What it is: LibreOffice is an open source office suite similar to Microsoft Office.
What’s cheaper? A free product or a product you have to pay for? The answer should be obvious, yet it’s not always straightforward. For example, LibreOffice is a free office suite that closely mimics Microsoft Office. However, Microsoft Office does offer some features that LibreOffice does not such as online collaboration and more robust spreadsheet functions. If you need the features that Microsoft Office offers, then it’s probably worth paying for Microsoft Office.
Yet the reality is that most people don’t need the features that are unique to Microsoft Office. The Italian ministry took a survey of its workers and found that only 20 percent of staff use PowerPoint, only 15 percent of them use PowerPoint and Excel, with just two percent claiming to deal with Microsoft Access database software. With so few users taking advantage of features unique to Microsoft Office, it doesn’t make sense to pay for features the large majority of users will never need.
That’s why the Italian military has decided to switch over from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice. In addition, they’re making their official document format the Open Document Format that LibreOffice supports (and that Microsoft Office can read as well). One problem that governments have run into in the past (such as Munich) was that they switched away from Microsoft products but still relied on Microsoft file formats.
This inevitably caused problems so much that many agencies decided it was easier to switch back to Microsoft Office rather than deal with the incompatibilities inherent with other programs such as LibreOffice.
Yet all this could have been avoided if these agencies had simply switched file formats. That’s why the Italian ministry is not only switching to LibreOffice but also to LibreOffice’s open document format. This insures that government files can be read by any software in the future, not just Microsoft products.
For many people, switching away from Microsoft Office requires two major steps. First, they have to learn a new program. Second, they have to use different file formats. Since many people prefer not to change, it’s far easier to keep using what they’re already using, even if it’s costing them more money. To make any type of change, the advantages must be dramatically better than dealing with the disadvantages. It’s always easier to do nothing than to do something different, and that’s what keeps most people wedded to Microsoft Office.
There’s nothing wrong with Microsoft Office. There’s just few features that most people absolutely need that you can only find in Microsoft Office. If you’re adventurous, you might find you can replace many proprietary programs with open source ones. The only question is whether you’re willing to take the time to change and whether the open source options can do what you need.
For some people, the answer is no so they’ll need to pay for proprietary software. However for many other people, the answer is yes, but they’ll never know how much they could save unless they’re willing to at least consider making a change, and that’s the biggest barrier that stops people from doing anything at all.