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Life without Quintessential Microsoft Office

Microsoft Office crabby ladyTo evaluate the threat of Web-based software and services to Microsoft Office, an MSNBC reporter tries to do without Microsoft Office for a week relying on free software and services - available via the Internet - for everyday business tasks. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

After spending a weeking without clicking any of the Microsoft Office Icons, the writer concludes
it came down to the familiar question of what was worth more, my time or my money. While it was technically possible to perform most of my daily work without using Microsoft Office - or my credit card - it took considerably more time. Setting up the new systems was time-consuming, as I had expected.
Here are some of the alternatives to MIcrosoft Office Program which he used in his research:

Alternative to Microsoft Word
..And once I had OpenOffice's "Writer" on my machine, I found I didn't miss Microsoft Word at all. Many of the commands were the same, and I was able to easily open Word documents using Writer. The program also makes it extremely easy to save documents in the PDF format, something Microsoft only plans to offer with the forthcoming version of Office, due out in 2006.

On Web-based word processing
It was a breeze with Writely to import Word documents already on my hard drive, and relatively simple to save Writely documents in either the Word or OpenOffice format. gOffice offered more sophisticated formatting options, and it was easy to print documents as PDFs.

Database Application
OpenOffice's database program, Base, was able to import my contact list from Microsoft Outlook quickly and elegantly but did not give me the option of saving the data into the file format needed to transfer it to most other applications. Another OpenOffice program, Calc, let me to save the data in the right format but took more time to tweak the data so it would import correctly. Overall, I found it easier to use Microsoft Excel.

Web Based Calendars
My overall favorite turned out to be CalendarHub, which easily imported four years worth of calendar data into a pleasing interface and offered handy e-mail reminders of upcoming events. CalendarHub also offers a desktop program that will list upcoming meetings, but I had trouble getting it to work. When contacted, the company quickly fixed the bug.

E-Mail Client
Although my company's server software settings made it difficult to use other e-mail clients, I did work some with Mozilla's Thunderbird and found it to be a functional alternative to Outlook. The interface was familiar, and it was easy to set up and to import old e-mails. I also used several free, Web-based e-mail accounts for some business communication. Gmail was my favorite for organizing data based on "conversations."

Privacy Concerns
Also, although it is nice in theory to be able to access data online, in practice it often took longer to log on to different applications every time I needed something, rather than just opening a file on my desktop. Perhaps my biggest concern was about my privacy, once I began entrusting my calendar, contacts and other information to Web-based systems instead of my own hard drive and my company's secure network. And I wondered if I should really be storing such valuable work data on systems that could crash or go out of business at any time. I found some benefits to having my work available on Web-based systems, and there are some I will probably use again. But, for now at least, Microsoft is right these challengers will complement, not replace, my Microsoft Office software.

For now at least, Microsoft says it doesn't see these alternatives as a major threat, regarding them mainly as complementary to Office. And yet, Microsoft recently launched its own companywide push towards offering more Web-based software and services.

Read full story: Surviving on free Web-based services alone