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Does using OpenOffice lead to bad grades? A new Microsoft attack ad indicates this to be the case.   (Source: East Baton Rough Parish Library)

Apparently some educators refuse to install OpenOffice and will just hand bad grades to students who submit OO documents that poorly convert to Microsoft Office.  (Source: Microsoft)

Open code is bad, according to Microsoft's latest propoganda.
Microsoft attacks OpenOffice (and open-code in general) in a new testimonial-based ad

Microsoft's has unleashed a somewhat surprising attack ad (video) against the popular OpenOffice suite, a free, open-source product from Oracle Corp-subsidiary Sun Microsystems according to a report from Information Week.

The commercial begins with somewhat foreboding music and the text "Considering OpenOffice?  Consider this..."

The video then jumps to select industry sources complaining that OpenOffice increased their support costs and was unreliable, compared to Microsoft's Office suite.  It also complains that OpenOffice is slow, requires additional training, has poor support for macros in its Spreadsheet software, and features poor document conversions to-and-from word.

And the ad also targets a group that frequently makes use of OpenOffice due to budget reasons -- students.  Tisome Nugent, a public school teacher comments, "I've had students that have turned in files that they've converted from OpenOffice with formatting problems that affect their grade negatively."

One commenter even blasts "open-code" in general, while another recalls he and his co-workers breathing a "collective sigh of relief" when his workplace ditched OpenOffice.

The video is quite harsh, but its accuracy is open for debate.  While its true that Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) support, the cornerstone for macros, is currently a lesser experience in OpenOffice, it's not non-existent.  In fact macros have been implemented in limited form since OpenOffice 3.0, and there's an ongoing project to provide full VBA implementation on par with Microsoft Office's.

Compatibility remains a problem, but a relative one.  Microsoft released its OOXML (file  type .docx) specification in finalized form in December 2008, after nearly five years of development work.  By contrast, OpenOffice could only work with limited early specifications until last year.  And, of course, compatibility is only a problem if supervisors/co-workers/instructors/etc. (like Ms. Nugent) or their IT staff refuse to install OpenOffice -- which is of course free and will display the documents perfectly without mangling.

As to the additional training, employees incapable of basic self-learning would likely have equal problems switching from Office 2003 to Office 2007 to switching from an Office version to OpenOffice.  Thus, of all the criticisms, this one seems the least valid, even if you were taking Microsoft's side in this debate.

At the end of the day, Microsoft's insistence to compare Office to OpenOffice shows that if feels a bit threatened by the open-source project.  In reality the two products may offer some similar functionality, but they are very different from each other in that Microsoft Office is a commercial product, whereas OpenOffice is a free community based project.  Thus it's hard to judge both suites by the same standards, though that is certainly what Microsoft is trying to do.





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