Last month, my review of StarOffice 8 was published. It had a subtitle of “Office Killer? - Alternatives to Microsoft Office”. I’ve mentioned this before, and I’ve been giving the matter some more thought.
I’m not entirely sure I agree with the approach of an ‘Office killer’. We are of course referring to Microsoft Office, and while I’m happy to support a product based on open standards and the open document format, compared to the proprietary format offered by Office, I have general issues with combined ‘office’ application suites.
The concentration on a ’suite’ and the competition with Office means that what we have is a range of different applications that compete with each other with similar features and a similar interface to Microsoft Office.
While the compatibility - and the ease of migration for users - between the different solutions is an obvious advantage of these office suites, we also end up in a situation where the choice between office suites comes down to the price and the philosophy of their development. In terms of functionality or method and ease of use all of the office suites are more or less on a par for the 95% of features that most users want.
This is not a criticism of the suites, the developers or of their approach. Any company developing a package that is competing with a market leading product that has the enormous advantage that Microsoft Office has is obviously going to have to work very hard just to match the capabilities of that product.
It would be nice to see, for example, different interfaces or approaches to interacting with the application than an environment which directly duplicates the familiarity of Microsoft Office. I also think an alternative approach to the idea of separate applications for key functionality is beginning to feel restrictive. Within the Web environment we’re seeing the merging of different technologies and environments into a single, but powerful, application. Why can’t we see this on the desktop?