS Office is known for its problems with large docs and it is yet to be seen if they solved it with their new, rarely anywhere supported format.

I think it’ll be a good idea to present the committee with opportunities that are hard to argue against and don’t induce any costs. Would they really have anything to argue against not even having tried the free alternatives within the classrooms before deciding to spend good money on anything else that could also post financial disadvantages to the schools families?

For real academic or scientific writing I would always suggest LaTeX for its superior output, portability (both program and output) and its prevalence in the world of science.

Btw. in my opinion grammar should be taught in english class, not by a word processor.

Please bare with me on my language, I’m not a native speaker.

5. Scott Ainslie Sutton - July 8, 2007


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6. NAyK - July 8, 2007

To Olaf: Hey thanks for your comment. I was particularly in awe of LaTex when I checked it out. I guess it was a little too extreme for me. I think I like Wordperfect because of its reveal codes. It gives me access to the document in both preview and codeview, which gives me basic flexibility. But that’s just me.

I like that argument about preventing ‘piracy’ at home. And I think it’s apt for my context too.

And your opinion about grammar being taught in the classroom and not “by a wordpressor”! :) I entirely, wholeheartedly, fully agree!!!

7. ukubuntu - July 8, 2007

Interesting post, have you argued that if the purchase was to take place through a vendor other than your IT Head, would he still be so keen. How do the parents and other governing bodies of the school feel. Are they even aware of the issue?

Perhaps another way could be to distribute the free software around the other staff, expense burning a CD could be recouped especially if the promo wins through. Furthermore, if you gave them an Ubuntu LiveCD they would not even have to install it, and you could promote other free software too.

If the Head is so opposed, he could install both! This would allow freedom of choice by the students. It will not cost any more, apart from the install time and that is peanuts!

Good luck, and keep using your voice.

8. Peter - July 8, 2007

… “It’s power for full control, as well as it’s long-document stability is quite admirable.” …

A grammar checker would have caught those superfluous apostrophes.

9. CN - July 8, 2007

What? There IS a grammar checker available for OpenOffice and probably StarOffice too. Why don’t schools do research anymore, when they always tell their students to do so ;)


“Open Source language checker







Links & Resources
An Open Source language checker for English, German, Polish, Dutch, and other languages. This is a rule-based language checker that will find errors for which a rule is defined in its XML configuration files. Rules for more complicated errors can be written in Java. You can think of LanguageTool as a tool to detect errors that a simple spell checker cannot detect, e.g. mixing up there/their, no/now etc. It can also detect some grammar mistakes. It does not include spell checking. See the languages page for a list of supported languages.”

I think it works on all platforms with OO.rg available.

10. CN - July 8, 2007

PS: Why doesn’t your school also think about the issue of file formats? They’re going to force everyone to upgrade their systems at home too whenever they email things home. Office 2007 is NOT even backwards compatible when saving in the old .doc format. In contrast, OpenOffice/StarOffice/WOrdperfect/Abiword/KWord all support the ISO standard OpenDocumentFOrmat.

Office 2007 has a completely new file format that is only implementable by Microsoft, btw, because of patents on VML and WMF.

Read this:


journals (Science [biggest journal, of the America Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)], and Nature) have apparently taken the stanceto prohibit taking OOXML documents, because they do not correspond to existing standards such as MathML and SVG and are not backwards compatible to Word 2003 and previous. Compatibility packs do not even help.[2][3] As Microsoft will stop selling Word 2003 by July 1, 2007[4], this is a very bad precedent for future-proofing documents.

1] http://www.sciencemag.org/about/authors/prep/docx.dtl “Because of changes Microsoft has made in its recent Word release that are incompatible with our internal workflow, which was built around previous versions of the software, Science cannot at present accept any files in the new .docx format produced through Microsoft Word 2007, either for initial submission or for revision. Users of this release of Word should convert these files to a format compatible with Word 2003 or Word for Macintosh 2004 (or, for initial submission, to a PDF file) before submitting to Science”

“Because of changes Microsoft has made in its recent Word release that are incompatible with our internal workflow, which was built around previous versions of the software, Science cannot at present accept any files in the new .docx format produced through Microsoft Word 2007, either for initial submission or for revision.”

“Users of Word 2007 should also be aware that equations created with the default equation editor included in Microsoft Word 2007 will be unacceptable in revision, even if the file is converted to a format compatible with earlier versions of Word; this is because conversion will render equations as graphics and prevent electronic printing of equations, and because the default equation editor packaged with Word 2007 — for reasons that, quite frankly, utterly baffle us — was not designed to be compatible with MathML.”

[3]http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/04/math-markup-marked-down.html “Math markup marked down”

Nature’s analysis of OOXML:
“We currently cannot accept files saved in Microsoft Office 2007 formats. Equations and special characters (for example, Greek letters) cannot be edited and are incompatible with Nature’s own editing and typesetting programs”

[4] http://blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft/?p=519 “July 1: No more Office 2003 for OEMs” by Mary Jo Foley

11. CN - July 8, 2007

“How it helps students to fit with the professionnal world and quickly find jobs is probably more relevant.”

don’t worry, Star/OpenOffice and Office 2003 all do the same thing. And since Microsoft changed the entire interface in Office 2007 and stopped selling Office 2003, I don’t think that argument even flies anymore ;)

Also, I learned on Apple computers when I was in school and work. One really has to wonder why Microsoft’s monopoly is tolerated yet in everything else all options are considered.

