Open Office or Microsoft Office? What do you think?

I've been using Microsoft Products since version 1.0 on my Mac in high school. My dad has always been an automation visionary and I was using an old TRS-80 before I had to count my age on two hands.

But, as I've been planning my Dream Computer Lab and Dream Software, I keep hearing suggestions to switch to Open Office. As I have been researching this, I came across an article written today about a person switching to Open Office.

Those who suggest I switch say:

  • Open Office does everything that Office does.
  • It will save me a lot of money.
  • It is something every student can afford who has a computer. Many of my students do not have Microsoft Office because of the expense.

My concerns about switching are:

  • Finding an excellent and very strong curricular framework for teaching Open Office.
  • Compatibility. Our town is 99.9% Microsoft Office and I want my students to know to use it. Although many colleges use several environments, they all use Microsoft Office.

I really like the idea of saving money, but not sacrificing what is important and creating a lot of headaches for myself. Although I use textbooks as guidelines and not as a sole source for teaching, I've found a really dynamo of a textbook that I am thrilled about for next year.

So, what do you think?

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Alfred Thompson June 4, 2006 - 9:22 pm

Well obviously I’m biased because I work for Microsoft. That being said I think that saying the Open Office does everything that Microsoft Office does is a bit of an over statement. My wife has to use Open Office at school and frankly has nothing good to say about it. She tends to do a lot of things at home just because she finds Open Office so difficult to use.
I also think that the compatability issue with others in town and more importantly with textbooks should carry some weight.
Oh and when you buy Microsoft software make sure you look into a school agreement. Don’t just look at the single copy price and multiply by the number of seats because that is not the best way to buy.

Alfred Thompson June 4, 2006 - 9:24 pm

Oh one more thing. Open Office compares fairly well with Microsoft Office 2000 but not as well with XP and Office 2007 changes everything. So make sure you look at the latest from Microsoft and not something old.

Robert June 5, 2006 - 12:23 am

I used OpenOffice for 2-3 years after switching from using Windows to using Linux back in 2002. It’s… OK. As an office package used for performing basic, everyday tasks with no frills — like basic word processing and spreadsheet work — it’s perfectly adequate, and I used it to collaborate with colleagues in a Windows-only environment for three years without any major problems.

But when you move beyond the basics, OO starts to lose its luster. Last year, for example, I wrote a test bank for a math book; the publisher sent me Word versions of the textbook chapters and I wrote up the tests in OO Writer. There were a lot of compatibility problems with things like commenting, graphics, fonts that are not common to OO and Word (there seem to be a lot of those), and graphics. Especially graphics. It seems that each program handles graphics in completely different ways, and so images in the publisher’s proofs of the book came up out of whack, and likewise for my OO Writer images.

Plus, I had a LOT of problems with OO crashing. I mean, lots. One afternoon while I was sweating to get the project done under deadline, OO crashed *nine times*, losing data each time. Because of this I finally converted my work to Word, ditched OO, and went back to Word. I completed the project without a hitch from there.

So, OO is nice to have around, and if has nice features (like native PDF conversion, which Windows programs stupidly don’t have) but for mission-critical stuff I just don’t trust it. MS Office is a good product and it’s worth the money just to have the piece of mind.

Especially if you put it on a Mac. :)

Cheryl Oakes June 5, 2006 - 12:58 am

After reading many of Miguel Guhlin’s articles, as well as Wes Fryer, I have designated a computer in my lab for a transformation to linux. The teachers in my school are getting new laptops next fall. For the PC side, their computers will come with Office software included in the price, I think. However, my macs’ will have appleworks. I have been experimenting with NeoOffice, and open source for the Mac side. I am okay with it, it looks similar and operates the same, the BIG difference is that I will have to change how my teachers SAVE, that is always a challenge. At any rate it will save me 500.00. I am also going to add it to my student computers for next year so teachers will have a choice of appleworks or neo office.

Nancy McKeand June 4, 2006 - 9:37 pm

Having used nothing but Open Office for years, I can say that it truly does everything Microsoft Office does. Using Open Office, I think, actually encourages users to understand what they are doing. Yes, if I want to save something in .doc or .xls or .ppt formats, I have to use “Save As” and specify the file type rather than clicking on the little icon. Is that hard? No. Does it teach me to think about file types? Yes. Is that valuable? I think so.

Our college is in the beginnings of moving from a Windows environment to Linux and, where necessary, Mac. We use Open Ofice on the Linux machines now. We will likely run Open Office on any Macs that are set up.

I don’t see how the switch could create too many headaches for you. I think that you would find it wasy to learn, easy to teach and easy to correlate to Microsoft Office, if that is necessary.

Try it yourself. Download it and give it a month. Then see what you think. I bet you’ll make the switch.

Aggie June 5, 2006 - 3:23 am

I downloaded Open Office a couple of years ago, so this is an antiquated viewpoint. Most of the applications were okay, but I got rid of it and spent the money for Office because it saves files with a default extension which no other software can open. Of course, you can save files as .rtf or in other formats, but I frequently forgot to do this. Eventually, I got tired of having to switch back and forth and moved to Office.

If you want to try it, I’d download it to a secondary machine, not the main one you use, and then give it a full work out. Back when I tried it, some programs didn’t work as well as Office, although most seemed to be okay. I don’t think your two listed concerns would be problems with Open Office because it is so similar to Word.

