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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A tale of two word processors

I'm writing a pretty large spec document at work (relatively speaking) and MS Office Word 2003 has been struggling with it at times, slowing way down when working with certain portions of the document. It's not complex, just a lot of content, including a couple tables with over 100 rows on them. The file is around 697 KB right now. Pretty large for a Word document.

Then I remembered that our consultant uses OpenOffice.org, and when he sends me updates to documents we're working on together, his version is always about half the size of what I sent to him. Very interesting indeed - he's saving as Word, but cutting the file in half.

So, I downloaded and installed OO.o for comparison purposes, both performance while dealing with a large document and file size. My first surprise was in performance. OO.o handled this large document much better than Word 2003 had. However, all the custom styles I'd set up in Word disappeared; I think they're in the Word template, not in the document itself. Dang.

Then things got real interesting. After making no changes, I saved the file from OO.o in Word format. The file was only 347 KB, with the identical content! Only 50% of the original size. Amazing. Then I saved in OO.o native format. Only 54KB That's 92% smaller. This improvement is in large part thanks to the fact that the OO.o "document" is really a zipfile containing the elements that make up the document - style information, images, and the content itself. Non-binary data is stored as XML, which is plain text and massively compressible.

So I got to thinking that OO.o, in addition to being a lot less expensive than MS Office (it's free), has a lot of other hidden TCO advantages. How many gigabytes of documents does your organization have? What if you could reduce that storage (and backup, and data-management) requirement by 50% or more just because you're using a different office suite? Think of the bandwidth savings, reduced network congestion, less load on your email system. Carry all the documents for one project on a USB thumbdrive, instead of having to waste time and materials burning DVDs to move them around.

Now, OO.o isn't a "perfect" replacement for MS Office, as there are still some compatibility issues (especially with macros), but if you were just starting up an office, OO.o would be a great place to start for your employees. Maybe keep one or two MS Office licenses around to handle any really tricky documents sent from the outside, but beyond that, why not take the opportunity to enjoy the savings?

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