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Schools should use

March 31st, 2007 by Nate logo

School districts should switch to instead of paying all that money for MS Office. I use Writer as my main word processor, and it does everything I need it to do. School districts must pay somewhere between $50 and $100 for MS Office for each and every computer in the school.  Every time the school replaces those computers (usually every 2-4 years), there will probably be a “new” version of MS Office that has tons of “new” features that no one will use, but the school district will still pay for.    This adds up to a lot of money.

On the other hand, is free!  Even if you believe that isn’t as good as MS Office, it’s hard to argue with that price.  As school budgets become tighter and tighter due to rising energy costs, health care costs, or new requirements under NCLB, will look better and better.

As I said, I’ve used Writer extensively, and I have no complaints. On the other hand, Impress (the PowerPoint clone) isn’t yet up to Powerpoint’s maturity. However, it’s close enough to get the job done. I haven’t used Calc (the Excel clone) much, but I bet the performance perfectly adequate, if not outstanding.  Plus, is becoming more and more mature with every release.  They’re only on their 2.0 release right now, where MS Office 2007 is their 10.0 release.

Someday soon, I believe, all students will be given a personal laptop for school use.  I’ll talk more about this in a later post, but just think about how much it will cost for a MS Office license of each of those machines.  $$$$$$$$$

Tradition and continuity are really the only reasons that schools are still buying MS Office, but not for long.

Posted in Crazy Teaching Ideas |

50 Responses

  1. Michael Says:

    In some High Schools, such as Monarch High School in Broward County, FL, all students *do* have laptops.
    It was part of a government grant (I don’t recall at what level, but I would assume federal). It… was an interesting idea, but, to be honest, as a student… I don’t really think it enhanced learning. We never ended up getting textbooks in digital format, and most of my teachers never did much with the internet capabilities. It did end up creating a lot of hassle for the tech administrator of the school and her student aides (I was one, along with about a dozen other students) I should note, however, that I was only around for its first year.
    Go ahead and send an email my way, if you wish to discuss more about this.

  2. Niklas Sundqvist Says:

    Our school has used since it was first released :)

    The only “problem” with it is that it takes 5 more seconds to start than MS office :P

  3. Nadav Says:

    Dear Nate,
    I’d like very much to support you. You are absolutely right about the need to transfer to a non-proprietary software suite. Beyond schools, I think that teachers and educators themselves should make the move to the Open Office, and educate themselves on the GUI and how the new programs differ from what they were accustomed to. That will make their future transition a better one.
    I’ve blogged about this on my blog and linked to this page.

    I wish you luck and success in showing teachers and educators out there that there are alternatives and all we have to do is embrace them.

  4. Aninhumer Says:

    I was just going to point out that the version numbers for an application aren’t really an indicator of how long a project has been in development, and probably shouldn’t be used for a comparison.

  5. sid Says:

    I work at a high school in Australia as a network assistant in the I.T. Department. OpenOffice is good, but theres no point in us using it. We pay $7,500 a year for every Microsoft product with as many licenses as we want, including MS Server 2003. As we pay for that licensing we use office anyway as it’s familiar with students. Also office 2007 is available now which isn’t that compatible with OpenOffice.

  6. Fragged Says:

    Being a linux enthusiast and a student I have found OOffice perfect for all my personal needs, however I still find myself jumping onto a school computer to polish up a document I previously had written on OOffice. Once OOffice has perfectly cloned everything that MS Word does, there will be no need to pay for software of that kind, unntil then I will still need a copy of MS Office handy :(


  7. Justin Says:

    I too agree with your proposal, and it is a similar situation in my university as well. I may not be a lecturer there, but as a student, I feel that we are paying a hefty price every year for this. The least the college could do to lessen the burden of students would be to decrease the usage of paid-software and move over to free ones.

    I’m a user of most open-sourced programs, and I see no difference in OpenOffice when placed side-by-side with MS Office. Okay, maybe there are some compatibility issues, but I’m sure the basics are still there.

    On a side note, I think that investing heavy finances on Windows can also be lessen by using any Linux distros. I’m a fan of OpenSuSE and I can see some similarities in it with Windows. But, that is another totally different matter.

    You have my support in this, and I hope that your call will be heard by many in time to come.

