Microsoft running scared from OpenOffice.org

Open-source office suite OpenOffice.org is apparently getting under software giant Microsoft's skin - so much so, in fact, that it appears to be starting a propaganda campaign to protect its revenue stream.

Microsoft Office is one of the company's biggest selling products. It's near-ubiquitous in the world of business computing, to the point where its file formats have become the norm for sharing content - at the expense of locking out cross-platform, open standards.

Recently, however, Office has been under threat - and one of its biggest detractors is the open-source OpenOffice.org project, started by Sun Microsystems after its purchase of Star and currently owned by Oracle.

Unlike Microsoft Office, which can cost hundreds of pounds for even the basic release, OpenOffice.org is free - and while it might not be as polished as Microsoft's alternative, it's quick, reasonably lightweight, and costs nothing while offering good compatibility with Microsoft's own file formats.

That's a threat that Microsoft isn't willing to ignore - with the result that it is launching a marketing campaign designed to cast aspersions on OpenOffice.org's quality and suitability for use in business.

Published on YouTube under Microsoft's official 'officevideos' account, the rather pretty piece of propaganda seeks comment from IT managers and corporate types on their efforts to save a bit of money by using OpenOffice.org - and how it all went terribly wrong.

James Fleming, infrastructure and support manager for Speedy Hire, kicks things off with the claim that a decision to install Linux-based PCs running OpenOffice.org through the business to save money failed miserably, with the company finding that "the exorbitant cost and limited availability of support left us worse off" than if they'd gone with Microsoft's commercial offerings in the first place.

Fleming's comments are echoed throughout the piece, with each soundbite attempting to push the focus away from initial capital expenditure - where free, open-source packages such as Linux and OpenOffice.org will always have the upper hand - and into on-going support issues and running costs.

The sometimes flaky compatibility with files originally created in Microsoft Office is brought up later in the video, with one commenter bemoaning the fact that certain macros in Excel files fail to load properly in OpenOffice.org - ignoring the fact that the blame for that can equally lie at Microsoft's feet for failing to release enough information for proper compatibility to be included.

As the video rolls on, and the viewer is treated to more and more tales of woe from those who sought to buck the status quo and save a little money by supporting open source software, the general feeling is one of desperation - not from the poor users offering their soundbites up for the cause, but from Microsoft's clear panic over the rise of free alternatives to its lucrative Office suite.

With OpenOffice.org installed by default on many Linux distributions, and proving a 'good enough' solution for most home and small business users who don't feel the need to shell out hundreds of pounds on a licence for Microsoft Office, it's easy to see why - and it's a problem that is going to get worse for the software giant.

With each release, OpenOffice.org gets better - while many point the finger at recent Microsoft Office releases as failing to introduce new features, concentrating instead on a revamped UI that many find awkward and an increasing amount of 'bloat'.

While the team behind OpenOffice.org might be worried about the possibility of Oracle sabotaging the project, Microsoft appears more worried about the likelihood of Oracle properly supporting the open-source project - giving it the large-scale corporate backer that it needs to really make a mark in the business sector.

Microsoft's video is reproduced below, but viewer discretion is advised - and if you have an allergy to propaganda, consult your doctor before hitting the play button.