12. OpenOffice « O Internauta - July 17, 2007

[…] OpenOffice Running from Open Source: or how my “school” is avoiding Open Office implementation. em Tryst with Linux and other Alternatives […]

13. Symcbean - July 17, 2007

Joe wrote:
> The price shouldn’t be the only aspect to consider. How it helps students to fit with the professionnal world and quickly find jobs is probably more relevant [sic]

The primary function of the school system is to equip students with skills for *life*. I have seen far too many people who know every feature of (commercial package of choice) but whom have no transferable skills and little knowledge of how to use the tools effectively (e.g. using styles and templates). I would hope that my children get access to different environments in school but I would hate to think they were being disadvantaged because the school was spending its limited budget on software licences when there are products available which are just as suitable available for free, or at less cost.

There are some areas where OO is miles ahead of MS Office (particularly the template handling). But there are areas where it still lags behind (mailmerge). On balance I think it is at least as capable as MS Office in this context; and there is an increasing volume of training materials available. (try Google for online resources).

One consideration which no-one seems to have mentioned so far is this: where practical students should have the same facilities to work at hone as they do in school. Using OO, you could provide the same program they use at school to run on their own machines (MS Windows, Apple Mac, Linux…..) that they use in school for the cost of a CDR (less for bulk copying) – say $1 a time. How much would it cost to provide every student with a home copy of MS Office?

Your IT Head has a very clear conflict of interest here and should be stating so so in any discussions.

If it were me, I’d start by schmoozing the PTA and other school management – find out what their aspirations and concerns are then try to stage the debate in public, highlighting the fact that you do not have a any conflict of interest.

14. AAM - July 17, 2007

Fact is that for good academic writing you need ….. a brain!

As some one involved in academic pursuits and supervision, fonts and spell checking don’t ‘cut the mustard’.

Your IT manager is talking about formatting and appearance of the GUI, etc, etc. None of these things encourage or ensure good academic writing. Neither does a grammar checker.

15. BouJebba - July 17, 2007

Hi all,
In my country every governmental institution have a budget they they have to spend fully or the saved money will be returned to the government and next year budget reduced. Many expenses are just done to avoid budget reduction. If It’s the same case for you, maybe you should point out where the saved money could be spent, new machines, hardware upgrade, other softwares with no open/free equivalent…

16. valentin10 - July 17, 2007

Very good blog, very rich nice pictures and articles, congratulations !!!

17. Colin Dean - July 17, 2007

I’m assuming by your usage of “programme” instead of “program” that you are not in the United States. I am, so I’ll write what I came up with for a similar, but hypothetical, situation.

Parents are a big factor. If you’re in an area that doesn’t have a lot of money, parents are going to be looking for what is free or extremely low cost, yet still functional.

Really, Windows’ WordPad is sufficient for a lot of writing, but the amenities such as PDF export, spellcheck, grammar check, etc. are what drives users to more elaborate programs like OpenOffice Writer, MS Word, and Abiword.

If you’re in an area that money isn’t a problem, then you’re going to have to deal with the social stigma that Word is the /only/ acceptable word processor available. We in-the-know are wiser and know that this is not the case (hence this entire article). You might also have to deal with those parents who go for the import brew instead of the domestics; parents who want expensive software as a status symbol.

Really, the key is the parents: hit the issue of cost versus usability head-on. If the school gets Office 2007, parents are going to have to shell out to get Office 2007, as well. Let them know the cost of doing so.

Another question to ask: What features are present in Office 2007 that aren’t present in OpenOffice /that students will use/? It’s a school: grammar check is irrelevant. Word has a superior revision tracking feature, but how many students actually use it, or even know it’s there? Likewise with comments.

The last big point I can think of at the moment is this: choice. If the school uses a program that saves in OpenDocument (ODT, etc.), then the parents and students have a /choice/ of what program they want to use. I saw a news tidbit yesterday that someone had implemented OpenDocument in Word, but I can’t find the link.

18. David Russell - July 18, 2007

So basically they picked Office 2007 because it has features that OpenOffice doesn’t? Sure, you might not think that a grammar check and a (working) spellcheck is important, but pupils and parents do. If you aren’t going to use a spellcheck ‘because pupils need to learn to spell themselves’, then why not just write everything by hand ‘because pupils need to learn to write themselves’?

Also, a previous commenter’s point about parents having ‘to shell out for Office 2007’ is also wide of the mark. Office 2007 can quite easily be set to use the old, binary DOC format by default (I did this myself for a couple of months when I wasn’t sure whether I was going to stick with it). That way, parents (who will all have some version of Office installed at home, like it or not) won’t have to buy Office 2007.