  8. hasril Says:

    That right.I agree what you have writes.For me, Open Office is better to use now days.It’s cheaper that M.Office.

  9. Tane Piper Says:

    Absolutely! Every organization , especially charities or companies with limited budgets should consider using Open Source and free packages such as Ubuntu, Open Office, Eclipse/Aptana (for web development) as well as switching to Firefox for their main browser.

    I’ve recently switched to fully open-source, and only have Windows on my laptop for playing WoW

  10. Amos Says:

    Calc,’s spreadsheet, is just as good as MS Excel 2003. It has a slightly different layout, sure, but once your work your way around, it’s just as good.

  11. bgfay Says:

    I used to think that OpenOffice was the way to go and still use it some, but I’ve switched over (and switched most of my students over) to Google Docs. The feature set continues to grow and, most important, the files are always available. I’m trying to get my district to switch to a Google Apps interface. That would solve email, documents, and a host of other problems.

    I had hoped that OpenOffice would fill all the gaps, but there remain some issues that aren’t getting fixed. Case in point: envelopes, which are so difficult to format as to be unworkable in a production environment unless I figure it out and personally walk every person through the process.

  12. Kate, a math teacher Says:

    I’d certainly like to see a few schools try it, but I can foresee a few problems. I’m writing from the POV of a teacher at a suburban district, so perhaps I’m not your intended audience. Although believe me we are always looking for ways to economize. That recent “technology doesn’t really improve learning all that much” study was a real blow to our hopes for some more SmartBoards.

    Students don’t use OpenOffice at home, and they and their parents are unfamiliar with it. Yes I know that OpenOffice does an acceptable job of converting file formats, but it’s not perfect, and it would take a determined, prolonged education of kids and parents to convince them that their documents would be workable both at home and at school.

    In general it seems like schools don’t feel the need to upgrade their software as soon as it is released. As long as it’s working and supported, they’ll keep using it.

    I’m skeptical about the whole “all students will be given a personal laptop for school use” statement. Some places I know that have tried it, for example Liverpool High School in upstate NY, halted the program when the laptops became too much of a distraction in class. I have a hard enough time with games on calculators. Laptops. I can’t imagine.

    If anything, I think that simple word processing is leaving the local machine. I am more exciting about the impending cloudware revolution. I already keep many of my simpler documents on google docs and spreadsheets, and encourage my students to do the same. I just hope they implement an equation editor sometime.

    I like your blog! Keep up the good work.

  13. Schools should use « News Coctail Says:

    […] should use Filed under: Uncategorized — recar @ 12:24 pm Schools should use “Even if you believe that isn ’t as good as MS Office, it’s hard to argue […]

  14. Edd Morgan Says:

    Actually, Microsoft’s education program is the reason behind their stranglehold on the computing industry. They sell their Office software for cheap as hell so that students get trained using them while they’re young, and end up only being able to use them when they’re older so they will eventually end up buying more Microsoft products. Unfortunately that’s another reason why they continue to use Office — as that’s what they will be using when they’re out of school and working.

    Depending on how you use it though, the cost of Microsoft’s Office suite does not outweigh the benefits. For writing simple documents such as letters; OpenOffice will do perfectly as you have experienced. However, when attempting to do anything remotely advanced; OpenOffice just flops and it’s Microsoft Office to the rescue.

    This is why you can’t deploy a bog-standard word processing or spreadsheet application in a school where the higher ability technology students may need the functionality of a commercial solution. And I’m only using the Word Processing segment of the suite for my example. The database application is another problem; as MS Access databases are still used very often in the industry and many people will have to interface with them at one time or another whatever field they work in.

    Of course in an ideal world, free software such as OpenOffice would mean the downfall of the Microsoft Monopoly (not only in the Office facet, but in Operating Systems too); but in it’s current state, it’s just not going to happen.

  15. Wrathernaut Says:

    I’ve been using Writer and Calc for my college course instead of Word and Excel. The only major difference is the icons in calc, I was expecting to find more missing while going through my class, but I have not. Some of the names for features in Writer, but is functionally equivalent.

    There are some features which Impress does better than MS PP 2003 - transparency on inserted pictures, anyone? - but it fails miserably in the animations department. Not that animations are important for 90% of presentations, but for serious “PowerPoint Ranger” presentations Impress falls short.

