OpenOffice’s achilles heel

Anybody who is in IT in America, has probably experienced that sinking feeling when somebody somehow introduces the latest version of Microsoft Office into their organization. It usually comes in like some corporate ninja while you’re not looking. Whether its an application that your accounting department writes with the new version of Access, or that Outlook plugin that somebody locked in to, you have to deal with it.

The most frustrating part of this for me is never that people are going to use Office. Its not a bad product. Whats frustrating, is that every 3 or 4 years, Microsoft somehow gets people to pay $300-$400 per user. As somebody who has used OpenOffice since it was called “StarOffice”, this is perplexing. There’s even a high quality mac version called NeoOffice, in case anybody still thinks you have to have X11 installed to run OpenOffice on Mac. The file format problem isn’t even an issue anymore. Microsoft has has priced office so high, people stay on very old versions as long as they can, ensuring that even office to office incompatibilities are common.

So why not use it? OpenOffice is totally free, and has all the features that most users care to use in Office.

Oh wait.. except one. The email client. OpenOffice has no Outlook competitor. Calc is like Excel. Writer is like Word. There’s a powerpoint equivilent too. But no Outlook. StarOffice was written before email was really on the radar. But they’ve had enough time by now, why haven’t they solved this?

I’m sure some OpenOffice users are happy with Thunderbird. I’m not. It just doesn’t work very well. I’ve been using Linux with Gnome/Ximian/SuSE/Novell’s Evolution for years, and it just keeps getting better. Even for users of MS Exchange, IMAP access works, and Evolution actually implements the shared calendaring and address book of Exchange. On my mac, I use Apple’s excellent mail application. But on Windows, people are kind of stuck.

I recently had a friend who tried 4 or 5 email clients on Windows, trying to get away from constantly dealing with his “pst” files crashing or just going slow. He gave up in defeat. There’s just nothing. Another friend has all his email forwarded to his Gmail account. I’m not a big fan, but he is. I think this is just crazy that people woudl choose a webmail-only client for email.

Maybe I’m just being too hard on Thunderbird. I got all excited when I saw a blog entry that said OpenOffice 3.0 would compete with Outlook. But its just Thunderbird, with Lightning. At first I was deflated by this. But with Lightning, maybe Thunderbird will work well. I still think Outlook is lightyears ahead of it in terms of usability.

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