Forum Friday – Does a desktop Office Suite make sense anymore?

Every Friday I like to pull an interesting resource or a discussion-worthy topic from the forum to share with a wider audience. This week, as I reflect upon a session at the Connecting & Collaborating Conference in Holland, MI, I wonder how important, necessary, or imperative that students are taught using a specific set of productivity programs (Word, Excel, OpenOffice, NeoOffice, etc.). There was a time when every student HAD to know how to type, and that has since transformed into every student HAS to know how to use a word processor (typically MS Word), but what I see from Kevin Clark’s presentation about Web 2.0 Tools is that very soon it may be students WILL HAVE to know which online word processor will be the best for their particular project.

How does this connect to an idea previously mentioned in the Tech Savvy Ed forum? Several posts have been made over the past year on the same exact subject of the efficacy of one particular Office Suite over another. After all, just because MS Office may come pre-installed on your computer, doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job.

Carags started with reasons why OpenOffice might have some shortcomings when compared to MS Office:

1st: We already have MS Office preloaded on our computers (with purchase)..
2nd… that’s what the students will likely be using in other environments after they graduate. so training should be in that.
3rd:.. I definitely would like to install on a few in the lab..
but since that’s controlled by the District IT… it won’t stay.

To which Nicole replied:

You could argue that not all businesses use MS products. Apple has a wonderful package called Appleworks that is a bit different, but similar. I had students using the Paint program recently, and they were a bit thrown off by the differences. You could argue that students should learn to be diverse and by learning a variety of office products, they are learning how to adapt to different computer programs.

Many businesses will not hold extensive training sessions in all of their programs. Employers will need to learn how to become proficient in those programs on their own time. You would be teaching your students that there are a variety of ways to accomplish the same thing.

Rick then chimed in with his thoughts about helping an elementary school standardize the software on their computer:

If I suggested Open Office so they could standardize software without any expense would the likely hood be that it would work well in an elementary environment. The young folks don’t need a lot of what these suites have to offer.

Which got me thinking about trying to accomplish publishing a presentation to the Internet, which up until now has been a very clunky process using Powerpoint. But now with online tools like SPresent, Zoho Office Suite, doesn’t it make sense to just create your presentation on the web in the first place? It completely eliminates the needs to create, save for the web, find a place to upload, upload, then send out links to the presentation. Instead, you can simply create, save to the web, and e-mails can be automatically sent out with links to the presentation. Better yet, you can even invite others to edit your work, and enhance it, something not possible with the current paradigm of Office Suites.

So what do you think, world? Is MS Office the end-all, be-all of Office tools, or are we in the midst of a revolution in which office software will become obsolete in favor of online word processors, presentation software, and spreadsheets? And if so, what tools online do you see as rising above the rest?


  1. I believe that it is about the skills, not the tools. As you noted, the availability of open office, google docs, and other tools empowers students to “think outside the box.” My students only use online resources, there always seems to be a problem with our server, so saving their work in google docs has been a godsend. Many kids love the ability to complete homework in an asynchronous application, where “turning in the homework” fits their schedule.
    Isn’t it David Warlick that says, “It’s about the information”?

  2. It’s completely about the skills, and the on-line tools provide exactly what the students need in terms of function and features. I’d be willing to bet that 90% of the features found in MS-Word are irrelevant to most users.

    The on-line tools offer amazing opportunities for collaboration with multiple users in multiple locations working on a single piece, and in many casses are free.

  3. Well,
    On line tools are great, really. But…. I am a bit old fashioned and we also have to deal with Internet phobias, some justified, some not. There are privacy concerns. Maybe I don’t have to concern the students at this level (elementary) but, you know, even if they don’t listen, someone should be trying to instill good old constitutional rights in the minds of our children at some point in their lives.
    Look at the law suit against Yahoo that broke in the news today.

    When you put something up via one of these mega providers, like Google, guess what, at some point the Feds will show up at your door if what you said was even remotely considered subversive. Quite honestly, the more we put up, the more likely Homeland Security will show up at the door of some unsuspecting child because they just happened to say the wrong thing at the right time.
    I am not paranoid, just old. Under today’s scenario if it happens in China, it can happen here too. I think it is time for people to honestly weigh what they are losing against what they are gaining and will resist going to a great deal of on line software usage for that reason. Besides, neither of the two responces dealt with schools who do not have a connection that will allow them to use on line office suites. That was my original post in the forum. A poor school with a 56K connection (for the entire school) with Win 98 computers. What do you do to help?

  4. It seems to me that there is a two-fold goal here. First, it is important that students become proficient in a specific suite of products to be functional. Secondly, it seems imperative that they develop a basic understanding of the underlying principles of the product(s) (e.g., MS Word, AW, etc.) so they can easily transfer their skills to another product in the future. Their skills need to be easily transferrable as they will certainly encounter different products as the individual products improve, their employer changes products, or they change employers.

  5. Rick – I think that if I were at a school with Win98 machines and a 56K connection, I’d strongly consider installing Linux Terminal Server and running all of those old boxes as terminals. That would only require a single “decent” (i.e., new and reasonably good memory) machine to act as their server. Then I’d be running Open Office for the word processing; I wouldn’t be able to afford MS Office anyway, I assume.

    If I had old Win98 machines and a GOOD (i.e., high speed) Internet connection, I’d still run Linux Terminal Server, still network those boxes all together as dumb terminals, and then I’d consider using Google’s documents AND Open Office for my word processing. I like exposing the students to a variety of different options.

    To me, the whole paradigm of word processing is more important to understand than any specific office suite. Many, if not most of us reading this blog, used something prior to the advent of MS Office (I bet many of you can remember using Word Perfect, with that little cardboard strip that you stuck up on the top of your keyboard above the function keys?). I recall using Wordstar back in the early 80’s, when WYSIWYG wasn’t heard of and you could only tell if something was italic by the color of the text. And I’ve only barely touched Office 2007, which seems to be quite a departure from Office 97 – Office 2003, so the “look and feel” of even the same branded product is substantially different.

    The skills and understanding are indeed important, not just knowing which button to click to make my text bold.

    Don’t even get me started on missing the old days of always hitting the front slash key before every function in Lotus 123!

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