Everyone needs to create documents, pitch ideas with slides and make calculations with spreadsheets. Organizations have several options when it comes to office productivity suites. Microsoft Office 2013 might be among the best known, but other offerings include Microsoft Office 365 and the free LibreOffice.
These three represent the state-of-the-art in office productivity software, and each one has a variety of options and features. Each also has its strengths and weaknesses. Let's start with a Microsoft Office 2013 comparison with its cloud-based sibling and see how both match up with your own application requirements.
The enterprise mainstay: Microsoft Office 2013
Microsoft Office is the granddaddy of office suites. It has been around practically since the dawn of the PC age and has been Microsoft's flagship product, along with the Windows operating system. Office has been through numerous iterations and is considered highly stable and reliable.
It is also proprietary software, so you'll have to buy a license package to use Office 2013. You also won't be able to change or modify it to fit your own needs. And, even if you have the technical expertise, there's no way to fix bugs that might show up, other than to keep up with patching.
Updating Office 2013 is basically carried out manually. You purchase a new or extended license and run the update. Businesses and enterprises, of course, image their machines on a large scale and have well-defined processes to keep the software up to date. The burden of updating and upgrading falls on the customer.
The newest version of Office 2013 is compatible only with Windows 7 and up. It doesn't work with Windows XP or Vista.
Office 2013 is a standalone application, and files are managed locally on either your desktop or an attached server. There is strong integration among Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as Microsoft's email client, Outlook, making it easy to coordinate document distribution and manage projects.
While it's easy to create a document in Word and ship it to a colleague using Outlook, the basic Office suite isn't geared toward wide-scale collaboration. Changes are noted (and perhaps highlighted) between revisions in the documents.
Coordinating input from multiple sources takes a bit of work to keep it all straight. The model isn't particularly suited to widely distributed projects, in which large numbers of people collaborate.
Microsoft Office does a great job if you are looking to run on the Windows or Mac operating systems.
Working in the cloud with Office 365
Office 365 is a slightly different beast. Also a Microsoft product, Office 365 operates much like the standalone desktop version of Office, except that it all runs in the cloud. You need a Web browser and Internet connection to make it work.
That might not be such a bad thing because you'll always be running on the very latest version of the software. In addition, Office 365 files are stored in the cloud, and there's built-in encryption to keep your work secure. With everything running in the cloud, you can access your documents anywhere using a notebook, a tablet or even a Mac.
The Office suite is licensed and proprietary, so there's a subscription fee, starting at around $5 per month, per user. You can choose from a variety of subscription plans based on the size of your user base and organizational needs.
Office 365's trademark feature is collaboration. Since everything is up in the cloud, you can always reach a document, no matter which platform you use, and other people can edit the documents at the same time.
Of course, cloud-based operations do have a downside. If you have no connectivity, you also have no collaboration. The package will work for about half an hour, after which you'll need to attach to a network to ping the subscription system.
Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G have certainly come a long way, although not being able to edit documents if you don't have connectivity might be a showstopper for more than a few folks. Some organizations may still have security or compliance concerns about sharing data in the cloud.
Lastly, you'll need a fairly recent machine to run Office 365 effectively. Apps will be very slow if you have budget restraints and use older equipment.
Business users are most familiar with Office 2013 features, and Office 365 offers cloud-based collaboration, but they're not necessarily the last word in productivity suites. In my next article, we'll complete our Microsoft Office 2013 comparison by looking at LibreOffice to see if you get what you pay for with free software.
About the author:
Rob Reilly is an independent consultant, writer and speaker serving clients in the private sector, small business and tech media. His analytical and "how-to" articles cover Linux and open source, the Internet of Things, DIY and the Maker Movement, and technology career development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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