  16. Wrathernaut Says:

    Oh, and I will mention, these are the introductory classes to PowerPoint, Excel, PowerPoint and Access (although I haven’t gotten to Access yet).

  17. Bob Says: is (as of March 29, 2007) at version 2.2.

    The Mattawan, MI schools went to OOo last fall. The only complaints have been from older students. While the younger students will use OOo throughout their years at the school system, the older students won’t and did not receive any training before the switch. Schools that choose to go this route should put together either a short training program or a cheat-sheet for older students who have been brought up on the MS products. Another thing that would help is for school systems to distribute installation CDs with detailed instructions for families to use this software at home.

    I believe that more and more schools will make the switch to OOo because it is great software and is constantly being improved. You also simply cannot argue with the price.


  18. John Says:

    A lot of schools are using OpenOffice. We began using StarOffice when IBM began offering it to schools for $50. We switched to OpenOffice when it was launched. I will admit we have purchased MS Office as well. High school students need to be exposed to it, since they will be using it in college or their employer will require knowledge of it. We have not purchased any MS Office licenses this year. I may purchase a few to see how steep the learning curve it for Office 2007. Until then, every new computer is loaded with OpenOffice 2.2, as well as other open source software.

  19. Olaf Noehring Says:


    I agree that schools should use a free product if one is available. But: Money can and should not be the only reason to decide for an alternative.
    Some hints:
    - Schools should teach general knowledge, not product specific topics.
    - MS-Office is still considered standard. This is hard to argue with and will be a point to some schools and businesses concerned about paying for it.
    - the alternative of a free software should be a real alternative. I agree that Openoffice is a real alternative to MS. At least this is true for schools! I have given seminars for MS-Office, so I like to say I know the product quite well. I have also a comparison to openoffice: I have worked with that for the last 3 years.

    Lot’s more to say, but no more time to write here


  20. suribe Says:

    should be posted in ‘absolute racional ideas’ section…

  21. Patrick Says:

    I work full time in a school as the “IT Guy” as they refer to me, and I tried to switch an entire lab of computers to and there was nothing but complaining.

    The problem?

    It looks different.

    I ended up having to put MS Office on that lab, however I now install it on every image that leaves my office…

  22. Louis Wu Says:

    I am the IT director for a PK3 - 8th grade school. We have successfully been using OpenOffice under Linux (K12LTSP) for over three years now. A very few administrative machines remain on Windows / Office due to certain software requirements.

    The students have never complained. A few teachers initially complained that the toolbars and pulldown menus were not exactly like Office 97, but nobody complains now.

    For those who believe OpenOffice is too different from Microsoft Office, teach the concepts of word processing, etc. and not the specifics of an interface. What’s going to happen when your school or district moves to Office 2007?

  23. PhoenixP3K Says:

    I would support the argument made. It’s hard to beat free, and when it comes to school work, there is no justification to use Microsoft Office. However, I must say that the new version of Office 2007 has caught my eye, and even if I’ve switched to OpenOffice for over a year I still feel the pull from MS Office.

  24. Complacent Nation » Blog Archive » News items for April 7th and 8th, 2007 Says:

    […] Schools should use […]

  25. Kristopher Says:

    The problem with this is that most businesses use Microsoft Office. Most jobs expect you to have experience with Office products. In order to have experience with these and be proficient at using them in the work place, schools must have Microsoft Office in order to teach Microsoft Office.

    The first step in eradicating the overly priced office platform is to get businesses to stop using it. Once that happens, we will no longer have to teach students how to use it.

    Although, a possible way to solve this problem would be to just equip certain class rooms with Microsoft Office, and the rest of the school with OpenOffice. But that might prove to be confusing for students.

  26. Linux Guy Says:

    Kids who are young enough adapt well. Start them out using Linux on the desktop and OpenOffice. Later in life, when they come across OSX or Windows, they will be able sail through any problems orr issues.

    @Patrick Users complain if ANYTHING is diffrent.

    “My My Docuements folder was up there yesterday, did you change this?”

    We moved from Office 2003 to 2007 and I heard nothing but whining from the over 40 yr old set, but everyone under 40 loved the new MS Office.