The simple fact of the matter is that Office 2007 is much, much better than OpenOffice. I’m not a Microsoft fanboy – I actually used OpenOffice for all my university work for the whole of the previous academic year. There really is no comparison.

Let’s set aside the fact that Office 2007 has features that OpenOffice doesn’t (like being able to create pages in landscape format, having a grammar check, having a spellcheck that works, opening DOC files without messing the formatting up). Office 2007 is much more user-friendly (never thought that term could be used to describe a Microsoft product, but it IS) and stable (10 seconds to load from cold on a dual-core machine? Over 100Mb of memory usage when you count Java?) than OpenOffice, and therefore its a no-brainer.

PS: No need to worry about the slight dodginess of Office 2003, the new version leaves it in the dust (as big a gap as between DOS and Win95. They both do the same thing but one is much betteR).

19. Steve - July 18, 2007

The problem with Open Office for academic institutions is the price. If it doesn’t cost enough, it can’t be any good.

Some years ago the university where I worked would not accept Pegasus for internal e-mail, and got an expensive thing called Da Vinci, which didn’t work as well, but Pegasus was free, so it was not suitable.

Our IT department also insisted on WordPerfect, which could not do on the fly redlining, which we needed. But the needs of users were not important, so productivity went down because the IT department knew best.

20. kjhand - July 18, 2007

So sorry you’re having problems. Here’s my thought though, school is about preparing students to succeed in “the real world.” Unfortunate though it may be, the “real world” runs on Microsoft Office. I have yet to work for an organization that didn’t, and any ads I have read of employers looking for help stress the ability to be functional in (not just familiar with) Microsoft Office.

I understand that Open Office would be a more cost effective proposal, but MS Office is the way of the world, and preparing the students should be top priority.

21. gotanidea - July 18, 2007

An old saying seems to apply here, “every progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.”

22. links for 2007-07-18 at once more with feeling - July 18, 2007

[…] Running from Open Source: or how my ’school’ is avoiding Open Office implementation « Tryst wit… A dispatch from the frontline of M$ resistance (tags: software open-office Microsoft) Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. […]

23. Matt Burkhardt - July 18, 2007

I’ve started a company in the US to bring open source to schools. Two years ago, I would have never even considered open source, but the quality has gotten so much better.

Thankfully, I’ve planned for a very long roll-out. It’s hard to even start talking to IT people at school districts – many who are desperate for money. Many would rather do without than try something different. I just don’t understand the mindset.

24. manny - July 30, 2007


just place the OpenOFFICE icons in the desktop and “hide” the office 2007 menus lol.


good luck and don’t get caught :)

25. macmac - August 3, 2007


Just a few thoughts, I have many:-)

Your school does not teach grammar, therefore you must have a grammar check, or the teachers are so lazy they prefer the grammar check to be done for them, because they don’t know there grammar and if everyone produces grammar to MS standard its so much easier, even if the grammar is wrong?

I started with wordperfect 5.1 for DOS, from school I was a poor speller, however after just a few months of using WP5.1 I noticed it was not giving spelling errors, I even used to get the Oxford English dictionary out to make sure that WP5.1 had it right, from there my confidence grew.

I use open office full time now, it has a better British English dictionary.

Also remember that as a school you should promote the teaching of “word processing” not MS word, after all we don’t teach people how to use a SnapOn screwdriver, we teach how to use a screwdriver. The use and understanding of a general tool, not a single product.

I think your efforts are laudable and well meaning, but you have a fight on your hands, that few will take, calling your colleagues lazy is not an option.

Also remember MS has a low license price for schools, just to ensure there uptake in business!

I can only suggest that you promote the learning, the compare and contrast, make it interesting to the students, let the school buy office, then show the students how to do it with other products for less, Abiword, open office et all, after all the underlying goal of open software is choice, freedom and the right to think for yourself.

26. The Spray Can - September 23, 2007

I have written about something similar on my blog. The schools refuse to use open source software and a lot of students are being forced to buy/pirate M$ software. It is really unethical for them to do it.

With regard to macmac’s comment about use and understanding a general tool, I agree, my country’s syllabus is based around microsoft software, nothing else. If it ain’t done in M$ excel or access, it ain’t accepted. How do you fix that?

27. angel curia - August 2, 2010

I switched to open office writer from microsoft word. Open Office is good and writer also, but the spell and so called grammar checker are simply disastrous; it misses words, it does´nt care about commas, semi-colons, colons, and the spelling checker is a nightmare, they better watch or microsoft will eat them up, the microsoft word spell and grammar checker is many times better, it gives you the assurance, instead of the cold sweat I am suffering with the other one.

28. Jamie - September 10, 2010

im not sure about where you live. but in the UK, MS Office is needed for the curriculum and if you live in certain countrys you can buy it for your home computer at a steal of £40 (about $84 if you buy in US, not exactly exchange rate but thats life).

29. gvgxktvzj@gmail.com - February 1, 2014

In Firefox I normally use right-click > “Open in new tab” when browsing web pages. This can also be done when clicking on a bookmark. . . Is there any way to get Firefox to do this automatically (by default) when left-clicking a bookmark instead of having to do the right click?.

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