In the first of our two-part series, Open Source Alternatives for the Office, we examined open source applications that can be used to replace some of the most popular Office 2007 products. In this article, we'll take a look at open source alternatives to additional Microsoft products commonly used in the office—Publisher, Groove, Visio, and Project. The factors we'll consider for each Microsoft product and its alternative(s) include cost, localization, supported platforms, documentation, extensions, and support.
We'll start by examining Microsoft Publisher 2007 and Groove 2007, each of which can be replaced by open source equivalents that match or surpass their features and capabilities. For the final two products we'll examine, Visio 2007 and Project 2007, the open source competitors are not as robust and don't offer clear enterprise-grade equivalents.
Microsoft Publisher 2007 is designed for the casual user to create custom publications and marketing materials either from scratch or from one of the hundreds of built-in design templates. A single version license ranges from from $99.95 USD for an upgrade to $169.95 for the full version. It is also included as part of Office Small Business, Office Professional, and Office Ultimate, which range in price from $279.95 to $679.95. Publisher is only available for the Windows platform, and some features do not work on 64-bit systems.
Scribus is an open source DTP (desktop publishing) application designed for casual to professional users. It provides cross-platform support for users running Microsoft, Mac OSX, OS/2, Linux, and BSD operating systems. Support is available through the Scribus community, and the product is mature and very well documented in six languages. While no official import plugin is available, it is possible to import Publisher files into Scribus.Both Publisher and Scribus can create PDFs, but Publisher first requires the installation of an add-in. The Scribus PDF generator is more flexible, allowing you to customize fonts, presentation effects, output optimization, security, and how the document is viewed. Scribus also allows for the creation of writable PDF email forms.Publisher integrates tightly into the Microsoft Office Suite. It includes an E-mail Merge task pane, which walks you through a customized mail merge for Outlook 2007. While more complex to setup, it is also possible to create a catalog merge to Access or Excel in order to save graphics and other data sources for reuse. It is also easy to scale and resize graphics in Publisher. Scribus does not provide the ability to scale images, which requires the use of a third party program. The open source Gimp application, which is available for Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and BSD, is well-suited for this purpose.The biggest difference for users switching from Publisher to Scribus will be learning how to use the increased functionality, as Scribus delivers the layout and features of a professional-quality DTP application. Anyone expecting a simple office editor—or lacking previous experience with DTP applications—will immediately discover that applications like Scribus are different. These users should read the short and informative Scribus Basics and will also benefit from the other documentation links on the Scribus Basics page. In addition, Publisher users will be surprised at the lack of built-in templates, although additional Scribus templates are available from the project website.[caption id="attachment_2474" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Scribus Document Setup Screen"][/caption]
Microsoft Groove 2007 is a collaboration platform that uses workspaces to provide file-sharing, discussions, meetings, and business forms with automatic synchronization. A single version license is $229 USD. Groove is also bundled with Office Ultimate, which costs $539.95 for the upgrade and $679.95 for the full version. Some Groove features require a Sharepoint server, which is only available through volume licensing, and other features require Infopath, which is bundled with Office Ultimate or available for $199 as a standalone product. Instant messaging requires Microsoft Messenger or Communicator. Groove is only available for the Windows platform, and some features are not available on 64-bit systems.
O3Spaces is a cross-platform collaboration tool for Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, and StarOffice. It supports OpenLDAP, Active Directory, Sun Directory Server, and Novell Directory Server groupware solutions. O3Spaces is available for Linux, Solaris, Windows, and Mac operating systems, and the community version is freely available for teams of up to 10 users. Professional, Enterprise, and On Demand editions are available by support subscription and are intended for production use. Subscription pricing starts at 49 Euro per person per year.Groove and O3Spaces both provide the ability to work offline and offer real-time alerts on all relevant changes in your workspaces. Both products provide collaboration tools within the workspace, such as discussion forums and calendars to help keep tabs on team schedules. Groove also allows you to make phone calls or use instant messaging directly from a workspace. Through the purchase of individual language packs at $24.95 USD each, Groove provides localization for 28 languages. O3Spaces currently has built-in support for 9 languages. However, the localization API isn't currently public, and new localizations require direct interaction with the O3Spaces developers.O3Spaces provides some interesting features, which make it a useful product even for individual, non-collaborative use. For each of the supported office suites it adds plugins to provide automated document versioning, a secure document repository, and full text search of ODF, PDF and Microsoft Office documents. An assistant automates all necessary document retention and versioning activities, and an application embedder enables the integration of external web applications, such as wikis and websites, into the workplace environment. You can also store emails as related documents in the same workspace. Perhaps the most useful workspace features are the ability to drag-and-drop spacelets in order to reduce clutter and the ability to create multiple tabs within a workspace.[caption id="attachment_2474" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="O3Spaces Workspace through Firefox"][/caption]
Microsoft Visio 2007 is a diagram creation tool that provides a wide range of templates for flowcharts, network diagrams, workflow diagrams, database models, and software diagrams. Pricing for the standalone product varies from $129.95 USD to $559.95. SharePoint Services is required for certain advanced collaboration functionality. Visual Reports requires the more expensive Visio Professional version as well as Microsoft Project, Excel, or SharePoint Services.