  27. Owen Williams Says:

    Actually, the version number “2.0″ in Open Office is quite misleading. Before it was rebranded as “open office,” the suite was called Star Office (and boy did it suck). The actual codebase is something like 10-15 years old. Granted the last 5 years have seen more significant than the 10 before that, but it’s not like Open Office emerged fully-formed in the past couple years.

  28. joe mom Says:

    agreed, … and public schools should be required to use open source software

  29. Chris B Says:

    I disagree, it’s not that hard to beat a “free” product. OpenOffice may be free, but it still isn’t worth using compared to MSOffice. Some things are worth paying for, like employee productivity and usability.

    I won’t speak for other school districts, but we pay $42 per MSOffice license in our district. $50 per license if you also want Publisher. These are academic discounts — other districts or state purchasing agencies should be able to match this price. You can also get extras like the MSOffice Learning Essentials at no cost.

    Considering how overall weak and unpolished OpenOffice is, I personally think the $42 per computer is well spent.

    About four years ago in our school district (about 1,000 computers, 1,600 students), we tried to “take the plunge” and replace MSOffice with StarOffice 6.0. For a supposedly “mature” 6.0 product, StarOffice was barely out of beta, and boy did it show.

    * SO couldn’t save to a UNC path.
    * It would crash constantly, especially with the spell checking employed.
    * It was SO DAMN SLOW, even with the “quickstarter.”
    * SO would constantly mangle MSOffice documents (not entirely their fault, I suppose).
    * The Calc charting module couldn’t (and still doesn’t) hold a candle to Excel.
    * Excel macros in state reporting spreadsheets — forget it!
    * Inserting pictures in the Presentation package would cause the pictures to be linked, not inserted, and you’d end up with a trashed presentation.
    * Some of the dialog boxes were inscrutable.
    * At the time, there was absolutely no help for StarOffice / OpenOffice — no websites, no books, no tutorials, etc.

    I could go on and on. After about a semester, the writing was on the wall — staff weren’t taking to StarOffice at all, and it couldn’t meet the needs of our school district. We switched back the next year by buying MSOffice 2003 licenses, and couldn’t be happier.

    Some of these comments make me wonder if these are people who have actually used the product in an actual work / school environment. Public schools should absolutely NOT be “required” to use open source software. Yes, Linux is exciting, and we use several opensource projects (apache, wikis, etc), but you can’t REQUIRE a district to use nothing but these products. Also, why do schools have to pay for “new” Office licensing when they get new computers? If you have a set number of licenses, and you move old computers out, just recycle the licenses. And just because Microsoft comes out with a new version of Office doesn’t mean you have to automatically buy it. We foresee us using Office 2003 probably through the end of the 2008-2009 school year, if not beyond. The investment in Office licenses we made years ago works out to very little annually.

    The sad thing is, with all the work put into OpenOffice, you wonder if it will pay off. If people aren’t using MSOffice, they will be looking at options like the online Google Apps, or the online Peeple Office. That way, you can access your work anywhere. I fear OpenOffice will become a footnote as the world moves its apps online.

  30. Fernando Reyes Says:

    Having used Open Office and MS Office concurrently for many years, I agree that Open Office is indeed a valid program. In fact, I almost consider it the first word management program that students should know. That said, having set up the IT/mailing/etc resources at a high school once, the power and the userability of MS Office just struck me.

    MS Office is not MS OS. MS Office is the best office suite that I have seen on the market and have used. It is the industry standard because it comes with the MS OS a lot of the time, but it is indeed, an incredible collection of programs.

    Schools need to teach kids about the real world and how to do the most they can with computers. MS Office is standard and MS Office suite programs work so well with each other that they allow the user to quite powerful things that OpenOffice just can’t do.

  31. Fernando Reyes Says:

    Perhaps another comment is that MS provides a well-regarded customer support and help base that is accessible with a button or a phone call. Open source communities can be a tad more nebulous sometimes.

  32. Kyle Brumbaugh Says:

    At our school, we take in donated computers and refurbish them and get them back out to kids. Everyone of them gets Open Office and Firefox!

    We are also teaching kids how to use all of the Google Online Applications as well!

  33. Bob Calder Says:

    To the M$ is best crowd: Way to repeat FUD guys! Let’s have some evidence of original thinking.