Kaj Rietberg June 5, 2006 - 11:26 am


I’m using a littlebit. I use it for making presentations like powerpoint. I think it’s very easy to work with. I believe it looks a lot like the microsoft products. And you can save everything as Microsoft Office documents.

I think that schools should use more because it’s sheaper. And I don’t think that children in this age have difficulties with switching from openoffice to microsoft office. Because they look almost the same.
I have a page for you where you cab download free books where you can learn working with

Best regards, Kaj Rietberg

Vicki A. Davis June 5, 2006 - 11:39 am

Wow! What great comments! I think the bottom line is that I should make sure my students are exposed to Open Office whether or not it is the backbone of the curriculum will take some time to look into.

It is important that students are exposed to and use Microsoft Products, I think it is also important that they know it is not the only thing out there.

Thank you so much to all of you for commenting! I am learning so very much!

Solveig Haugland June 5, 2006 - 7:36 pm

I’m an instructor and course developer. I like it a lot. It’s much more controllable and less twitchy than Microsoft Office, which tends to do things it thinks you want to do. It has a great drawing program, excellent implementation of styles, and in many ways it’s extremely similar to Microsoft Office.

Addressing a couple of comments from other commenters:
– I think the last time crashed on me was perhaps 3-4 months ago.
– I find Microsoft Office more difficult to use–it’s just what you’re used to.
– isn’t no-frills. Compatibility is different from no frills, and there are many things you can do in the original document as well as in configuration to improve compatibility.
– You can set up to automatically save in Microsoft Office format so you don’t need to think about file formats at all.

You’ve probably read about the recent spat about PDF in Microsoft Office, and how you won’t be able to create PDFs with Microsoft Office 2007. However, you already have this feature with PDFs are wonderful for sending out, and avoid the compatibility issues.

To start the switch, here are some thoughts.
– Take a representative selection of your documents and see how they convert.
– Get some documentation, online or printed, and play with the software for a bit. An easy walkthrough tutorial is a good way to start.
– Remember how much costs and how much Microsoft Office costs–not just for licenses at school or work but at home, as well. Then think about whether you’re willing to pay all that money for whatever Microsoft Office might have that OOo doesn’t.

I’ve got many tutorials on my blog, as well as guides for switching to and workbooks.

Good luck with the program!

Robert June 6, 2006 - 12:46 am

I don’t want to start a “Microsoft vs. ___” flamewar or anything, but I wanted to reply to solveig’s comments on my original comment. (Follow that?)

I didn’t say OO doesn’t have frills. I’m saying that at least in my experience, the “frills” — things like commenting and graphics — for OO aren’t compatible with similar frills in MS Office. Since the publishers I’ve worked with use Word, and they really really like the commenting capabilities of Word and use them all the time, using a word processor for which those comments aren’t compatible isn’t an option.

Hence the actual statement I made: For no-frills everyday use, OO is fine. That is, if you aren’t using or don’t care about the advanced functionality, then use OO. But as for me, I need that stuff and need it to work out of the box. Hence I’m using Office.

I also want to reiterate the last point I made, which is that — for whatever reason — the Mac OSX version of MS Office seems a lot smoother and full-featured than the Windows version. I absolutely cannot say the same about NeoOffice, the OSX version of OO, which is way behind the Windows/Linux version of OO.

That said, again, I used OO for years in a highly document-intensive environment with little or no problems. So solveig’s advice is god — give it a shot, and see if you like it. Heck, it’s free, so why not?

Karl Fisch June 8, 2006 - 4:06 am

Interestingly I just had a conversation with my Business teachers about the types of things they should consider teaching in their Computer Applications classes. We are an all Dell/Windows district and have to pay a yearly fee for Office for every machine in the district (that was a district decision).

While I like Office and Office 2007 looks very interesting, I told them I thought it was more important to focus on what they wanted students to accomplish and less on the specific tools. That it was more important to have a conversation on when they they should use a text document (Word or whatever) and what qualities it should have; when they should use a spreadsheet document (Excel or whatever) and how best to use it; when they should use a presentation document (PowerPoint or whatever) and what makes a good presentation; when to use a web page (blog, wiki, traditional web page) and what makes a web page good. I don’t foresee our district getting rid of Office any time soon, but I’m not sure that was really relevant to our discussion. The important thing is not the specific tool, but what kids are able to accomplish using the tools.

I pointed out to them that six years ago they taught our students Office 97, five years ago was Office 2000, three years ago was Office XP, one year ago was Office 2003, and in a year or so it will be Office 2007. Knowing all the ins and outs of the current version of the Office program isn’t really going to help the students that much 6-8 years down the road (after college, when most of the students at our high school really enter the business world) because it will change so much. I also suggested that with alternatives like OpenOffice, ThinkFree Office, Writely, Writeboard, etc., that I thought that Microsoft was going to have an increasingly difficult time charging as much as they do for Office. Again, I do like Office, but I think Web 2.0 tools are going to have an impact . . .

Vicki A. Davis June 8, 2006 - 11:24 am

Karl –
I always tell my students that what I teach them in terms of 1.2.3. will be outdated within years but if I can teach them to think and figure out software that will not.

I am more thinking that I will again use my textbook as a framework and after a strong introduction to office, I am going to have students do some of the additional activities in the textbook in another word processor of their choice (to be dual-or tri-software capable). I think that this will build on their ability to figure things out with me there to catch them if they fall.

I think to only present office would be a mistake, but likewise to ignore Office would be a mistake also. I think I will make it more an adventure into word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentation software versus a tour of Microsoft Office.

Thank you for bringing it together for me.

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