Office Automation - the Basics

Today, office automation almost always means a suite of applications from a single vendor. Select with care.

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An Office Automation suite generally consists of a Word Processor, a Financial Spreadsheet, a Database and some Presentation software. Email is either included in the package or added separately

Years ago we used to pick "best of breed" applications for each of these functions, but since then Microsoft popularized the concept that they should all be in one package and tightly integrated with each other. Today, office automation almost always means a suite of applications from the same vendor.

The big question is: "Will I use Microsoft Office, or not?" Either answer has some serious consequences.

If, for reasons of compatibility with vendors, clients or government agencies, by personal preference, or by available staff skills, because it came with your computer, or just because "it's from Microsoft", you chose to use Microsoft Office, you will be doing "what everyone is doing" (Microsoft has a better than 80% monopoly in office suites). There is a downside.

You will quickly find the "All Microsoft" route the only practical course, because other company's products will start crashing and are not fully integrated with the Office products. You will have to run on very new computers, under the latest version of Windows, and will have to update all your computers and Office every two to three years. This is necessary to maintain compatibility, both internally and externally, because the file formats change every couple of years.

You will find that running the same copy of Office at home is a violation of the license agreement, even though it won't be in use at the office at the same time. This license condition is widely violated, so Microsoft has started incorporating the means to enforce it.

You will find you have some very serious security and virus problems. Companies have even had their position in negotiations destroyed by exchanging Office documents with the other side. Read our document on Office security. It has a links to the documents on virus and invasion risks. Read them and shudder.

Other major office automation suites you could choose are IBM/Lotus Smart Suite (OS/2, Windows), Star Office (OS/2, Linux, Unix, Windows), ApplixWare (Linux, Unix), and Corel WordPerfect Office (Windows, Unix (partial), Linux (partial, full very soon)). All are less expensive than MS Office, and have more liberal license terms. Star Office can be downloaded free from Sun Microsystems.

If you chose a non-Microsoft suite running under Windows, you will not have some of the integration features Office has, but most of the risks will be gone as well. If you exchange a lot of documents with others, you may find a few Office documents that don't format correctly in your applications, or won't load at all. Not common, but it happens (documents exported in Word or RTF format will almost always be readable by the recipient). You will find you must download patches from he vendor every time Microsoft changes their file formats.

Actually, compatibility shouldn't be a problem because all documents should be exchanged in RTF or HTML format to stop the spread of MS Office macro viruses, but people don't, and many don't care to learn how.

If you chose a non-Microsoft suite running under a non-Microsoft operating system, you will have eliminated virtually all risk (and probably have a much more stable computer system).

©:Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - www.aaxnet.com - aax@aaxnet.com
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