Monday, October 26, 2009

Why Schools Should Use Open Office

Open Office is a free and open source alternative to the Microsoft suite of applications. It is available for download at

I first began using Open Office several years ago when I cleared Windows off of my home laptop in favor of Ubuntu Linux. I didn’t really have much choice in office suites considering Microsoft applications are unable to run on a Linux platform. The transition was easy though, and I soon found myself preferring Oo to the Microsoft suite.

Imagine my excitement when I learned that my school district was ready to begin implementing Open Office in the classroom. Today I attended the training for volunteers. A bit redundant for me? A bit. But it’s exciting because it’s my district’s first step in shifting student learning away from proprietary word processing software to open source – a change that is such a no-brainer that it amazes me that every district has not done so long ago.

Here are my reasons why every school should consider Open Office before devoting a large chunk of their technology budget to Microsoft licensing:

I began the workshop by making two columns in my notebook. I figured the day would make for an easy blog post outlining the pros and cons of using Open Office compared to the Microsoft suite of applications. As the day progressed, the columns remained pretty much empty. Comparing the two isn’t like comparing apples to oranges, but like comparing Granny Smith to Red Delicious. The skin’s different and the overall taste may be a bit off, but it’s the same thing. Sure, there’s minor differences, but with each negative comes an equal positive. For example, Open Office’s word processing application, Writer, cannot open Docx files formats (standard in Word 2007), however it has the built in function of converting a document to a pdf. Is the negative or the positive more significant? It’s nit-picking at that point.

We should be teaching students the skills, not the program. If students only learn by using Microsoft Word, how much are they learning about using the program versus how much they’re learning about improving their ability to create written pieces on the computer? In theory, they should be just as successful whether they are using Open Office, Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, or even something bare bones like Dark Room. Plus, in today’s struggling economy, it’s naive to think none of them will ever work for a business that is unable to afford high end proprietary software.

My favorite explanation of open source software is that it’s free – free as in freedom, because it can be modified by anyone, and free as in free beer, because it costs nothing. It takes about 2 minutes to download, and another 2 to install. In those 4 minutes, Open Office can save a district thousands of dollars in Microsoft licensing fees.

Why aren’t more schools doing this?!
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2 Responses:

Georgie Pie said...

You should also try SSuite Office for a free office suite. They have a whole range of office suites that are free for download.

Their software also don't need to run on Java or .NET, so it makes the software very small and efficient.

monika hardy said...

great question... for some reason - public ed likes to pay for things.