    I have a lab with 25 machines. I teach Internet and Society, Interactive Design, and Cinematography in the Broward County School system at Dillard High School. Dillard is a high poverty school.

    I try to use Open Source software whenever possible, so the only thing my students have to use that costs a lot is Premiere or Final Cut Pro. I have OO on every machine in the room and NEVER have complaints about problems with cross program formatting. EXCEPT when an adult is involved who uses a kludge on M$.

    I am currently running a Cinematography course where students are required to use the Google tools. Each student starts with a Gmail account, gets added to the discussion group, shares some documents with curriculum objectives, and sets up a blog where they turn in their writing by posting the work. I don’t suggest that it is for everybody. Constant vigalance is necessary to screen objectionable content, but once they understand that their grandma can and does see it, things get straight pretty quickly. A small number of students definitely “get it.”

    Your first poster, Michael, is from a brand new school in the suburbs. The laptops cost about $1,000 each. What they don’t have is an electronic curriculum. I do.

    I have used Moodle for five years and have finally got my colleagues to adopt it. Thus we see that the issue is adoption. I believe that we need only look at Maine to see how adoption happens. Experiments such as my district is engaging in are predicated on a belief system that regards computers as magic things.

    If my school were to have a significant percentage of the school sitting at workstations - shall we say a diskless embedded Linux sub-150 dollar unit that runs a browser and nothing else - we could finish deploying electronic curriculum to all teachers and THEN move to laptops. We don’t need software onboard to teach kids how to use computers.

    Finally, I have used multimedia presentation tools for many years and I consider every one of the objections in the previous posts to be disingenuous. None of the systems used in schools are sophistocated in the least and all can be learned by any kid at least to the level of an administrator with an EdD. If you want to talk about time code support, multiple site update, client server support, scripting, and external events, then it gets serious my friends.

    Kyle! Awesome! I have my NTHS kids doing a similar sort of thing but we really lack a donor stream.

  34. Bob Calder Says:

    Let’s say we had $50 a year licensing savings to spend on a $200 hardware unit with no moving parts? (Half display and half computing.) Wouldn’t that shorten deployment by a few years?

    I suggest everybody go to the OLPC lecture at by Negroponte wherein he addresses some of the objections to the laptop initiative.

    Of course technology doesn’t *do* anything. Teachers and students do the work. Computers just make it easier.

  35. Ash Haque Says:

    At the University of Calgary, most computers have XP + microsoft office, but in engineering / math-sciences, all computers run linux with openoffice.

    Maybe its just because those computes are like 5 years old, and take forever to load or run anything, but just about every single first year student now despises linux and openoffice. Go figure

  36. Adam Pieniazek Says:

    It’s my belief that if public schools used open source programs and encouraged their computer science students to help development on these open source programs, everyone would be better off. It would gave valuable experience to high school/college kids, while also improving the product for the average end user. Public schools shouldn’t be forced to use all open source programs, but when the trade-off in terms of features and usability is lower than the savings gained by moving from a commercial offering to a free (open-source doesn’t necessarily mean free) open-source program, then the school district should lean towards the free open source offering. Our schools are already so severely under funded (at least in Boston) that there’s no need to pay huge corporations for software that holds little additional value over free software.

  37. O. C. Jones Says:

    MS Office expertise is listed as a requirement in many, if not most, help wanted advertisements.

  38. John Says:

    openoffice really sucks ass. MS office 2007 is worth more than it’s value.

  39. News from the Internet » Blog Archive » Schools should use Says:

    […] read more | digg story […]

  40. Niran Sabanathan Says:

    Speaking from the other side of the fence - a former student, I was taught back in the days when computer class was a lesson in basic. The only MS was MS DOS. For word-processing I started with EasyWriter, Wordperfect, then MS Word 97, Nisus Writer (switched to Apple). Currently I am using NeoOffice (Open office port) and for any serious writing, LATEX. The last spreadsheet software I learned was Lotus 1-2-3, but I can still use Excel.

    The point is that I have used many programs over the last 25 years to accomplish the same task, but the fundamentals remain pretty much the same. To respond to people complaining that the widgets, buttons or wizards are different is a failure in their education. Teaching of the interface has triumphed over teaching of concepts. Teach the basics of using of using a word-processor or spreadsheet etc..; I am certain that open office is more than adequate for that. The differences between programs or even different version can then be overcome with a little bit of work.

