why not open source?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the OpenOffice suite (Writer, Calc, Base etc.) and the MS Office suite (Word, Excel, Access etc). I’ve been reading reviews and compairsions between the two sets of software. I’ve enlisted geeky friends to help me evaluate both software suites.

The OpenOffice suite is generally comparable to MS Office. Actually I think Writer is better than Word. The consensus on the websites that I’ve read is that Calc is better than Excel for beginner users but Excel is better for the advanced user. My partner, who occasionally sends me complex Excel formulas to gush over, remains skeptical that Calc is anywhere close to her beloved Excel. She’ll phone and blurt out a feature, like “pivot tables” or “vlookup” and ask me if “Calc can do that?”–so far it can.

The one place where I have had difficulties has been moving between Writer and Word.A   Writer can open .doc formats (OpenOffice 3.0 available in beta at the end of this month will be able to open Word 2007 .docx files, which older versions of Word can’t do).A   It’s also possible to save a document as a .doc file in Writer.A   However if I’m working on a Writer document that someone else on my team needs to change I find that some of the formatting is lost when I save the document in Word format.A   This wouldn’t be an issue if everyone were using OpenOffice.

So, why aren’t libraries using OpenOffice?A   I’m not sure if it’s realistic for libraries to adopt many types of open source software if their funding organizations (for public libraries, the cities or towns that fund them, and for academic libraries the universities or colleges as a whole). I’m not sure why municipalities and universities are not moving to using OpenOffice and other open source software. I imagine that soon many organizations will be paying to upgrade to Word 2007. I’m not sure why libraries are not taking a leadership role in trying to make this change to open source. It would save money in the short and long term.

When European and South American countries have legislated that government bodies must use open standards so there are guarantees that the file format of a document can be accessed in the future.A   Why are we still locking into proprietary file formats that may not be readable in the future? When I worked at the Vancouver Public Library there was still a copy of Lotus 1-2-3 kicking around because some of the older spreadsheets from the City were in that format.

I might be missing some of the picture, but I’m not sure what the big hurdle is.A   Why can’t this happen?

2 thoughts on “why not open source?”

  1. I agree that it’s great that VPL offers OpenOffice (Oo) on their public workstations–I’m not sure why all libraries don’t. The software is free and it wouldn’t add much to the cost of maintaining public computers. I’m not sure if it’s because people don’t know about Oo. I’m not sure if people have the impression that because it’s free that is is inferior, or that it’s hard to use. I sometimes think that there’s often a culture where librarians feel they need to be the experts on the technology and don’t like to be in a position where they say “I don’t know”, or “let’s figure this out together”.

    When I worked at VPL they offered Oo in addition to MS Office, though everyone seemed to use MS Office. If the City of Vancouver also made the change I think Oo could be used in place of MS Office, thereby freeing up a bunch of money and ensuring that documents created today can be read 20 years from now.

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