Reader Alex Wieder writes to describe why people pay for Microsoft Office -- saving time and peace of mind. His letter suggests something I'm coming to suspect: That Microsoft's Office monopoly persists on inertia and could well disappear in a few years as OpenOffice.org and other alternatives become more attractive.
Wieder wrote in response to my earlier blog asking why people use Microsoft Office when OpenOffice.org is almost as good, and it's free.
I think people pay for not having to go through the hassle of installing yet another piece of software with all the pitfalls such a task holds for non-techies.
If I'm an attorney making about $100/hour (net), and it takes me two hours to install and get comfy with an unfamiliar product, that's $200, and there will still be that nagging feeling that I will not be 100% compatible with my colleagues' e-mail attachments (or they with mine). For another $200 (assuming I'm not getting it pre-installed with my brand new laptop), I get peace of mind.
No, wait, I just checked Dell's web site. For $275 you get Office Small Business edition PLUS Acrobat 8. So this attorney's not paying an extra $200, but just $75, and he gets Acrobat as well! I'd take that deal in a second.
If you're doing this in your spare time and the two hours only cost you a couple of missed episodes of The Sopranos, then yes, you'd be saving $200 or more by going the Openoffice.org route.
Me? I used Office 95 until the year 2000, when I upgraded to 97, and then settled on Office 2000 about 4 years ago. I had to upgrade because I'm a software developer and some projects required me to. Otherwise, I'd still be on 95. After all, these amazing machines that can run circles around the computing power that put a man on the moon are nothing but trully glorified typewriters.
When Office 97 came out, if I remember correctly, I drilled the Microsoft staff at PC Expo asking them for compelling reasons to recommend that my clients spend yet more money on a product they're happy with. They couldn't come up with anything other than "Collaboration", which was the big thing back then. "Nah", I said, "I don't think a bunch of secretaries and managers have any use for another 10 people participating in their resume-writing exercises, nor do they have ANY use for Web-publishing their internal memos and letters to customers and vendors"
During this time I did give Office XP and 2003 a shot and decided that there's nothing in those products that I can't live without. Besides, do you have any idea how quickly Word or Excel 2000 comes up and responds on a Pentium 4 2GHz w/HT (not to mention even newer machines)? It's a real pleasure to use.
Needless to say, I might consider giving OpenOffice a shot, but mostly out of curiosity, and as far as the current incarnations of Office, I'll just pass.