Sunday, 29 June 2014

Thinking the unthinkable – alternatives to Microsoft

Office 365 with its cloud-based solution to all your office needs seems like a mature and all-encompassing way of moving IT forward at many organizations. But what if your organization isn’t big enough to justify the price tag of the Enterprise version of Office 365, what if you’re a school, for example, what other choices do you have? Well, let’ take a look at some Open Source alternatives.

The obvious first place to look is Google Apps for Business. It’s not free, it costs $5 per user per month, or $50 per user per year. Google’s definition of a user is a distinct Gmail inbox. Everyone gets 30GB of Drive space, as well as Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Documents created in Drive can be shared both individually or by organization. Google Sites lets you create Web sites. Google Apps Vault is used to keep track of information created, stored, sent, and received through an organization’s Google Apps programs. You can access Apps for Business from mobile devices using Google’s mobile apps. One of the best apps for this is arguably the QuickOffice app for Android and iOS, which allows users. QuickOffice can edit Microsoft Office files stored in Drive. If you are a school, Google Apps for Education is completely free and has the new ‘Classroom’ product coming soon.

There’s also Zoho, which provides the standard office tools as well as a Campaigns tool, which lets you create e-mail and social campaigns for forthcoming events. Then there’s Free Office, which needs Java. And there’s OX, which offers files, e-mail, address book, calendar, tasks, plus a social media portal.

If you’re looking for an alternative to Outlook, there’s obviously Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook (Hotmail). For Open Source alternatives, there’s Thunderbird, which comes with the numerous Add-ons, eg Lightening, its calendar software. There’s also Zimbra Desktop. It can access e-mail and data from VMware Zimbra, cloud e-mail like Gmail, and social networks like Facebook. And there’s Incredimail, but it doesn’t have a calendar. And finally there’s the Opera Email Client.

If you want an alternative to SharePoint then, probably, your first choice is Google Cloud Connect. This simple plug-in connects you to Google Docs and let you collaborate with other people. Edited documents are automatically sync’ed and sent to other team members. Or you might look at Alfresco. This free platform allows users to collaborate on documents and interact with others. There’s also Samepage, which comes with a paid for option. Or you could try Liferay Social Office Community Edition (CE). This is a downloadable desktop application. And there’s Nuxeo Open-Source CMS.

If you’re looking for an intranet, then there’s Mindtouch core, which seems to get good reviews. Alternatives include PBWiki, which includes a wiki, and is hosted by them and isn’t free for businesses. There’s GlassCubes, an online collaborative workspace, which, again has a cost implication. There’s Plone, a content management system built on Zope. There’s also Brushtail, HyperGate, Open Atrium, and Twiki.

The bottom line is that if you have power users, who are using lots of the features of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, then you need those products. If your users are only scratching the surface of what you can do with Microsoft’s Office suite, then it makes sense to choose a much cheaper alternative. If you can use alternatives to Office, then you can probably start to think about using alternatives to other Microsoft products. Perhaps you can live without Outlook for e-mail and calendar. Maybe you’ve never really made the most of SharePoint and you could use an Open Source alternative for file sharing and running your intranet.

The issue is this: you can save huge amounts of money by using Open Source products rather than Office 365, but you will need to spend time learning how to use each ‘best of breed’ alternative and how to integrate it with the other products. That will take up someone’s time. Once you’ve weighed up the pros and cons, you can make a decision about whether to keep the faith and stay with Microsoft and have a great CV for another job using Microsoft products, or whether to save money and spend lots of time as you take your first steps into the wilderness. But what you’ll find is that wilderness is quite full of people who’ve also stepped away from the easy choice.

What will you do?

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