% fortune -ae paul murphy

Does OpenOffice.org fall short?

Here's a bit from occasional contributor Imagineer66 in response to my throw-away comment that choosing between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice on functionality is like choosing between tweedle dum and tweedle dee:

I am past-president for our local Lunix User Group and currently its education director. I also am President and chief salesman for a small (5 employee) company. As a side duty in a small company I am also CIO, chief geek, and everyday computer repair technician. We have 4 servers running Linux, two desktops running Linux and 3 laptops running Windows.

In general, OpenOffice lacks many features that frequent users of Office use. Several key features just simply don't work or don't work well. Case in point, I still have not gotten Write to do a mail merge with a non-SQL data source. Given that I don't claim infallibly, I have offered a $200 bounty to our LUG for anyone who can show us how to do it. The bounty has stood for 4 years not with standing 9 or 10 challenges. This is something that is ridiculously easy to do in Word. This is just one example of features that I DEPEND ON at least weekly, if not daily, where OpenOffice falls significantly short.

Personally I think mail merge, admittedly not a function I use, is one of those things that are done better in OpenOffice than Microsoft Office - and frequent contributor Voska1 backed that with this comment:

Funny I switched to Open Office to do just that

I actually end up using Open Office for that exact issue. I had a mail merge I was trying to do from an Excel spreadsheet that had 28 fields. Appears Microsoft Office only allows you do 16 fields. This was Office 2000 and it still didn't work in 2003 but it might now in 2007. So to do what I needed I tried Open Office and it work flawlessly as well it was 10 times easier to set up to boot. Still in the end I went back to Microsoft Office as I'd paid for it so might as well use and just opened Open Office for those 1 time yearly mail merges.

The exchange raised, however, two interesting questions:

  1. Imagineer66 seems like a credible character. Assuming that he is indeed wrong here, how can his role as a Linux user group education director combined with the practical experience claimed be reconciled with the error? And if he's actually right, where are Voska1 and I wrong?

  2. and, in general, are there common Office functions one of these packages does either at all or significantly better than the other?

On the second question my answer is No -with two provisos: first that I don't use either package a lot and am therefore somewhat unsure about this; and, second, that comparable Linux products integrate with OpenOffice on a Linux desktop just about as well as things like Sharepoint integrate with Microsoft Office despite not being part of the package.

Overall, however, I think the Office/Office comparison deserves some real attention - so I want to start by asking readers for "righter" answers than mine - with examples for the second one, please.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.