As I mentioned over on the Google blog last night, I'm headed to the Office 2010 launch tomorrow. While Office in particular and Microsoft in general are hardly my beats, productivity and groupware software in the face of Google's Apps and education's need to extract every last bit of value from our investments certainly are. This is why I've thrown myself so completely behind Google Apps. For educational institutions, it's free and it works very well, both as a document collaboration solution and as an email/calendaring suite.
It's also why I've been a big proponent of OpenOffice. Again, it's free and provides a perfectly workable alternative to Office. It's mature, stable, and works cross platform. And it's free. What's not to like, right?
But here's the thing: If someone needs a desktop office suite (and I mean they don't just think they need one, but actually need to do things that can't be done with Google Apps), then they aren't going to be satisfied with OpenOffice. I don't blame them, actually. Given my choice of Office 2007/2010 or OpenOffice, I'd pick Office. It's polished, it's easy, and it's powerful. To be honest, I'm not even satisfied with Office 2008 on the Mac; I run XP in a virtual machine to get to Office 2010 when I need it.
For users who don't need Office, it's a rare occasion that Google Docs doesn't suffice. And yet for those who need Office, it's rare that they're happy with OpenOffice. Where does that leave OO.org? Our district is fairly rural and there are still plenty of homes with only dial-up or without Internet access entirely. For these families, OpenOffice is a great choice since they rarely have access to academic pricing on Office and can't get online to access Apps. As reasonable access to the Internet becomes ubiquitous, though, Google Docs or Office Web Apps (even via Facebook) will meet the majority of student and teacher productivity needs.
Am I wrong? Am I so dazzled by the pretty lights in Office that I've lost sight of the value of OpenOffice? I don't think I am. The majority of the time, the students and staff I support tend to make use of Google Docs. Same for me. On my Linux machines, it's rare that I'll fire up OpenOffice, despite it being a solid choice for desktop productivity. That's what the Internet is for, right? Because in addition to Google Apps, there is Zoho and Office Web Apps, all of which work quite well.
I just don't see much of a place in mainstream education for OpenOffice anymore. Pre-loaded on laptops and netbooks in developing countries where Internet access is unreliable or non-existent? You bet. But why use OpenOffice when most of your users can work quite well with Apps and licensing costs for Office are low for the small number of users who need a full-blown desktop suite?