With the host of simple, free and powerful client apps (eg OpenOffice) and web based apps (google suite), what are the advantages of continuing to pay annual seating fees for MS Office on our student/lab images?? Up until a few years ago, MS Office was really the only option. But now there are many...any thoughts??

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I would be open to making the switch to using just open source/2.0 applications, except for a couple of issues.
1) Internet connections aren't always reliable.
2) You have to be careful to save an offline copy (students forget). If the web app goes down or goes away, you're stuck.
I would recommend installing OpenOffice on all the computers, and then showing students how to use the online apps, as well as showing them where they can get the latest OpenOffice download (or have a cd they can borrow, for installing at home). This would let your students be able to have the same software at home as they have at school, and it would also allow them to be able to use the online apps when needed!
IMO there is no real advantage with staying with MS Office. Not just for student lab computers, but for all computers. 95%+ files created with earlier versions of MS Office will open with the latest versions of OpenOffice. In fact if you ever get a corrupted word doc, that will not open correctly in Word, try using Writer, this is my best tool for recovering corrupted Word docs. Problems with MS Office documents are usually when some advanced feature is used, which usually affects a very small percentage of users.
The only thing that keeps users from switching is some idea that they can't get along without it. Back in the early 90's when WordPerfect was the standard, we were doing fine without MS Office. Office was offered at half the price of WP, they then targeted state educational offices (even giving away free samples), once the state educational offices started sending documents out to the schools in MS Office proprietary formats, the school offices had to have MS Office in order to open the documents, then everyone else needed it to be able to read files from each other. Instead of standardizing on document formats, people were trying to all use the same program, this is what gave MS Office the monopoly that they have today.
I switched over to OpenOffice 3 years ago, and know of more than 50 other people who have switched! So it is something that can be done, it is only the mindset of people. I always tell people who already have an older version of Office, to leave it on their computer and try OpenOffice, if they need to they can always use their old Office ( I set OpenOffice to be the default). Very few that I have done this with have ever needed to use MS Office again. The learning curve of the newest OpenOffice is much less than that of Office 2007!
I see web based apps as a good backup plan, but I would recommend the local install if it is mission critical!
I appoligize for the rant *LOL*
I agree. OpenOffice is on almost all of our computers here and will be put on the res this summer. One thing I will mention is that using extensions can greatly augment OO.org You can get a tonne of templates, features, and even built-in gallery items easily by using the extensions. You can find a list of my favorite ones here: http://www.frederic.k12.wi.us/blogs/paulsenj/?p=50

I still let MS Office exist on the computers that have licenses but OpenOffice.org is installed as well. I no longer buy any MS Office licenses out of my budget. If the user wants it that bad they can pay for it out of their budget. With as tight as mine is I just can't waste good money on MS Office.

- Petaris

"The World is Open. Are You?"
There are NO rational reasons to use MS Office. However MS Office continues to dominate the mindspace of the un-initiated, ignorants because of two reasons ..
a] some people, especially the corporate crowd, believe that because OpenSource is free ... it is something cheap and not-so-good
b] some people claim that with MS Office being around, it is not worth the effort to explore anything else.
I use Open Office extensively, and proudly in my class ... and my standard response to these points of view are as follows :

a] Using MS Office is like flying Business Class !! You go to the same destination and reach at the same time as the Economy Class traveller ... but if you have money to spare and want to splurge on the luxury ... feel free to go ahead, fly Business Class, use MS Office ... but remember you will go to the same airport gate and at the same time ..
b] When you say it is not worth the effort to explore OpenOffice .. you take the stance that it is kind of Beneath Your Dignity. But perhaps it is actually Beyond Your Ability to switch to a new option. Are you not hiding the BYA mindset behind the facade of the BYD mindset ? Think about it ..
Hi, My name is Bill and I work in a school district in Ontario Canada. We use a mixture of WordPerfect and Microsoft Office in the classroom. WordPerfect version 12 is provided by the Ministry of Education to school districts for free. MS Office is something that we have to purchase over and over again.

For a variety of reasons I would like to champion a move to replace both Office suites with Open Office. These reasons are clear to me ... such as student take home, compatibility, features and finally price... This does not mention all the benefits to FLOSS and the community support compared to any proprietary software.

Do you know of districts that have moved to Open Office?

What are the issues?

What about importing old WordPerfect documents... I have trouble with the graphics that in the wpg (wordperfect) format.

Do you know of case studies, feature comparisons etc that might help?

Thanks in advance for any information you can provide.


PS: I am very new and if this is inappropriate please tell me and I will retract and withdraw...
Hi Bill,

Here is some quick info that might help.


For converting wpd files (and MS Works):

I think the biggest reason that most schools don't switch, is because of FUD and notions that the world would collapse if they were without MS Office.

I will try to get together some of my other info that I have accumulated over the years, and get back with some more.
You are on the right track with your thinking. MS Office had its place and time, but their licensing model and software development model is broken. They simply haven't kept up with the times.