The 2007 version of Visio provides several new features, including auto-connect and auto-align, auto-refresh with resolve conflict capabilities, PivotDiagrams, and themes. It provides the ability to export to PowerPoint format and, with the PDF add-in installed, to convert to PDF format. Visio Viewer, a free download, is required to view Visio documents in a browser, but only Internet Explorer is supported.Dia is often touted as the open source Visio equivalent, but it is targeted towards the casual, non-enterprise user. Dia is available for Linux, Irix, BSD, and Windows platforms. It provides the most built-in drawing objects of any open source Visio wannabes, and the Dia Manual is an excellent resource. However, Dia cannot import or open Visio files, and experienced Visio users will miss Visio's slick auto features and built-in templates. Support is limited to the Dia community.[caption id="attachment_2475" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Dia Object Selection"][/caption]KDE users may be interested in seeing if Kivio meets their needs, as it is bundled with the KOffice suite. Kivio comes with a good-sized collection of objects, which it refers to as stencils, including DIA objects. It also provides an "Install Stencil Set" option so you can install your own objects. KOffice is stable for Linux and BSD and is available for Mac OSX, and a Windows version is under development. The Kivio Handbook describes its features and explains how to use them.[caption id="attachment_2525" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Add Stencil Set in Kivio"][/caption]OpenOffice users may want to try using Draw. Draw provides glue for "smart connecting" objects, but you'll have to scour the Internet for objects because very few are built-in. For example, you can download a zip file of Cisco’s network icons, unzip them to a directory, and insert each object as a file as needed. Once you have created your own library of icons, it's fairly simple to create diagrams within the familiar editor interface. However, the lack of templates and objects, as well as the documentation on how to obtain them, can be frustrating.[caption id="attachment_2522" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Draw Toolbars and Shapes"][/caption]
Microsoft Project 2007 is used to track the timelines, costs, and assignments associated with a project. It's available as a standalone product priced between $349.95 USD and $999.95. The more expensive Professional version and Project Server 2007 are required for enterprise project and resource management capabilities, publishing projects, using Windows Workflow Foundation, and for the Project Tasks List. In turn, Project Server requires Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000. Project is only available for the Windows platform, and some features are not available on 64-bit systems.
New features in the latest version of Project include automatic highlights of all items that shift as a result of the most recent change, and undo and redo functions that allow you to visualize what-if scenarios.OpenProj is a cross-platform project management solution for Linux, Unix, BSD, Mac, and Windows. It can import from and export to Microsoft Project files. Support is available from OpenLogic and Serena Software, which also provides the Project-ON-Demand hosted SaaS solution as a monthly subscription. However, there is very little documentation for the open source edition. Eleven localizations are currently available, but further documentation and translation efforts require direct communication with Serena Software.[caption id="attachment_2521" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="OpenProj Gantt Chart"][/caption]Feature-wise, both Project and OpenProj support Gantt charts, PERT charts, WBS and RBS charts, and earned value costing. However, OpenProj does have some limitations. The ability to create PDFs is only available with the subscription version, and there's no wizard for creating a project. The tools are all there, but you have to know ahead of time what and how you want to create the project. Projects can only be saved as XML or the proprietary Serena pod format.Another open source alternative to Project is GanttProject, for which commercial support is not available but access to the associated open source community is easier. GanttProject offers some extensions as well as an introduction for developers, and the manual provided in the Help menu of the application is usable but far from complete. Feature-wise, GanttProject does offer some wizard-like functionality by asking a few questions when you create a new project, and it supports over 30 localizations. In addition, it can export to raster image, CSV file, HTML, PDF, or Microsoft Project. GanttProject is available for Linux, BSD, Mac OSX, and Windows.[caption id="attachment_2476" align="alignnone" width="430" caption="GanttProject Create New Project Wizard"][/caption]
Due to its cross-platform support, cost, and advanced feature-set, Scribus makes an excellent open source replacement for Microsoft Publisher 2007. Users will have to spend some time learning its capabilities and creating their own customized templates, but that time will be well-spent and result in greater flexibility for document creation later on.
With its commercial support, cross-platform capabilities, and advanced feature-set, O3Spaces is a superior product to Microsoft Groove 2007. Both enterprise and casual users can benefit from the features it adds to the default Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, and StarOffice suites.Enterprise users who need the ability to easily create complex diagrams should probably stick with Microsoft Visio 2007. Casual users who need only the occasional diagram or have time to search for diagram objects can save the price of a Visio license by trying one of the open source alternatives.Enterprise users should do their own research into OpenProj and GanttProject to see if either provides all of the project management features they require. If features are missing, users should consider the long term costs of getting those features implemented into the open source version versus the cost of Microsoft Project 2007 licensing. Users should also be aware of the fine print regarding which Microsoft products are required to get all of the needed Microsoft Project features.
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