Microsoft Office fends off open source OpenOffice and LibreOffice but cloud tools gain ground

Despite its cost and surfeit of features, Microsoft Office retains a clear lead in enterprise productivity software.
Written by Toby Wolpe, Contributor

Any threat from free and open-source alternatives such as OpenOffice and LibreOffice to Microsoft Office's hold on enterprise office apps is fading — but cloud tools are on the rise.

Nine out of 10 firms simply give staff the installed version of Office, with only six percent offering some or all employees a non-Microsoft alternative, according to a Forrester survey.

When the research firm last conducted a similar study in 2011, some 13 percent of organisations were using at least one of the open-source Apache OpenOffice variants. That figure has now fallen to five percent of respondents supporting OpenOffice or its LibreOffice fork.

"The past two years have been tumultuous for open-source office productivity. OpenOffice and LibreOffice are still serviceable lightweight alternatives on the desktop, but they have been overshadowed by web-based tools that differentiate with superior support for mobile devices and collaborative document editing," report author and Forrester analyst Philipp Karcher wrote.

Office 2010, which sold faster than any other Office version, still holds sway in most organisations, with 85 percent saying they use it.

Only 22 percent of firms may be on Office 2013 now, but 16 percent plan to upgrade within a year, and a further 20 percent have longer term plans to do so, giving a total of 58 percent using or planning to use the latest version.

Almost seven out of 10 organisations cite the absence of a compelling business case for their decision not to move to Office 2013 to date. Some 16 percent say it costs too much.

Forrester believes the growing use of cloud email could ultimately have an impact on the installed base of office productivity apps.

"Web mail represents a step in changing how firms work. If IT can wean employees off standalone software like Microsoft Outlook and IBM Notes and adopt lightweight, cloud-connected applications for email, they will be part of the way to accepting browser-based document, spreadsheet, and presentation editing tools," Karcher said.

At the moment one in five firms is using cloud email, with a further 25 percent planning a move at some point. Office 365 and Google Apps are in use at almost one in four organisations.

Office 365 leads on 14 percent against Google Apps' nine percent. Forrester attributes Microsoft's lead to Office 365's support for hybrid deployments.

Given the hype about staff using their own tablets and smartphones for work, Forrester is intrigued by the low priority given to multiplatform support for office applications by the 155 survey respondents.

"Most surprising of all, multi-platform support is not a priority. Apps on iOS and Android devices were important to 16 percent of respondents, and support for non-Windows PCs was important to only 11 percent," Karcher wrote.

"For now, most technology decision-makers seem satisfied with leaving employees to self-provision office productivity apps on their smartphones and tablets if they really want them."

According to Forrester, Microsoft Office has more features than most staff need and is expensive to license. But the impetus to switch to low-cost alternatives is being driven by IT, not by employees — many of whom have used Microsoft Office all their lives at home, in school, and at work.

"If they wanted to use alternative tools, they could — and some do choose to complement or replace their use of Office with alternatives. By making their solutions available for free, Apple and Google may slowly win users over, but it will take time."

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