With that said, it isn't easy transitioning to a new office platform, especially for the teachers. Over the next 2-3 years I would suggest making sure that open source office suites are a part of your image set and that you take a look at offering the google education suite for your school community. Push the students in this direction now, and then slowly encourage the teachers to make the switch to FOSS alternatives over time.

To me the value of these tools is that they democratize the computing experience and they offer superior collaboration features (especially the google tools).

Best wishes and keep us posted on your progress, Bill.

I'm going to make the assumption that the vast majority of PC's in the family home will have some version of MS office on it. Even Macs will often use MS office 2004 or 2008.

There is a learning curve to most if not all applications and the curve can be steep, costly and time consuming.

By teaching them Open Office, you are teaching them to use a tool that is not likely to be on their shiny new home computer, their dad's laptop or at a future job they might apply to. Sure, you save money and the software has little bearing on the quality of the writing, but you do the children a disservice by forcing them to use a generic office package. They MIGHT have to use this somewhere else besides school, but they surely WILL have to use MS office in the real world. Given the potential learning curve, why waste their time ?

If you could get all the keyboards you wanted for FREE, but the only catch was that the keys were in different places like the DVORAK simplified keyboard, would you take them ? After all, there is a financial savings and it has no bearing on the quality of the writing. You could even get used to it after a while, and soon it would be second nature. Would you want that for the kids or would you want the ubiquitous and standard QWERTY keyboard?

In the education world, we think that learning to write is learning to write whether it be with a pencil and paper, a Smith Corona typewriter or a word processor application.

But in the real world, tools matter and specific skills using specific applications matter enough that people get hired or not hired, paid and not paid, because of well developed skills with those apps. Think Adobe PhotoShop, DreamWeaver, Final Cut Pro. Think Microsoft Office, not some generic office package.
Why would you make the assumption that most family's home PCs have MS Office? And if you buy a mac you don't get MS Office by default. You do actually have to go and buy a license. And now that they have their own office suite again (and at $79 its way cheaper then MS Office) I really don't think you will see too many people rushing to buy MS Office for their macs. Also, new windows PCs usually only come with MS Works which is usually not very friendly with MS Office (I think this is on purpose to get people to upgrade).

The fact is that you should not be teaching Word, Excel, WordPerfect, Writer, etc. You should be teaching principals NOT specific tools. If you teach principals then you can adapt to any tool, if you teach a specific tool not only will you have trouble adapting to any other tool but you will have to teach them again the with the next version (Think Office2k/XP/2k3 compared to 2007).

Beyond this you can give your students OpenOffice.org disks to take home with them and install and with ODF they don't need to worry about their documents being unreadable between versions. If its written on a new version it will still open on an old version. You can't do that with MS Office unless you save it as an older version to begin with.

Your keyboard comparison isn't really accurate. Your comparing two completely different layouts and you may as well compare your QWERTY keyboard to customizable cash register keyboard. If you really think OpenOffice is that different then I really doubt you have ever used it. Further more how many QWERTY keyboards do you know of that you have to re-teach when the new version comes out? Or that have "hidden" buttons because you don't use them very often (personalized menus I'm looking at you! ;( ).

Also in response to Bill Schreiter above, here is a good reference to use if you want simple hand outs about the use of OpenOffice.org 2.x: http://www.cluesheets.com/ We bought a license and used them at an in service. Unless you have very obstinate users there aren't very many differences other then File -> Page Setup things are located in Format -> Page in OpenOffice (which makes far more sense to me).

- Petaris

"The World is Open. Are You?"
And MS Office is just one piece of software...imagine if you're the average family and you have to buy MS Office, PhotoShop, Geometers Sketchpad, etc because you feel compelled to have the same kind of software on your home computer as the school has.

Now, imagine if you are a school and you create a CD for students/families to check out that has all of the same applications loaded on school computers. Like the following (and many others could be added to this list as well):
-open source office suite
-Geogebra for math class (this is the open source competitor to Geometer's sketchpad)
-Gimpshop (open source to photoshop)
-Scratch Programming
-Google Sketchup (CAD like application)
-Audacity audio editing software
-Jing screencasting software
-Skype VOIP software
-Open source anti-virus program

This adds up to hundreds and hundreds of dollars of software that families no longer have to worry about purchasing. They also don't have to worry about paying for expensive upgrades when new versions are created. This democratizes the computing experience and works on issues of social justice. And this software is very, very powerful. And it also exposes kids to the world of FOSS, which is a very important world for them to know about as there are many opportunities in open source (and there will be even more opportunities going forward).

We started using Geogebra this year and created an installation disk for our students to take home...several of our parents have reported that their kids have been spending time playing around with it, which is exactly how they best learn how to use it. This is great for our kids because when they go into the lab to use the software to model a mathematical concept, they have a really good understanding of the user interface because they've played with it quite a bit on their home computers.
One other thing...there was an excellent post written on the Infinite Thinking Machine about promoting digital equity through FOSS:




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