Office vs. Office question misses the point

I generally enjoy reading Paul Murphy's blog but his post today about defining an objective set of criteria to decide whether OpenOffice or Microsoft Office is "best" just runs counter to objective reality. Unless you're a geek.

I generally enjoy reading Paul Murphy's blog but his post today about defining an objective set of criteria to decide whether OpenOffice or Microsoft Office is "best" just runs counter to objective reality. Unless you're a geek. Paul, you're missing the point. Read the comments on your post because a couple of your readers understand what you either don't get or can't admit.

The reality, like it or not, is that standards are defined by the market. I'm not talking about IETF standards here, I'm talking about business standards.You can rail all you want about standards and how Microsoft's current Office document is open and how, evil empire that they are, they'll find a way to poison the well with their new XML-based formats. And from a purist perspective you're probably technically right. But you're thinking like a geek and ignoring reality.

The reality, like it or not, is that standards are defined by the market. I'm not talking about IETF standards here, I'm talking about business standards. Businesses use Microsoft Office. They hire people who have Microsoft Office skills, so that's what schools teach and use as their standard. The people who work in these Office-standard businesses and learn in these Office-standard schools need to do work at home. So guess what they use there? Yup... they use Microsoft Office. Or they use Works (which reads or imports Office files).

OpenOffice has not crossed the chasm Paul. Firefox has. But Firefox isn't an authoring environment. It's a reader so there's not much risk in switching aside from the increasingly occasional site that only works in IE. I know people who use OpenOffice and StarOffice, it's quasi-commercial cousin. With only a few fringe-case exceptions, do you want to know why they use it?Economics. They can't afford Microsoft Office or can't justify the cost because they use it so infrequently and need so few of its features. So they settle for the free or low-cost alternative.

And that, in the real world, is what these suites are -- an alternative you settle for based on economics. Unless you're a geek.

Don't get me wrong -- I have nothing against geeks. I consider myself to be one actually (as do most of the people who know me). But the moment you start jabbering about how vi with embedded HTML is your preferred authoring environment for short documents and FrameMaker (aka PageMaker for geeks) for longer work, you have stepped so far out of the mainstream that you turn the whole discussion into philosophy, not debate.

Because that's not the "real world" that Microsoft dominates. While I'm sure someone in Redmond stays up at night fretting over the fact that uber-geeks like you don't love Office, the bottom line is that you're not their market. You wouldn't be even if you used Emacs ;^)

So, I'm not going to even waste my breath talking about Office 2007 and the new level of data portability and integration it provides. Or the cool collaborative architecture that Office applications can take advantage of with SharePoint and Exchange and Groove. Or the fact that no one has come even close to putting up a meaningful alternative to Outlook. Or how so many third-party developers leverage the MS Office suite and its "closed" document formats. Nah... I'm not going to mention any of those things.

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