If you think about productivity tools, Microsoft Office is the product it is all about. Even the term Office is used as a synonyme for productivity tools and competitive products use it in their name (LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Softmaker Office, etc…).
At least there are competitive products available, and there always were. Actually the grounds of productivity tools was once prepared by Lotus with its 1-2-3 spreadsheet calculation tool accompanied by AmiPro and Freelance to form the Lotus SmartSuite. But Microsoft soon took over this market with Word, Excel and Powerpoint and kept it tight since then. Allthough Microsoft Office is rich on functions, the alternative players can provide what 99% of users require, so
why is Microsoft Office still so predominant?
In the recent years I saw a number of projects with the goal to replace Microsoft Office. But none of them declared victory over Redmond’s cashcow. Here are some reasons why:
None of the competitive tools achieved a decent file format compatibility. Meaning, when exchanging documents with Microsoft Office users, the layout, tables, etc… often get misplaced making the document look differently then the original. Allthough import/export filters for the older binary based Microsoft formats (like .doc, .xls and .ppt) made progress over the years, the new XML based formats (.docx, .xlsx, .pptx) are again quite a hurdle.
I would see this as the main reason for failing user acceptance.
Don’t underestimate the number of application like Excel macros which are out in the world and sometimes vital to companies. I saw enterprises running critical reports based on Excel macros. Those macros can be complex, reading input data from various sources etc… To migrate them to another platform is a project of its own and even if possible ruins every serious cost case.
A lot of 3rd party tools provide connectors to Microsoft Office. This could be an Outlook plugin or the possibility to produce an Excel sheet as the result of a query, etc. For alternative office tools such integrations are often missing.
Finally, the employees are used to the Microsoft products from home / school / previous jobs -make them use an alternative usually costs high education and motivation efforts.
In my next blopost I will talk about strategies that could be considered when attempting to move away from Microsoft Office to an alternative product.