County should look at free software solutions to save costs

By Paul Gorski 
Contributor 

Earlier this year, The Rock River Times reported (“Editorial: County board’s broken record,” May 17) that Winnebago County was being fined $283,000 because county IT staff installed a more expensive version of Microsoft Office suite that it had purchased – a simple error with a high price tag. The error could have been prevented by ditching Microsoft Office in favor of the free, open source LibreOffice package.

LibreOffice is a free collection of business productivity programs, nearly a clone of Microsoft Office, but not as robust. According to LibreOffice developers:

“LibreOffice is a powerful office suite – its clean interface and feature-rich tools help you unleash your creativity and enhance your productivity. LibreOffice includes several applications that make it the most powerful Free and Open Source office suite on the market: Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheets), Impress (presentations), Draw (vector graphics and flowcharts), Base (databases), and Math (formula editing).”

To be honest, LibreOffice cannot do everything Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint can do, but it can handle most of their functions. For most users, LibreOffice will meet their business needs, including Munich, Germany’s government, who has been using LibreOffice for more than 10 years now. They are not alone.

The U.K. government announced last year that it is giving up Microsoft Office in favor of LibreOffice. Italy’s Ministry of Defence is moving 100,000 users to LibreOffice, and 500,000 users in French government offices are using the free, open source software. Don’t tell me it can’t be done here; these governments are using LibreOffice now.

We would not have to use LibreOffice exclusively. We could install Office, or specific components of it, on user computers as needed. For example, Microsoft Access is far superior to the LibreOffice Base database program. Installing Office on a limited number of computers would still help reduce licensing costs and save taxpayer money.

Having worked in mixed Windows and Macintosh work environments for years, I can tell you this type of change does not come easily. People are set in their ways: IT staff, many unaware of how good some open source software is, look the other way without even trying the software. We need to be more open about our solutions.

If the county is going to overcome its long-term financial problems, we need to look at creative solutions across all departments. We should look at replacing Microsoft Office with LibreOffice on county laptops and workstations in an effort to reign in IT costs.

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