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Paving the way for OpenOffice

Office suite expert Solveig Haugland describes the factors affecting the ease of transitioning from one office suite to another.

How difficult is it still for an enterprise to switch out Microsoft Office for OpenOffice? How will OpenOffice hold up over time, in terms of being compatible with other office suites and formats?

Switching from one office suite to another has a lot of variables that depend on preparedness, the documents themselves, the expertise of users on the current office suite, group change management, sociological and psychological factors, the number of people and documents involved, and probably more.

I'm not a change management expert, but I think that much of the attitude of employees or members of the organization can be influenced by the people who present the change. It can be shown as something challenging but good. It may be offered as an alternative that will save money for other important projects, yet must be introduced slowly and will require training. Overall, it may be demonstrated as something that will require effort but exhibit an improvement at the end.

I've done training at sites where the users were given OpenOffice.org and told, "It's just like Microsoft Office; use it." Of course the attitude and productivity were a little low. Where the transition was slow, well-planned, and accompanied with lots of help like doc and training, the attitude was better.

Aside from that aspect, it's important to convert some test documents to see if any essential features, like Excel macros, are going to be lost and or are unable to be rewritten. It is also a good idea to see how well the original documents were done and, therefore, how much work the conversion of the documents will be. (Also note: it's not necessary to convert all old documents, just the ones that will need to be updated.)

Switching office suites is just another change that people encounter. I think switching to OpenOffice.org is like any other transition; whether it's a new building, time-recording system, health insurance carrier, etc., it needs to be done with lots of information, attention to users, and, when possible, on a phased adoption schedule. When people are prepared well, it goes smoothly.

Here's another angle -- I gave a talk a couple years ago for a Linux Users' Group on OpenOffice.org. I mentioned that I did training, and one member was puzzled. He didn't understand why training was necessary for someone who already knew another office suite.

The OpenDocument format means that your documents can live beyond the life of the office suite you're using. OpenOffice.org supports the OpenDocument format. Any other office suite or software is able to support it if they choose to. Sam Hiser, a honcho in OpenOffice.org, has an excellent blog which talks about OpenDocument. Oasis is the main site for the format.

I've used multiple word processing programs, spreadsheets, graphics programs, presentation programs, mail programs, and operating systems. They're really not all that different. They accomplish similar goals, just in different ways. Once someone learns a second software program of the same type, they realize the similarities, and learning new software is less difficult.

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