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Review: Contenders Challenge The Microsoft Office Monopoly

CRN's Test Center reviews EIOffice 2004, Sun StarOffice 8, and Corel Word Perfect Office 12.

According to recent research by the Yankee Group, Microsoft’s Office product line has an astounding 90 percent market share. With such an impressive command of the market, many solution providers serving the SMB market have concluded that there is no viable alternative to Microsoft Office. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Several alternatives are priced significantly lower than MS Office and offer compatibility with the Microsoft product’s file formats and robust feature sets.

However, the dilemma for solution providers is how does one dethrone Microsoft and generate additional revenue opportunities with competing products?

The first piece of ammunition comes in the form of cost: Historically, MS Office has been an expensive suite. At $399 for the standard edition and $100 more for the professional edition, it usually costs hundreds of dollars more than competing suites. While the initial cost factor has been mitigated somewhat by bundled offerings from tier-one PC manufacturers, it still holds true that upgrades and optional features add significant expense to those on the MS Office bandwagon.

That becomes a factor for small businesses looking to equip their desktop PCs with an office package; in many cases, the bundled version of MS Office lacks all the bells and whistles found in the retail version of the product, forcing those users to pursue the upgrade path.

Another factor is the upgrade dilemma. Microsoft is poised to release a new version of Office, dubbed Office 12, which promises to change the look and feel of the product, not to mention how the product will be used. First indications are that the new version will be easier to use than previous versions, but there still will be a period of adjustment, or learning curve, for users.

That can create an opportunity. If a customer has to purchase and learn a new office suite, why does it have to be Microsoft’s? The key here is that it doesn’t. The alternative products on the market can mean real savings, while creating new training and integration opportunities for solution providers.

To pursue this path, solution providers will need to understand feature for feature what these alternative products offer and how they compare against Microsoft’s. So, the CRN Test Center took a detailed look at the three primary MS Office competitors: Sun Microsystem’s Star Office, Evermore Software’s EIOffice and Corel’s WordPerfect Office 12. Each of these offers compatibility with Microsoft’s file formats and employs similar menu structures and terminology that should ease cross-platform transition. Now, how do they stack up?

EIOffice 2004
Evermore Software, based in Wuxi City, China, set out to redefine what an office suite is all about; the result was Evermore Integrated Office 2004, commonly marketed as EIOffice 2004. Built completely in Java, EIOffice boasts seamless compatibility with both Windows and Linux operating systems. (Macintosh and Solaris versions are on the way.) Recognizing ease of use as a key element, Evermore decided to mimic the menus found in MS Office to make the transition from MS Office to EIOffice that much easier.

While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, beyond the menu similarities, EIOffice proves to be a significantly different product in many ways.

First off, EIOffice is a single application, not a suite of various applications such as a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program. Simply put, when you start EIOffice, a single application is launched, from which you can control all text, worksheets, slides, presentations, charts, tables and graphs using standard menus and icons. That singular view allows users to work with one document, regardless of the content. In other words, a single document can house all of EIOffice’s component features, a spreadsheet can be embedded in the same document as text or a presentation and so on.

This style of information presentation allows searches, indexing, updating and organization to occur across all user-created files, regardless of content. What’s more, cutting and pasting data elements across documents could not be any easier, thanks to the single file format and interface.

Evermore’s approach to office organization could prove to simplify file management. Evermore has taken the single file approach even further by leveraging a proprietary technology that it calls DOORs, which allows synchronized updating of master documents whenever any data is changed. For example, if the same spreadsheet is imbedded in several master documents, a change to the data will cascade across all the documents. This is a nifty feature for those building documents or reports based upon budget or inventory type information.

EIOffice uses a concept called binders to organize documents; a user creates a binder to act as a holding place for a group of master documents, which allows the product to work in a project-centric fashion. All information can be organized in a logical manner, and the ambiguous nature of the traditional “my documents” folder commonly used with MS Office is eliminated. What’s more, the binder approach eliminates the need for a user to understand folders or directory structures and brings a commonality to file management across both Windows and Linux platforms.

The overall requirements for running EIOffice 2004 are comparatively slight—Evermore claims the product will run adequately on a 1.3GHz Pentium 4 and requires only 256 Mbytes of RAM and 350 Mbytes of hard disk space.

In practice, EIOffice offers a surprising look and feel, mimicking MS Office so well that some users will barely be able to tell the difference. The product seemed to have very little trouble converting and saving files in Microsoft- compatible formats, the one exception being the presentation portion of the product, which does not offer the robustness found in Microsoft’s Power Point, thus limiting compatibility.

Overall, EIOffice proves to be a good choice for users seeking only word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities. Those who also need database or e-mail capabilities will have to look elsewhere. EIOffice retails for $149 per user, and volume discounts are available for authorized partners.

EIOFFICE 2004
Price: $149
Warranty/support: Unlimited
Distributors: Direct to resellers
Company: Evermore Software
Monterey Park, Calif. (U.S. office)
(323) 264-0737
www.evermoresw.com

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