Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    Google and other heavyweights roll out more Microsoft Office challengers

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver October 9-15, 2007; issue 937

    High Tech Office column

    Last week, we looked at Apple’s new iWork ’08, a $79 software package with word processor, presentation software and new spreadsheet taking aim at Microsoft Office customers – at least the ones using Macs.

    Since that release, other technology giants have lined up to wean users from Microsoft’s Office suite.

    In no particular order:

    Google previously offered online word processing and spreadsheets as Google Docs; now it’s added Google Presentations to the mix, letting users, at least in theory, get by without Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint.

    As with its other Google Docs partners, it’s relatively bare-boned. It offers text and graphics, but no fancy media types, and it requires Internet access to use. Users can work with existing PowerPoint files, at least if they’re under 10 megabytes. Google Apps are available free or as a $50/user première edition with added features and support.

    While the various Google Docs components offer relatively basic feature sets and only work online, Google is also making Sun’s heavy duty Star Office suite available as part of its free Google Pack ( for Windows XP and Vista users. (The pack also includes other free stuff: security programs and more. XP users may like the included Google Photo Screensaver.)

    Not to be left behind, Yahoo got into the MS Office replacement rat pack with its purchase of Zimbra Inc. The company’s software handles e-mail, contacts, shared calendar, search and voice-over- Internet protocol (VoIP). It’s usable online and off and is challenging Microsoft’s Outlook and Exchange Server for these services.

    IBM took two stabs at Microsoft Office. First, the company announced that it was assigning a team of software developers to add tools from IBM’s Lotus Notes product to allow to offer an alternative to Microsoft Outlook in its free Office-competing software suite.

    The following week, IBM went one step further and announced its own office suite. Like Sun’s Star Office, the new Lotus Symphony is based on the suite. It has a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation modules that can open standard Microsoft Office documents, though not documents saved in the new Microsoft Office 2007 file formats.

    Longtime computer users may remember the Lotus Symphony name. It was last used on a 1980s spreadsheet package that failed to gain much of a user base. During the late 1990s, IBM marketed an office Lotus SmartSuite to compete with Microsoft Office. However, unlike that IBM product, which was last updated in 2002, the new Lotus Symphony is being made available for free download., which boasts nearly 100 million downloads, just released version 2.3, which takes a page from the popular Firefox web browser, by allowing developers to create add-ons to extend that product’s functions. There aren’t many add-ons available yet, but that sort of customization has proved very popular with Firefox users.

    While all these competitors to Microsoft Office can work with documents in Microsoft’s widely-used doc, xls, and ppt file formats, all are also supporting the Open Document Format, which (unlike Microsoft Office 2007’s new Office Open XML format) has been adopted as an ISO standard.

    Despite the increased challenges, Microsoft Office continues to hold an estimated 90% of the office productivity market. The company has stated it has no plans to lower prices.

    If you’re using Microsoft Office 2007 but prefer the menu and toolbar interface used in previous Office versions, you may want to take a look at Patrick Schmid’s Ribbon Customizer ( It adds a button to the Office 2007 ribbon bar that lets users switch between Microsoft’s new interface and the menus and toolbars that many have grown comfortable with. It’s available in free and $30 Professional versions. The free version works fine for me. •

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan

Search WWW Search