Why pay 400 Euro for Microsoft Office?

Like 99% of PC users, you probably have Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint installed on your PC. To get a copy of Microsoft Office you either:

  • Paid about 400 Euro to get a legitimate copy.
  • Got a copy from a ‘friend of a friend’.

While I’m no advocate of Microsoft, I think the 2nd option is wrong. It’s illegal and it’s theft by another name – either you want Microsoft Office enough to pay the money, however outrageous,
or you don’t and you have free choice to walk away. It’s also stupid, as there are good, low cost (or free) alternatives out there.

Some alternatives to Microsoft Office are listed below (and this ZDNet article lists some more). Given that most users only scratch the surface of available features, each of these is a ‘good enough’ replacement for Word, Excel , Powerpoint and in some cases , Access.

  • StarOffice – from Sun Microsystems , available for about 50 Euro.
  • OpenOffice – an open version of StarOffice , slightly more ‘techie’ but available for free.
  • ThinkFree – an alternative to office that runs within your web browser (like Internet Explorer)

Thinkfree Star Office Box Open Office Logo

Why are these so much cheaper? It just shows how much profit Microsoft is making from it’s Office suite when products of a similar quality are available for a 10th of the price.

So should you switch? Realistically , you have 3 options:

  1. If budget is important and you as a decision maker can push through the implementation, then go for either Star Office or Open Office. While these have every feature users need, they look just slightly different. If you can encourage users to give them a try for the first few days, then they’ll never want to go back.

    An example (heard 3rd hand) was a well known hospital in Dublin that tried , and failed to switch. The problem was that senior officers did not want to make the effort to change.

  2. If budgets are not a problem or if you use the extremely advanced features like macros, then stick to Microsoft office. If you don’t know what a Macro is, then chances are that you are not using them.
  3. Keep on using your illegal copy. You might have got away with it until now, but expect Microsoft to come after you as their (previously spectacular) revenue growth comes under pressure.

Go for either Option 1 or 2. For Option 3, expect Microsoft to offer increased incentives for employees to let the cat out of the bag, as well as new technical initiatives (building on the ‘Genuine Windows’ program to sniff you out. You have been warned.

SAP and Java

When SAP announced that they were migrating their solution to a full J2EE server stack, I was initially sceptical. While it makes good business sense (after all Enterprise Java server’s are now effectively free), and complemented their decision to open source the SAP DB (now known as Max DB), there was still a niggling feeling at the back of my mind.

Why? Well over the years we’ve learnt a lot of lessons of how to build Scalable Java applications. Even then, some people can’t seem to get it right (No names , but you know who you are). How would SAP people (who I have a lot of respect for as you don’t get to the position SAP is within the industry without getting at least something right) react to this strange new Java world. Would they shed all past baggage and dive in with the enthusiasm of College Graduates? Or would they take a ‘not invented here’ attitude and hack together something in Java along the lines of what they were used to.

I suspected the latter , and fully expected to end up cleaning up some mess of a CRM or ERM system. However, I am pleasently surprised with SAP’s Java Website. On a pure Java level, it approaches the efforts from Oracle , IBM and BEA. If SAP are making this amount of effort to promote Java best practice, then there may be hope after all.

Final question: If this goes the way SAP is planning, at what point does it’s installed base get counted as part of the Market share of J2EE servers. What percentage of the market would it have? A healthy and very profitable 10%? Certainly the strategy (and the Market share) is very close to Oracle , which also bundles it’s (10g) App server with it’s main product (a Database rather than a CRM or ERP Solution).

Latest IT and Technical Skills Survey

Always take these things with a pinch of salt , but the latest ‘hot skills’ survey is available here.

It’s US Based and some of the ‘findings’ make sense (e.g. Websphere and Oracle coming from a large installed base, Project management due to cull of recent years , and above all security). Some others are a bit strange (e.g. Perl is ‘stone-cold’ , yet I’m sure is in constant use behind the scenes). Others (like HTML skills) are also listed as stone cold – but anybody who has been trying to make a living as web designer knew this already.