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[school-discuss] OpenOffice.org Interview: First Choice for Some Schools Now?


My EdTechLive.com conversation with Solveig Haugland, Ben Horst, &
Randy Orwin on the popular Open Source program OpenOffice. This was a
particularly interesting interview because Solveig has actually done
teacher training for Bainbridge Island School District, where Randy is
the Director of Technology, and they both had insight into the
transition from a paid office program to OpenOffice.

According to Randy, the move to OpenOffice will save the district
"hundreds of thousands of dollars," but he also seemed to indicate
that version 2.0 of OpenOffice might actually makes it their first
choice regardless of cost because of the features--particularly the
ability to natively export to PDF format, the ability of OpenOffice to
more easily read and repair documents than the commercial
alternatives, and the ability to standardize on document formats
because the students can use the OpenOffice for free at home as well.

It would be interesting to find out how many schools or districts are
going through this same process of formally evaluating their office
productivity software. As was pointed out this summer by two
professors at Harvard (see "Microsoft vs. Open Source: Who Will
Win?"), as soon as OpenOffice becomes a real threat to sales of
commercial software, the commercial vendor will lower the price of
that software to keep their "first-mover" advantage and visibility in
the marketplace. That seems to me really likely to happen (in fact,
Ben argues in the interview that it already has). And while that
scenario might be disappointing to those who have worked so hard to
create a viable Open Source alternative to the commercial programs, it
would still have led to some really positive outcomes: first, choice;
second, one of those choices being "free" (in both senses of that
word); and third, a significant reduction in the amount of money
schools have to spend for basic technology. "Hundreds of thousands of
dollars" must surely make a big difference to a school district, their
faculty, the students, and their parents. (I've already said how much
I hate the additional fundraising that our schools do--especially when
they take time to train the students to do it).

We also talked about the trends that have made the adoption of
OpenOffice by schools much more likely:

   * OpenOffice has just gotten a lot better. Everyone agreed on this.
   * Office programs are really not adding features now that are
significant for the bulk of use by most users. And, in fact, the
adding of a lot of new features can actually work against basic
productivity programs because they run the risk of being overly
   * Students are coming to school now from a computing world in
which they are used to a large variety of choice. There are multiple
IM, email, music, and other programs, and they have learned to
navigate quickly between them to accomplish what they want. They
aren't as bound by past experience as the previous generation, and are
very adept at exploring and figuring things out. The "first-mover"
advantage mentioned above won't mean as much to them.
   * Students are also using a lot of different programs to
accomplish tasks that once were the sole domain of office
productivity: most of their writing surely does not take place in a
word processor (think online journals, blogs, texting, and social
networking programs), and when they are "word processing" they have
access to several web-based programs that are becoming more and more
   * Randy and Solveig both seemed to indicate that OpenOffice, when
shown to students and teachers, is often mistaken for the commercial

All in all, a pretty exciting time for OpenOffice, and for user choice, I think.

Steve Hargadon
916-899-1400 direct

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