Married to Microsoft?

When was the last time you merged data from Access or Excel into a Word document? Or the last time you created a "What If" scenario in Excel? If you can't remember, there's a good chance that you are typical user of basic office productivity tools. See if this describes you:

  • You primarily use Word to create letters, documents, reports. You mostly use text and, perhaps, you collaborate with others on the document - usually sending it to them for suggestions (as opposed to tracking changes of multiple users through commenting and reviewing).
  • You basically use Excel as a way to structure information, to do basic calculations such as summing and percentages or perhaps to make numbers look more attractive.
  • You think of Outlook as your email client. Maybe you use the task and calendaring options for yourself but rarely to collaborate with others.

  • If these statements seem like you then you are probably using roughly 10% of the functions of the Office suite of applications. Don't be embarrassed, you are like a lot of people. Everyone uses Office so you figure you should to.

    If you are a business person, you may feel that you have to use Office so you can send files to clients, customers, vendors and others you do business with.

    Although this was once true, it's not anymore. The past decade has seen a growing proliferation of office productivity tools - many free - with an increasingly impressive array of functions. And they integrate most functions with Office.

    Open Office 3 is a free productivity suite with a full-featured tool set. The software can open Office files and vice versa, although not all functionality is supported.

    Google Docs has gone into the cloud with its application suite. Not only is it free but you don't even have to worry about upkeep - the constant patches, fixes and updates - or about storing your files. Google docs does it all "in the cloud" - meaning online in a shared, collaborative workspace. You can have a personal account and share files with others, export files into Office or pdf formats and upload Office files you receive from others into your Google workspace.

    For a small business, you can use Google Apps which is a branded workspace for your company that includes domain-branded email, contacts, docs, calendars and tasks for all your users. If your data storage needs are smaller, you can go with a standard (meaning FREE) account; if you need more space, the cost per user per year is $50.

    So with all of these options - and there are others we haven't even talked about - one has to wonder why Microsoft's Office is still at a 94% market share.

    There is no doubt that Office has far more functionality than anything else. But when few people use those options or, for that matter, need those options, it seems silly to buy a Mercedes to drive 35 mph to church on Sunday.

    For small businesses, technology is a huge expense and there are many things you shouldn't be skimping on -- like security, data protection, customer contact and relationship tracking -- among a few. For some businesses, spending $500 per copy for Office is just a cost of doing business; for other's it may be an unnecessarily high technology expense. Find out where you fall and, if you decide Office has the features you need, invest in learning how to make the most of them.