Free, not necessarily easy

I switched a business to the free Open Office recently and it taught me the four rules of a successful changeover – which seem obvious now.


Brendan Lewis

Normally when we go to the supermarket, my wife normally doesn’t like me unpacking the trolley at the register in case I put things in the wrong order for the checkout chick to pack them (who would have guessed that washing powder shouldn’t be in the same bag as red meat?).


So normally what I do is flick through the magazines: checking out whether Jennifer Hawkins and Megan Gale have secret angst, what the latest “must-cook” recipes are and the latest “must-have” free software.


Normally the list of “must-have” free software starts with: replace Microsoft Office with Open Office.


The list then normally goes on with a whole lot of other bits and pieces, normally cool but useless tools. Now given that Microsoft Office can cost about $850 for the full box and dice, a free alternative isn’t something to ignore.


I’ve had a go at replacing Microsoft Office with Open Office in one of my businesses (30 IT staff = close to $25,000 of software), and made some interesting discoveries that I thought I should pass on. Effectively, I discovered four rules for a successful changeover, all of which are kind of obvious in hindsight. These are, of course, on top of the standard change-management principles, such as getting buy-in from staff, plenty of discussion, etc, etc.


1. Make sure all your templates are created in Open Office. Sound obvious? You’d be surprised how many templates and base documents we forgot to change over. Any excuse to go back to the bad old ways and people will.


2. Audit people’s computers. When you have a company full of IT-literate people, you will be surprised how many will load unlicensed software on their computers if they think they can get away with it (the managing of licensing is a completely different discussion).


3. Make sure you have Microsoft Office on at least one computer. You may think you can go without it, but your business partners probably can’t. There will always be someone whom wants a presentation or spreadsheet in Microsoft Office format. Additionally, you will find that some documents just don’t cleanly transfer from one format to another. “Compatibility with all major software suites” doesn’t necessarily mean that your Open Office document will look identical if opened by Microsoft Word.


4. Only ever send out text documents on email as PDFs. Apart from this being good practice, from a layout point of view, it means that your customers won’t know/won’t care whether you are using Open Office.


Now I didn’t have the issue of having to retrain people on the new software (techos remember) but I did have a lot more trouble with staff thinking I was wrong and simply wanting to do their own thing. The biggest lesson was that you may not have to pay for free software, but that doesn’t mean there’s no cost.



To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.



Ken Wood from Universal Events writes: I quietly swapped our London office computers over from Microsoft Office to Open Office one evening a while back. It was more than a week before anyone noticed! OO is getting very close to being a drop-in replacement, at least for less sophisticated users.



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