Does OpenOffice Really Threaten Microsoft Office?

by Ostatic Staff - Oct. 18, 2010

If you've ever wondered whether Microsoft considers the OpenOffice suite of productivity applications to be competition, last week we took note of a  new video from Microsoft showing customers criticizing the suite. It's not the first time the company has targeted the open source suite. In this post from Sun Microsystems' ex-CEO Jonathan Schwartz, he recounts the story of a visit with Microsoft's then-CEO Bill Gates, where Gates displayed highly territorial behavior toward the OpenOffice suite. So does OpenOffice really represent a threat to Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite?

The story of Microsoft's Office suite and how it came to reside on the vast majority of business desktops, and on many consumer desktops, extends back many years. In the late 1980s, Lotus had over 80 percent market share in the spreadsheet market, and part of Microsoft's success with the Office suite came from toppling the mighty 1-2-3 spreadsheet, with Microsoft really gaining momentum in that effort when Lotus delivered a sub-par version of 1-2-3 for Windows.

With Microsoft Word and Excel representing a strong one-two punch, Microsoft tacked on the Access database and other programs to its productivity suite. It didin't matter that Access had paltry market share at that point. Word processors and spreadsheets were ubuiquitous enough to give Microsoft a leg up, and the company furthered its advantage by protecting proprietary file formats, and tying its applications to the Windows OS.

As things stand now, though, OpenOffice is actually a fairly good substitute for Microsoft Office--and it's free. So why don't IT administrators far and wide chuck Microsoft Office, and go with OpenOffice? There are many reasons why they don't, including lack of support, lack of competitive documentation, incompatibilities with standardized file formats, and more.

For many users--such as the ones who aren't concerned with their macros from Microsoft Excel being portable, or how their database ties in with their productivity apps--OpenOffice is a good alternative to Microsoft's suite. But for businesses, the devil is in the details, and it's unlikely that OpenOffice will actually threaten Microsoft's suite in the short run. 

It may be a good thing to see Microsoft trash OpenOffice, but the day still isn't here when a free, open source suite of productivity apps might acually topple Microsoft Office. For now, we should be thankful that there is at least competition.