Learning OSS vs PS Software in Schools

After taking a quick look at open office.org it seems to me that there are many similarities with Microsoft office.  Now, I believe in students learning how to use computer technologies in schools.  Most businesses require employees to use their software for communication and development of presentations.  If I owned a business I would not be interested in training workers on how to use a simple word processor.  I would expect that they would have been exposed to that during their education, especially in these times which we are relying more and more on technology in the working world.  

Having said that why is it that students need to use Microsoft Word?  After quickly looking at open office it seems to me that the interface is very similar to Word.  Why is it necessary to have students or schools pay for expensive proprietary products when they can just use the free OSS offered on the internet?  Open Office also states that their program is fully compatible with most other types of software so there shouldn’t be a problem transferring documents to Open Office from other programs.   There are most likely subtle differences between Open Office and Microsoft Word as well and between other applications from Open Office and the Microsoft suite.  In my opinion it is probably not going to be so great that it would cause a new hire to undergo intense training in Word in order to be able to use its basic functions. 

Besides this brings to mind a couple of years ago when I was working as a teacher and the entire school upgraded to the new Microsoft Office 2007 product.  The differences between the older version and the newer version were huge.  Myself as well as many co-workers were very distraught with the fact that our work production was slowed because we had to learn how to use a new program.  Things as simple as finding the line spacing format tab and the print preview button became frustrating examples of changes to the program that slowed us down as workers.  Not to mention there were problems with viewing older works from other word processors that made reading some students work impossible, I’m not even going to get into the frustrations with Power Point!  So even with new versions of PS coming out every few years workers are going to have to undergo some changes to what they are used to using anyway.  If employees are going to have to make changes anyway why not just encourage schools to use the free software for their students so they can cut down on their costs?  Better yet why don’t we have businesses using OSS technology and saving themselves money?


1 Colin Cheng { 10.26.09 at 3:48 am }


I agree with many of your points. Students are by far more resilitient to change than teachers particularly those who are technology challenged already and feel that a move to Open Source software may be laborious in having to learn how to use new software.

I have no qualms about the Vancouver School Board switching over to Open Office software. It is an excellent way for them to save an enormous amount of money. However, I’m going to play the devil’s advocate on why there is still a need for “professional” software packages such as Microsoft Office particularly for those who have been using it all along.

I work in a district program where we have a LOT of self-administration from student application packages to fundraising documents. Open Office is reportedly fully compatible with other document formats but when our district switched over, I found that none of the formatting was retained. It took an extra hour of work just to reformat one document manually. Yes, there are programs that will reformat for you but to go through the hundreds of documents that already pre-exist just isn’t worthy of the amount of time that is needed to do so. Another argument for retail packages is the quality and quantity of fonts that just aren’t available for open office suites.

The bottom line: open office is great for students who are using it to learn how to use a computer. For professional work, get a professional program.

2 davidp { 10.26.09 at 8:11 pm }

What Colin has noted is the biggest factor for me in not using Open Office for my daily writing and production tasks — unfortunately.

I’ve tried on a couple of occasions to use OO for productive work, but the formatting issue with documents was the real barrier to adoption. I cannot understand why something as important as the aesthetic of document presentation would be the Achilles Heal of this OSS tool. Getting that part right would be seem to be the basis for a real claim of interoperability. In my experience, this is where OO falls short.


3 Iris Chan { 10.27.09 at 5:11 am }

The aesthetic and formatting issue is one very important to writing in the current age. With so much emphasis on presentation, marketing, organization and visual representation, the time it takes to format a document is worth considering.

For both students and teachers, formatting needs to be user-friendly rather than being a barrier or an obstacle. When our group was working on ning, the way something was presented was a vital part of getting the content across. It was one of the reasons why some people had a strong disliking for ning. It affected how people would learn and comprehend. With so many options available for word processing, it isn’t hard to find an alternative.

4 Tony D { 10.27.09 at 8:15 pm }

Thanks for your comments everyone.
The fact that OO is not fully compatible with other formats is indeed a major problem in my eyes. I must have misundertood what I read as I thought it they claim their products is fully compatible with most others. I fully agree with your comment colin about it being useful for student learning and undertstand why there would be a need for PS at least at the professional level.
So given the issues you stated what did the Vancouver DSB decide to do after they realized OO was less than compatible? (I assume you work for them still?)

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