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Is OpenOffice a Suitable Alternative for Schools?

In the handy discussion forums at Open Source Schools (UK), a poster asks, “Is OpenOffice a suitable alternative to the use of Microsoft Office in schools?

Members of the site are a mix of open source community members, computer-savvy teachers, and people with both skillsets.

Respondents to the original inquiry wrote things like, “I had no trouble moving to as it has at least 90% of the functionality of MS Office (the instant PDF adds another 5% for me) so most people can just start using it,” and “I have installed it on all our school machines (saving an absolute fortune) and (sneakily) removed the various versions of Microsoft Office. For the children there is absolutely no problem at all.” My favorite, however, is this: “We have used OpenOffice at Brewers Hill Middle School for the past 3 months. Half the kids did not notice the difference.” Either these kids are really smart, or OpenOffice is really good, or perhaps both…

As might be expected, some people pointed out the social difficulty of convincing teachers to change to a new product they may not have used before. Social change, not technological capability is, indeed, the toughest part of any software migration. Anyone whose job involves making shifts like the migration from MSO to OOo should be sure to focus sufficient energy on this aspect of the project. But as more and more schools and offices begin to adopt OpenOffice, the task will get progressively easier for each group that subsequently migrates.

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