Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

Summary: There is a sea of Office alternatives out there. Why is adoption so paltry?


My colleague Phil Karcher completed some nice research into the state of Microsoft Office alternatives recently. I'll share a couple of the highlights here.

Competitors to Microsoft Office receive plenty of attention in the blogosphere these days. Whether it’s Google announcing a new mobile or social feature in Docs; Zoho a new API partner; or the recent buzz around the future of Open Office without Oracle -- it’s natural to wonder how much traction these applications are getting with corporate IT.   Open Office has a global presence, although predominantly in government and education. Google Apps for Business has a growing list of customers, although many are using Gmail, not Docs. Overall, alternatives’ take of the office productivity pie — particularly in large enterprises — is still very small.

Yet, we hear from many organizations considering or piloting them. In fact over a third of respondents to our March survey of IT decision makers with influence over the productivity toolkit claim to be “actively looking at” or “piloting” alternatives. So why does adoption remain so paltry?

  • Web-based alternatives get the lionshare of interest. Many try, far fewer buy. Despite interest (44% are "somewhat interested" in Web-based tools), a quarter of IT pros tell us they're actively looking or piloting, and a paltry 3% claim they've implemented Web-based alternatives. Those same IT buyers are concerned with numerous obstacles to broader deployment, particularly user acceptance and compatibility with Microsoft Office file formats.
  • Alternatives are true replacements for only small segments of the workforce. Of the respondents to our survey who have deployed an office productivity alternative at their company, every one also supports some version of Microsoft Office — reinforcing the view that alternatives actually serve as replacements for specific segments of the workforce (e.g., browser-based alternatives for users with basic needs, WordPerfect for legal pros). For other segments, they're complementary tools used to enrich older versions of Microsoft Office with collaboration features. The alternatives vendors themselves acknowledge that they don't seek to fully displace Microsoft on the desktop.
  • The real story: alternatives represent leverage in MS Office upgrade decisions. So what is the real impact on Microsoft? While their market presence remains low, the alternatives' impact on Microsoft Office upgrade cycles is more significant. With more choice, Forrester finds productivity decision-makers delaying Office upgrades as they evaluate the alternatives as part of the sourcing process. Increasingly, we find that clients are using the very presence of alternatives as a way to gain leverage in Office upgrade negotiations. We expect the role of office alternatives in the market only to grow as vendors make improvements to close the functionality and compatibility gap, and as buyers continue to show interest in cutting costs by provisioning differently to different types of users.

What's your take? Will Office alternatives ever gain a material foothold in the enterprise market?

Topics: Software, Collaboration, Google, Microsoft, Open Source

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  • Simple - Once evaluated and found lacking, why switch?

    The part that is allways left out of every piece is that companies are always evaluating things all the time (smart comapnies at least) and that's how it should be.

    Just because a company is looking at other products doesn't mean they are doing so because they are disatisfied with their current things.

    You ask why is adoption so low? because these alternatives really aren't alternatives, just feature missing copies.

    Sort of like those fake "iPads" sold in China.
    Bill Pharaoh
    • too locked in

      Many companies are too locked in to office to bother with switching, although they won't necessarily upgrade. I use libreoffice (which rocks!) and save the files as PDF to pass around (just to avoid hassles with MS Office's inablity to work with open formats correctly) unless colaboration needs to occur, which for me almost never does. If it does, I like google docs.
      • Message has been deleted.

    • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

      @Bill Pharaoh
      not necessarily. It varies between products, but there are very few actual functionality or usability reasons for using MS office rather than one of several alternatives. given the massive money most companies pour into MS Office, it is really just ignorance responsible for most not switching.
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

        @RedVeg What a nonsense comment. Your observation maybe true for home use but it's really not for use in a business. Sure, all the products will let you enter a formula or type in some words and format them a little. But that isn't why organization keep on with MS Office. There is a TON of functionality built into the Office suite below the water line so administrators can control the environment. Remember companies need to keep secrets and find out who is giving the game away and Office is awash with options for this and many other corporate scenarios all of which are non-existent in tools like Google Docs.
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

        @bseddon - So, are saying that companies keep using Office because it allows them to spy on people more easily?
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

        @RedVeg It's also the level of investment the industry has in office addons. It's easier for me to buy than build. OpenOffice may get there at some point, but we are not there yet. My experience with OO was poor, mainly due to it's file conversion issues. I may use OO, but there are many others that need Word formatted documents. Back when I did my thesis, there were systems that connected to Word to check for plagerism. The university is not going to throw out that system!
  • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

    There's alot of reasons why people aren't switching!

    Open Office is clunky and Bloated!

    Google Docs and the like lack features!

    And most of all, in spite of claims to the contrary, MS Office compatibility is severely lacking!

    Something like Pages is Cool but still a bit behind for most companies!
    • Bloat?

