Microsoft Office is the dominant office productivity software. It has been a global leader not only here in the United States but around the world, across languages and alphabets. Google G Suite is a rising competitor that many businesses have switched to. Both Microsoft and Google have moved to a SaaS business model. Instead of offering a lifetime license for software, you rent access to the software. Organizations that were once able to write out a check and get office software for their company for years are finding themselves having to make a monthly purchase in order to maintain access. This has driven many organizations to stay with older software, sometimes over a decade old, in order to avoid the added expense. This article is oriented to the small and medium sized business owners and management who are dealing with this problem.
The first question you have to ask is what are your needs as an organization. Do you have particular needs that should dictate which office suite to use? A classic example, and the most important example, is Microsoft Excel. As far as I am aware, there is no competitor for Excel if you are a power user. Many Excel users have developed advanced macros, programs, and formulas that will not be usable in any other program. Engineers, Scientists, and Economists use Excel to perform complex models and analysis. This doesn’t mean that you can’t switch programs, but that there will be a price paid for doing so. But as an organization, how many of your Excel users need this functionality? If you are paying for hundreds of licenses, how many of those users actually use the advanced features that only Excel has? You will likely find that only a small number of employees has an active need for these advanced features.
Many organizations stick with old software because it works. They are not using advanced features or layouts or anything new that has been introduced in the last decade. For many people all they really need is something fairly basic to type up reports, write business correspondence, and maybe fill out invoices. Many users of these software programs, like myself, just wish they could keep using the same version forever as they have no need for the added features.
What do you give up when you move away from these top tier programs? Part of the reason why these companies have moved to SaaS is so they can continuously fund software improvements. You as a company will not have the latest features, the newest document templates, or document collaboration. Largely you are getting something that is a simpler program, reflecting what was state of the art years ago. For many organizations that is all they want. They just really want to keep using Office 2003 forever.
What alternatives should you consider? If you are not going to use a top tier program like G Suite of Microsoft Office, then I would highly recommend LibreOffice. LibreOffice is a completely free office suite made by a dedicated group of volunteers. It is used by hundreds of millions of people all over the world. It can trace its heritage back to 2002 with the creation of OpenOffice, another free software suite. OpenOffice can trace its heritage back to StarOffice, an office suite first launched in the mid 1980s. Its software license makes it completely free to use for businesses, and there is no advertising or other malicious activity. It includes a full suite of programs, for word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets.
LibreOffice doesn’t come with an email client. However, I would recommend using the also free Thunderbird email client. It shares many characteristics with LibreOffice. It is a free, community project with a large number of users. It is made by the team at Mozilla, which makes the web browser Firefox. The combination of Thunderbird and LibreOffice enables many office environments to completely replace their office productivity software with a solution that is free.
I have been using LibreOffice for years and have been very satisfied. I used LibreOffice Writer to make invoices and send business correspondence, and then LibreOffice Calc to do my accounting. It is constantly being updated and runs well on new and old machines alike. Not only that but it can run on virtually any computer, including Apple! The software runs on your computer and doesn’t phone home to Microsoft or Google. This means two things. You completely control your data. However, you can’t edit your documents from your phone or tablet. For most business users this is a non-issue as you will be in front of your computer anyway. Thunderbird for email has been flawless and has served me well as a good email client when not using my phone.
What’s the catch? You get an older set of features, and it doesn’t have the nice templates that commercial software has. Many important business presentations have been made with very simple slides. You will not have the more artsy templates available to you out of the box. That said, an experienced user will have no problem making elegant and professional presentations or other documents using this software.
How hard is it to switch over? I have found that users across ages and experience levels find the transition easy. The software is very intuitive and I have found that people adjust very quickly. I have found that no one wants to go back to paying for an office suite once they try LibreOffice. Numerous governments, militaries, and corporations have switched over their office document software to LibreOffice, migrating thousands of users over. I would encourage you to give it a try, its free!