Microsoft Versus
Dissecting Microsoft | Directory

Microsoft Office Suite

The Microsoft® Office suite of software applications is the most widely used in the category of "office productivity." This and Microsoft Windows™ are Microsoft's only sources of profit and market dominance. The Office 2003 editions consist of the following applications:

Notable System Requirements: Windows 2000 or XP and 400 MB of hard disk space; 790 MB of hard disk space for full installation. The applications are limited to recent versions of Windows and have very high disk storage requirements.

Retail Price: $499 US

The Office "System" consists of the desktop applications above plus additional programs to make them collaboratively more useful:

The typical ("standard") Microsoft Office installation consists of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on the desktop. The other more collaborative applications were added many years after the initial desktop-only programs to add value and provide a more complete integrated system. They also give users a reason to upgrade the desktop applications which otherwise haven't changed much.

All of the applications listed above have one or more alternatives available from sources other than Microsoft. Desktop application alternatives for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations have existed for many years. Most other systems which add utility for groups of workers are newer and evolving.


Notable System Requirements: Works on a wider variety of operating systems than Microsoft Office: Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris, and Mac OS X; half the memory requirements of Microsoft Office

Price: Free

The office suite contains applications which effectively replace Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access. has its own well documented XML-based file format and can read and write Word (DOC), Excel (XLS), and PowerPoint (PPT) files, as well as connect to Access databases (MDB) through ODBC. Most compatibility issues with Microsoft Office documents relate to scripting and formatting. General concensus is files are 90 to 95% compatible with respect to formatting. Most users with only basic formatting requirements report problems rarely.

Scripting, however, is a significant issue for users transitioning from Microsoft Office. Many corporate users automate Word, Excel, and Access, sometimes almost turning them into small custom applications. For this purpose almost every aspect of these applications can be controlled with VBScript, a proprietary language based on Visual Basic. OpenOffice offers the BeanShell, JavaScript, and Java languages for scripting. OpenOffice can not use or translate the VBScripts from Microsoft Office files, so any automation which exists in Office files must be rewritten for OpenOffice. This is probably the biggest hurdle for any corporation wishing to migrate from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.

Unlike Microsoft Office, OpenOffice offers an easily readable open file format. It stores files in compressed XML. This offers software developers the ability to read and manipulate these files without using OpenOffice. To create or modify a Microsoft Office file a developer usually uses software components of the Office suite, making their application "heavier" and more difficult or impossible to redistribute. For users this means OpenOffice has the potential to offer more tools and continued support in the future. OpenOffice's open file format also means archiving is possible without fear of not being able to read the files later. And as an added bonus OpenOffice's files are far smaller than even compressed Word .doc files.

There is an abundance of reviews of due to its maturity and viability as a real option. Many reviews are direct user-based comparisons to Microsoft Office. The majority of reviews come to very favorable conclusions.

Some notable comments from users: is the completely [open source] version of Sun Microsystem's StarOffice.

Vs. StarOffice

Price: $79.99 individual; $25 to $60 per user volume

StarOffice is Sun's commercial version of Sun released StarOffice to the community as OpenOffice while maintaining a for-sale version with added features and support. The added features include third-party components such as additional database connectivity, fonts, file filters, graphics, and templates. Most of the suite, including system requirements, is identical to

Vs. AbiWord

Notable System Requirements: Works on a wider variety of operating systems than Microsoft Word: Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, BSD, Sun Solaris, AIX, HP/UX, QNX, BeOS, and Mac OS X; only 16 MB of memory required except for Mac OS X (128 MB) and BeOS (32 MB); operates well on slower processors

Price: Free

AbiWord is an [open source] word processor with the goal of running on as many operating systems as possible. It's compatible with Microsoft Word and other file formats. While it's lacking some common features such as a grammar checker it contains others which don't exist in Microsoft Word.

Vs. TextMaker

Notable System Requirements: Works on a wider variety of operating systems than Microsoft Word, including handheld devices: Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, Pocket PCs, Handheld PCs, and Windows CE.NET; very small memory and disk requirements

Price: Starts at $49.95

TextMaker is a very small and full-featured word processor. As with many others it's compatible with Microsoft Word documents. It works the same on a wide variety of platforms, most interestingly on small portable devices. Many favorable reviews have been written.
Copyright © 2004-2007 Matthew Schwartz