AA dumps Open Office, buys Microsoft for ‘compatibility’

Microsoft Office is not cheaper, but it is almost impossible to work out the actual cost of open-source, says CIO

Issues around compatibility as well as the question of future technology direction have led the Automobile Association to dump Open Office in favour of Microsoft Office.

Until now, the majority of AA staff have used Open Office, with a small number also using the Microsoft product.

“[But] there are issues which come with some open-source products,” says the AA’s CIO, Doug Wilson.

“The first, with Open Office, is compatibility — sharing information with Microsoft products, both within the organisation and with external parties. A dual world is complicated and, whether people like it or not, Microsoft is a standard.

“Second, you have no idea where open-source products are going, whereas vendors like Microsoft provide a roadmap for the future.

“It’s about futures, planning and integration.”

Wilson says Microsoft Office is not any cheaper, but that it was almost impossible to work out what open-source was actually costing because of issues such as incompatibility and training.

The AA’s agreement with Microsoft, for around 500 seats, includes home-usage rights, so staff can use the software at home. “That’s important,” says Wilson. The AA has 1,000 staff.

Microsoft Office will be rolled out over the next few months.

The AA is also considering using Microsoft Sharepoint Server to maintain some of its websites. This would allow Office Pro users to maintain the sites directly from within Office and Word.

“A decision has still to be made on that,” says Wilson.

Open Office was originally developed as a proprietary product, called Star Office, until it was purchased by Sun Microsystems in 1999, and thereafter it was made free of charge. Then, in 2000, Sun made the source code open and available for download, and community developers built around the software, at OpenOffice.org.

Sun still sells a commercial version of the software, called StarOffice, and Novell has an edition, too.

Market share figures for the combined versions of Open Office, from the project’s website, vary according to region and market segment. In 2003, Jupiter Research put market share in small- and medium-sized North American businesses at 6%. The next year, Forrester surveyed the top 140 North American companies and tagged Open Office’s market share at 8.5%. In 2005, the Yankee Group estimated Open Office’s market share, for small- and medium-sized businesses, at 19%. The most recent international survey, from Freeform Dynamics, puts the home market share at 20% and the business share at about 7%.

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