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But if I move to Linux, what happens to all my sermons in Word?

A chief concern about moving to Linux is interoperability with Microsoft Office applications. Several office suites are available for Linux systems, but there hasn’t been a systematic study of how well these suites interoperate with Microsoft Office. We decided to conduct a small pilot experiment to explore how interoperable current Linux office applications are with Microsoft Office. On January 11, 2003, we downloaded 150 files from the Internet: 50 Word (.doc) files, 50 Hal Varian, ACM Queue, July/August ’03

Let’s face it. One of the big reasons your church or charity hasn’t moved to a Linux platform is because you’ve got so much invested in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel. That’s no accident. Microsoft is merely following the “killer app. model” established some 22 years ago when Mitch Kapor’s Lotus 1-2-3 made the IBM PC a must-have business machine.

Put another way, many of us select hardware based upon the requirements of the operating system, which we select based upon the needs of the application software we intend to run. Oh sure, the process usually isn’t that linear, but explains why church administrators find themselves putting-out $300 a seat for Microsoft Office (and then live with the guilt of installing an unlicensed copy on their home PC.)

Why the blind faith MSFT? Well for one, all the pastor’s sermons are in Word, or in some cases, Word Perfect 5.n. The music minister has a library of praise songs saved in PowerPoint. Then there is the calendar for the sanctuary usage often saved in Outlook or even Excel. Then there is software to keep the books. To track visitors. To produce and distribute the bi-weekly newsletter. All on a Windows platform. So why move to Linux?

I mean even with an application as solid and flexible as InfoCentral, there is no popping a disk into the computer and mindlessly “NEXT >>” buttons … nor does the average church administrator feel comfortable with keeping such information online even if it is hosted on a well-armored intranet … provided you even have an intranet. Similarly, heaven help you with installing something as codependent GNUCash or as security conscious as eGroupware without someone in your parish who can speak pure geek (and is willing to read 27 pages of documentation).

On the other hand, most small to mid-sized churches and charities I know have one machine dedicated to accounting (hopefully) behind a locked door – with membership info ported via sneakr-net in the form of delimited ASCII or DBF files. The rest of the computing activity is limited to sermons, letters, newsletters, fliers, slide-shows and some simple list management and/or cost analysis by varying members of the ministerial and administrative staff. For those situations, I would suggesting taking you take a good long look at using OpenOffice, even if for now, it is on a Windows Platform.

Last month, Hal Varian at U.C. Berkeley, along with his son Christopher, published an article in the ACM Queue entitled MOXIE: Microsoft Office-Linux Interoperability Experiment. Now for those of you who aren’t nerds, the ACM is a rather prestigious and well respected educational and scientific society. Moreover, being a professional association, the ACM isn’t prone to some of the marketing and advertising forces that pull many technical magazine in one direction or another. So when I see an article that essentially says OpenOffice, and it’s kissing cousin StarOffice can import 97% of existing Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents, I pay attention.

I would also burninate two CDs and give one to my church administrator and my youth minister the next time I see him and with absolutely no technical verbiage, explain to him that “the software on this CD can save you $300 per software seat, and is compatible with just about every document you have.” If I see they’re interested, I might also add “it also lets you export your ‘Write’documents to Adobe Postscript and HTML format … and your ‘Draw’ and ‘Impress’ documents to Flash with a couple clicks of a button” … which is another coupla hundred of dollars saved.

What about the 3% of unreadable documents? Well, after reading the article along with some input from over at SlashDot, I doubt that too many music ministers are using the math or macro features in Word to compose this week’s hymn. Moreover, it seems that Microsoft Office has about the same failure ratio in reading it’s own documents.

Why the evangelism? It’s about talents. When people give your charity money, they’re hoping that more goes to those in need, than to the needs of the back-end operation. It’s also about accountability and integrity. Even if you continue to use legally licensed copies of MS Word at your office, giving them a compatible office suite on their HOME pc may help your minister stay out of software hell. Deploying OpenOffice, even if it is on existing Windows platform that is currently equipped with an (aging) copy of MS Office, is practical and realistic step in that direction.

… From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Luke 12:48b


  1. I have been experimenting with OpenOffice for use at my church, a non-profit youth center, and for a ministry that gets computers into the hands of people that otherwise would not be able to afford them.

    There are several challenges. OpenOffice seems to take a very large ammount of resources (I’ve only tried it in Win9x). Unless the computer has over 128 MB of RAM, OpenOffice is almost to slow to be useful (maybe I need more patience).

    For word processing, I’ve found AbiWord (www.abiword.org) to be very useful. It’s compatible with most file formats, works very quickly on older machines, and its install file is only a 5 MB download instead of the 64 MB monster for OpenOffice.

    I haven’t done extensive testing, but so far I’m much more impressed with AbiWord than OpenOffice for word processing (which is what people and organiations need most).

  2. i do network admin for around 50 networked computers in a non profit, i have been using openoffice for around a year, pre 1.0? i run it on AMD 1000, 256, win2000. it is now my main workhourse. i am the only one that is currentily using it. but no one knows that i am. i can save to word doc’s or excel and no one knows. i am looking at poss replacing our office installs with this. i currentily dual boot my pc from win to linux. my goal is to be running linux as my desktop. i am also looking at replacing my exchange 5.5 server with somthing, but am not sure what. am looking at web based, php type groupware. from what i have read 60% of exchange 5.5 shops have not moved to exchange 2000 or exchange 2003. thay don’t want to do active directory. thats why i have’t moved. much of my backed server stuff will be moving it’s just a matter of time.

  3. I love open office, if it wasn’t for the fact my pc came pre-installed with office xp, I’d happily use it all the time. As it is, I love outlook too much to uninstall it all, and it seems silly to have both ms office and open office installed.

  4. “…church administrators find themselves putting-out $300 a seat for Microsoft Office (and then live with the guilt of installing an unlicensed copy on their home PC.)”

    Guilt? I have yet to observe a smidgen of guilt in that regard from any “church administrator.”

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  6. Open Office can do virtualy all ms can do for a normal,organization. Not being a power user I have been told that OO has capabilities ms does not have.
    Personaly I tend to use Abi word which I started using on ms. We are saving license fees and no illeagal copies.