  41. Kevin Dole Says:

    I hear a lot of people saying “it’s different, they won’t adapt, they’ll whine”. I’m in the IT industry, I know what you’re talking about, but I also remember people having the same reaction to XP, 2000, 95, and every major revision of Office and IE. You want to see people having xenophobic reaction, tell them WordPerfect is dead and is being removed from all computers immediately.

    But in all those cases, people adapted. They learned to use the tools.

    To me, the best thing about OO and Firefox as school applications is that the portable versions can also be used on network drives. I can’t buy every kid a copy of Office, but I can put a copy of the portable OO and FF on every network drive, and they can set those up they like and not have to worry about anyone messing with their configurations and bookmarks, and they don’t have to be at “their” computer to use it.

    If you can get a copy of M$ Office, sure, put it on some or all the lab and classroom machines if it is cheap enough. And give each student THEIR copy of Open Office on their network space. In a few months, look to see which one they are using more. The college students I’ve prototyped this with have all but forgotten that M$ Office exists in the labs, and more than a few profs are putting their applications, their way, on their thumbdrives. Younger kids will pick up on this, with the k-5 crowd just being psyched they’ve got their “own” space, effectively a “computer” of their own when they are school.

    It just means you have to check the network space but you do anyway.

  42. Adam Pieniazek Says:

    “To respond to people complaining that the widgets, buttons or wizards are different is a failure in their education. Teaching of the interface has triumphed over teaching of concepts.” - couldn’t have said it any better.

    The problem with schools teaching kids MS Office because many corporations require knowledge of it is that schools aren’t supposed to be training centers for companies. Besides being able to list “MS Office, expertise and ability to quickly adapt to other Office Productivity programs” is much better than listing “Excel expertise” on a resume. This does apply to much more than just Office programs, as more and more kids are taught how to pass tests and never learn the actual material…

  43. for schools « School Libraryland Says:

    […] for schools Filed under: software — ashworth @ 9:29 pm I recently came across this blog post on OpenOffice and its suggested placement in schools. After reading it, I agree with the author. […]

  44. Iron Wil » Blog Archive », the free and powerful Office Suite Says:

    […] so, I came across a blog post by a teacher that praised the price point and functionality of the Office Suite named OpenOffice. […]

  45. Pragmatist Says:

    Look, openoffice is great if you want free (and legal) office software. However, knowing Microsoft Word and Excel are important skills for students to learn to worn in real world business situations. Like it or not, MS dominates the business desktop, so if they learn openoffice, they’ve have to re-learn office. If a school can get MS software on the cheap, it’s a no-brainer. On top of that, they’re just plain better. You can write full-scale applications just in Excel with VBA. Excel is a fantastic product. If it’s going to save a school millions of dollars, great, but if not, go with the mainstream.

  46. Motorcycle Guy Says:

    “but I bet the performance perfectly adequate,” How is that an argument lol. You should test it. Excel is an extremely complicated piece of software. Don’t just assume its something that would be easy to copy.

  47. in Education: A Roundup « Linux In Novell’s East Region Says:

    […] very interesting blog posting recently by one Nate Grondin on the subject of OO in Schools started off this research project, and […]

  48. OpenOffice for Teachers Says:

    Thought you might be interested in testing out my new OpenOffice extension for teachers:

    Feedback appreciated!



  49. peter Says:

    In reply to the comment by Sid - he spends $7,500 per year and can’t see any reason for using openoffice! I could think of at least one reason.
    He also mentions that openoffice is no longer very compatable with office2007. office2007 is not very compatable with office2003 either - in fact I know people who have found it easier to move from 2003 to 00 than 2003 to 2007.
    Why teach students to use a product they will be forced to buy when they leave school when you could teach the priciples of word processing, spreadsheets etc on free software students can use when they leave?
    Maybe sid has bought share in MS

  50. A Fresh Cup » Blog Archive » Double Shot #32 Says:

    […] Schools should use - I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, NeoOffice (which is essentially OO for Mac) is handling all of my personal Office needs quite well these days, and that’s after having been a heavy Microsoft Office user from versions 2.0 through 2003. On the other, those students are going to end up in a world where they’re required to use Microsoft Office. It’s a quandry. […]

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