Accountancy firm dumps Microsoft for OpenOffice

The Melbourne member office of international accountancy and business advice provider HLB International is mid-way through the process of replacing its Microsoft Office-based desktop suite with the open source alternative.

The Melbourne member office of international accountancy and business advice provider HLB International is mid-way through the process of replacing its Microsoft Office-based desktop suite with the open source alternative.

ZDNet Australia understands the key driver of the migration at the 150-person HLB Mann Judd Association office is cost, with management being reticent about paying for new licences for the latest versions of Microsoft's flagship Office products. It is believed an initial deployment of on about 40 desktops is being extended to the entire office.

The Melbourne HLB Mann Judd office declined to comment on the specifics of the rollout including whether the deployment may spread to other Australian offices within the association. The HLB Mann Judd Association here is a tightly-knit grouping of independently-owned accountancy and business advice firms servicing markets such as Brisbane, Cairns, the Gold Coast, Adelaide, Perth and Hobart.

The rollout is believed to be under way with the assistance of Melbourne-based open source software consultancy Cybersource.

Like hen's teeth
Intelligent Business Research Services (IBRS) analyst Dr Kevin McIsaac said HLB Mann Judd Melbourne's move from Microsoft Office was rare, with few other medium-to-large organisations in Australia biting the bullet.

Dr Kevin McIsaac, IBRS

Migrating to from a proprietary solution was simply not attractive to large organisations in "developed" nations because the cost of buying software was only a small part of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an IT solution, he said.

"If you've got a solution already in place, it's actually quite expensive to replace, because sure the software doesn't cost you anything, but there's a huge migration cost," McIsaac told ZDNet Australia.

"TCO is not just the software cost, it's the software plus all the hardware plus all the support over four years, so in the TCO of Windows and Office, the software is not a large part of that."

The analyst estimated office suite software was between five and seven percent of the total cost of a typical corporate desktop package.

In comparison with less developed countries like India, McIsaac said the cost of staff in Australia was "very very high", and so any migration that involved re-training staff could quickly become quite costly.

"You'll hear people who talk about 'I can save myself $10 million by not buying Windows and Office in my corporation' and that's true. But those organisations are spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars on IT -- I bet you could save that kind of money on other projects which are vastly simpler," said McIsaac.

"It's just a question of -- is this the best place for me to try and squeeze money out of my environment right now? And for many customers that I talk to -- mostly medium to large organisations -- it's just not the best place to save money."

"It's not even clear that you will save money, or how long it will take to save money."

Another problem with migrating to OpenOffice, he said, was the document conversion process. "Not all of your documents will be compatible," warned McIsaac. "Particularly with respect to macros, but there is occasionally some problems with formatting."

Starting from scratch
However, said McIsaac, it could make sense for some organisations in particular cirucmstances to use

"If I was a greenfield, if I had no infrastructure at all, it might be quite interesting," he said.

"If I was in India, where people cost a fifth of what they do in Australia, I don't have any existing infrastructure, and I don't have any existing documents in place to translate, it looks like a very attractive option."

McIsaac said one other advantage of OpenOffice was that unlike Microsoft Office, it supported the OpenDocument format -- a publicly available open standard for office documents.

OpenDocument is currently a hot topic of debate after the United States State of Massachusetts said in September it would adopt the format and dump Microsoft Office because it wanted to move away from proprietary formats.

Microsoft has subsequently submitted its own open standard, dubbed 'Open XML', to a European standards body in the hope it will eventually be approved as a global standard.

McIsaac said by using such a standard like OpenDocument, IT managers might feel more comfortable about the longevity of their documents, and avoid being locked in to one vendor, or to one vendor's product upgrade lifecycle.

"If MS decides their product is no longer supported and I've got to migrate to the latest you-beaut version of Office, I've gotta do it," he said.

"If all of your documents are in an open format then escaping from MS would be less of a risk."