Guest post by Virgil Huston from December 13, 2008.

I have always been fascinated and puzzled by the continuing debate over which is better to use, open source or proprietary software.

First, there is terrible and great software in both categories, so for this article I am discussing good software.

With that assumption in mind, I have long been amazed that any company would pay for something it can get free. Yet, in the United States, this is the norm. There is an impression that if it isn’t expensive, it isn’t any good. One would think that shareholders might object to billions of dollars being spent on software that could be obtained for free or at little cost. In Europe, this attitude is far different, where open source is much more readily accepted.

In the office productivity world, there is no better comparison than between Microsoft Office Suite and Open Office.org.

With the exception of an email client and perhaps a few other bells and whistles, Open Office offers all that MS Office does.

Open Office – free
Database, Spreadsheet, Drawing, Presentation, Word Processor, Math (create and edit scientific formulas and equations)

Microsoft’s closest competitor is:

Microsoft Office Pro – $499.95
Access 2007, Excel 2007, Outlook 2007, PowerPoint 2007, Publisher 2007, Word 2007

The main differences are that Open Office does not have a mail client or desktop publishing program. There are plenty of open source mail clients that are as good or better than Outlook. As for desktop publishing, MS Publisher is a very weak program in this category. Most people doing any kind of serious desktop publishing will be purchasing a more powerful program.

Both of these office suites work very well and get the job done. Open Office is just as good or better than MS Office So, why do companies spend billions on software they could get free? Is that “everyone uses MS Office” good enough? I remember when Word Perfect was the standard (still a great suite and a lot cheaper than MS Office). Before that, it was WordStar. Wouldn’t it be cool if the next big wave of change involved open source?

In the web/content management/shopping cart world that we at Acqal deal with, the situation is the same and we see it firsthand.

I would love to hear your comments on this phenomena. I have my own theories, where culture, as well as misunderstanding of open source, plays a role in developing perceptions. I’ll discuss that next time.

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