Microsoft Office on Linux: Money-saver or sellout?

Some Linux devotees tell us that any move toward interoperability with Microsoft code is a step in the wrong direction.
Written by Ray Geroski, Contributor
Linux’s latest stride to move beyond the server room and grab a foothold on the desktop has won the praise of many TechRepublic members. But some Linux devotees tell us that any move toward interoperability with Microsoft code is a step in the wrong direction.
In a recent article, we examined a software solution from CodeWeavers that allows users to install and run Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes applications on Linux systems. Responses to the article indicate that most of you welcome CrossOver Office as a step forward in providing you with new solutions. Many of you also said the software adds some key ingredients to Linux that will help it gain wider acceptance as a corporate desktop OS.
Only the beginning?
Many members argued that CrossOver Office represents only the early steps in a process that increasingly will lead users to choose Linux as a single OS solution. Sujai Nath of NMR Inc. wrote that his company is gradually making the transition to open systems, and being able to run industry-standard software on Linux will be a big plus for the firm. “The Wine project’s efforts to further run most [Windows] apps on Linux directly,” Nath wrote, “will allow us to get rid of the lone [Windows]-based machine.”
Many users told us that one of Linux’s biggest problems as a desktop OS is its lack of compatible applications. Nath argued that few companies are inclined to use Linux because they are unhappy with the currently available applications for it. Reader Kendar agreed, saying that, “[T]his is what’s needed: apps so Linux users can interoperate with other computer users.”
One of the advantages of being able to run Microsoft Office applications is being able to share files with other Windows-based users. Because of the widespread use of Office, the demand for files compatible with Office is high. Rcartright of Innovative Care Management wrote, “[M]y company [needs to] be compatible with the other companies that we work with who run Office 97 or higher.”
Michael Greear, information systems director for CPI, agreed, writing, “My organization may be using this in the future, as we are somewhat tied to Office currently because our funding bodies use it as their standard. We have been wishing we could use MS Office on Linux for some time.”
Users would also like to see more Microsoft applications running on Linux. Steve Shriver, manager of product services for Old Dominion Data Systems, said he would like to be able to run Microsoft Access on Linux. Shriver wrote, “If MS Access can run on Linux, it opens up many possibilities for programmers.”
Though Access is currently not on CodeWeavers' list of supported applications, Cary Beuershausen of ALLTEL pointed out that the company is planning to expand its offerings.
Selling out?
Many Linux users naturally welcome any offerings that will help them be more productive, but others actually argue against turning to Microsoft Office applications. One argument is that running the applications outside a Windows operating system likely disables some functionality that they would otherwise offer.
As reader alece put it, “I have a hard time thinking that they [CodeWeavers] have covered ALL of the hooks that the [Microsoft] software enjoys while running on the [Windows] OS.”
Another argument against using Microsoft apps on Linux hinges on the ideological trenches that have been dug between the two camps. Many users want Linux to gain more inroads against Redmond’s market dominance, and they think purchasing and running any Microsoft products defeats this goal. Reader alece summed up the position by saying, “If we want to reduce the dominance of [Microsoft] code, we should not perpetuate the existence of this code by running it on an operating system that it was not developed for.”
Others argue that running Office applications on Linux defeats the purpose of using Linux in the first place. Being forced to purchase the Office products, they claim, eliminates much of the cost savings users would otherwise enjoy by opting for Linux over Windows. Member schauers wrote, “If you’re running Linux because it’s free, then running Microsoft products defeats the purpose.”
Kendar agreed that the cost of purchasing the necessary applications was too great to make the benefits of using them worth the price tag. “Doesn’t anybody remember,” wrote Kendar, “the coolest thing about Linux is that it was FREE?”
What’s the real benefit of running Linux, anyway?
However, some members argue that perceived cost savings may not be the primary reason for choosing Linux over Windows.
Reader niantech wrote, “Linux, too, has a cost of ownership, [one that] can exceed Windows.” While many users complain of the costs associated with Microsoft’s stringent licensing practices, niantech pointed out that Linux comes with its own expenses, regardless of the licensing policy. Niantech argued that the real reason people use Linux is because it is a good operating system, and added that being able to use Microsoft applications on Linux gives users and companies the best of both worlds.
A bigger issue that many see is the idea of freedom of choice. Many users choose Linux, Sujai Nath suggested, to escape the license fees and “locked-down code” associated with Microsoft’s products.
Many users are apparently willing to pay the price to be free to choose their OS and to share applications that enable them to enjoy compatibility with Windows users.
Choice and compatibility
Regardless of which camp you fall into, CodeWeavers’ efforts to enable users to run Office applications on Linux are welcomed by many TechRepublic members who need more productivity tools for Linux and who want to share files with Windows users. CrossOver Office also earns a nod from many members who want the ability to choose Linux as a viable option for desktop systems without losing the Microsoft Office productivity applications they need.
Overall, you’ve told us that CodeWeavers’ products represent a big step forward for Linux in terms of its acceptance as an alternative OS. If this development truly represents a trend, then we’ll likely see more CrossOver applications and, more importantly, more of Linux on the desktop.

Editorial standards