Considering all the garbage software that accompanies a new PC these days, Microsoft Office tops the list. Not because Office is a bad application suite; quite the contrary, as the latest iteration is a magnificent feat of software engineering. However, the version installed on new PCs is often trialware, doomed to expire in a mere 30 days. Long enough to give a taste of its greatness, yet not long enough to make any real progress in productivity.
To conquer the full appreciation of the Office Suite, say Office Professional 2007, the end user can typically expect to pay anywhere from about $150 to over $500 depending on the source and the needs of the consumer. And that's just for one license on one machine. If you're a good boy or girl, you'll listen to Bill Gates - sorry - Steve Ballmer and only install the suite on one machine. While the casual user doesn't have to worry about BSA (Business Software Alliance) inspections, businesses do. The Office licensing agreement often times compels business owners to purchase multiple copies to avoid trouble - and that price can add up real fast.
Under the new leadership of Steve Ballmer, Microsoft is teaming up with CircuitCity in a nonexclusive agreement where a new version of their productivity suite, Equipt
, will be sold. The new version of Office will also include antivirus/security software - a hot selling software item. For $69.99, the customer receives a lot of "bells and whistles" software (Live Mail, Messenger and PhotoGallery), the antivirus/security software, and the big ticket items: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. But that's not $69.99 and you're done. That's $69.99 a year. If you decide you just love Equipt, you'll have to pony up another $69.99 next year.
For $69.99 a year, there's the question of what possible benefit the subscription service may have. In 366 days, the customer would have paid $140.00 for a service that he or she could have bought outright on NewEgg.com. The only possible benefits, providing the end user is honest or otherwise compelled to be if they’re a business, is the licensing agreement that permits installation on 3 machines instead of 1. The antivirus software may also be an added incentive for consumers to purchase the subscription, rather than rely on older/pirated/friend's versions.
Seems like a lot of hassle, doesn’t it? Well it really doesn’t have to be. Although the Microsoft Office Suite is nothing less than extraordinary, competition is once again rearing its head. Not since the days of Word Perfect or Lotus 1,2,3 have viable alternatives challenged its domination. With the arrival of cheap computers comes cheap software. The Asus EEE PC, priced less than $400, and with some models running less than $300, has Open Office
preinstalled. Open Office doesn’t have nearly the same level of functionality and features as Office, however, it’s free and there are no licensing restrictions. Additionally, it has the three core productivity applications that any student, businessman or slacker needs: Write (similar to Word), Calc (similar to Excel) and Impress (similar to PowerPoint).
Google, Microsoft’s online nemesis, has upped the ante with its free web based office productivity software. Although a bit lacking and not quite as advanced as Open Office or MS Office, Google Documents is more than adequate for a majority of productivity needs. Like Open Office, Google Documents is compatible with most existing Microsoft generated work, except for files saved in the Office 2007 (*.docx) format. Google Documents supports three core applications – word processing (Word), spreadsheets (Excel), and presentations (PowerPoint).
Microsoft seems to realize that consumers need more choices than what’s currently provided by Office. The move isn’t a folly however - people gobble up antivirus subscriptions like hotcakes. And for $69.99 a year, the price isn’t outside the realm of reason for those already needing antivirus software and productivity software. While Microsoft is providing additional options, the best option for consumers may be to investigate alternatives.