      @Peter Perry

      Honestly Peter, the term "bloated" has become hackneyed in forums. It tends to be the knee jerk catch all phrase to dismissing something. I might add often not backed by any factual data other than a person's narrow meandering experience. For example, I find it amusing that people complain about iTunes' "bloat" in this day and age. I'm looking at Task Manager and I see Valve's Steam client takes up twice as much memory as iTunes. Then toss in the fact that I have 8 gigs of memory and the question beckons, "Do I really give a sh*t that iTunes takes up 80 MB in memory?" The answer? Not really. Moving on to office productivity software, I own Microsoft Office at home but I have used OpenOffice when I've found myself at someone else's computer and they don't a Microsoft Office license. In a nutshell, my empirical observation is that there was nothing bloated about it. It didn't take any longer to load up individual applications and/or documents.

      If you have bloat issues, I suggest upgrading your computer's memory *OR* upgrading to a computer that was made in the last 7 years.

      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

        @betelgeuse68 Sorry man... it's bloated. I have tried is on several occassions... each time I'm pushed into out of memory with 4GB of memory... more than enough mind you to run Office 2010.

        Outside of the bloat it doesn't do Unified Messaging, presence, document management with a SharePoint alternative, it just sucks.
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

        @Jesse You've got to be kidding. You're not one of those people who use all million rows in the spreadsheet, are you? :-) I've got 2GB of memory and have no problems running OpenOffice. I just opened a blank spreadsheet and it's taking up all of 50KB. I opened up one of the largest spreadsheets I have, with four sheets each with over 2000 rows and several dozen columns and one of those sheets being almost all calculations based on the other sheet(s), and it's taking up 310MB. My web browser's taking up more memory right now.

        "Unified Messaging, presence, document management with a SharePoint alternative" - these are a bunch of buzzwords that don't really have any practical use for most folks. I worked at the corporate HQ of a billion-dollar U.S. retailer which now has about 900 stores and they couldn't be convinced to leave Office 97 in 2005. I didn't observe any office documents (spreadsheets, database, etc.) there that couldn't be done with open source productivity software. In fact, there was a lot of added functionality in open source software that was missing from the old versions of the commercial software they were using. There were three instances where I saved people a lot of time by bringing their data home and working on it with the current software on my ancient home PC (dating from 1999).
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full st

        @jgm what's the problem with 1 million rows? That feature is handy many times. NO, it's not a DB alternative, and I don't claim it is, but for many quick analyses and information sharing, I can use spreadsheets with more than 65k rows.

        But I know, I know, that feature is not important, I should switch to something else, nobody cares or uses such feature, blah blah, wuff wuff
      • Open Office is Good


        I use open office and I find it sleek and responsive. The moment I try MS Office I feel I have a millstone around my neck.
        Van Der
    • MS office is too

      @Peter Perry
      You could say Open/Libre Office is clunky and bloated. Its no more bloated than MS office. Yeah, its probably not as polished looking, but it also runs on Mac, linux, etc, which means it can't use the latest windows-only GUI widgets. But, its also not so tightly tied to windows, which is a security issue. Not everyone needs tons of features. For many, they just get in the way. I've never used more than 5% of word's capabilities in 10 years, I'm sure. I hate paying top dollar for stuff I don't need.
    • OpenOffice

      @Peter Perry
      Yes, it's bloated. And MS Office isn't? I use it for some applications and recommend it to customers who don't want to pay $150+ for software they use only occasionally.
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story


        I have no idea what is up with these idiots that say OO or LO take up 4 gigs of ram, etc, etc. I guess its no use arguing with them, is slower, bloated etc etc. I have been using both MSO and OO (now LO) and have no issues with any of them. The truth is that all of these suites run just fine on any modern hardware. Dudes, calm down and stop bashing OO - if it does what you need then use it, if it doesn't, then use MSO or Google Docs of whatever else suits you. As long as it gets the job done!
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

        You all never understood why MS Office is the standard and will be for a long long time. Agree. Not everybody knows or uses 100% of all functionality. But your coleague on the next cubicle will make use of a feature that you don't know and will send it to someone else. Another coleague of yours will do the same, thus the collective creation of a spreadsheet might use close to 100% of the functionality on a crowdsourcing fashion. The ability to have multible people, with multiple skillsets, creating and collaborating on a document is the power of MS Office.
  • Google Apps has come a long way. Look out Microsoft.

    Having been a Microsoft Exchange guru for years, I now find myself migrating clients to Google Apps. The complexity of managing Exchange is too much for the average (very) small business.

    Although I never intended them to migrate to Google Docs, most of my clients are. It definitely doesn't have the features that Office has but it is good enough. When you add in the bonus of being able to work on any computer in any location, outsourcing DR, and reduced PC/Server maintenance, it only makes sense.

    Google Apps has come a long way. Office may be the better technical product but it is not the most usable, cost effective, or maintenance-free application.
    • I'm actually seeing a reversal

      I know of 3 places close by here that are looking at dumping Google for what MS is offering in terms of their competing products (Office 365, ect. They are evaluating them :) ) as they have not been too happy with what Google offered, or their "support".

      They found that "good enough" is really not good enough. and Google really hasn't had the competition in terms of online suites, ect.

      Until Now.
      Bill Pharaoh
      • RE: Office productivity alternatives: Low adoption doesn't tell the full story

        @Bill Pharaoh

        Same here, customers that went Google in the last 2-3 years are now switching to Microsoft mainly because they are paying more and getting less than they thought they would.