I was reading Hugh’s post and the comments around whether open source software meets shareholder and CEO needs, I love the cartoon that goes with it. George Ou has some interesting stats in this area too.
It’s a serious debate and as well as shareholders and CEO’s, there is a need to consider whether or not open source software is capable of delivering against business needs and the effects it can have on employee productivity and staff overheads.
Following the theme of the cartoon, I undertook a mini science project to see whether OpenOffice.org (OOo) 2.2.0 Writer could deliver similar levels of performance and capability to business users of Microsoft Office 2007 Word. This blog post is documentation of my findings.
Consider the following scenario... An organisation is running Microsoft SQL Server (quite possible given the industry unit share) to hold a database table full of its contacts/customers/suppliers/whatever. Unfortunately, the company has delivered a defective product to a specific region and need to issue a product recall. The company decides to act swiftly and chooses to use direct mail to its database of contacts.
I ran the two desktop applications side by side on a Core2 Duo box with 2Gb RAM and around 80Gb of free hard drive space and also had SQL Server 2005 running locally.
I chose the AdventureWorksDW sample database and the dimCustomer table to perform a mail merge to both applications as it contains the following fields. There are 18,414 records in the table in total.
I downloaded and used the sample “Apology for Defective Product” letter from Office online, a resource I find very handy at times!
To begin with in Word, it’s as simple as switching to the Mailings tab and selecting the Step by Step Mail Merge Wizard. The next few steps are pretty simple also, select the document type, the starting document and then browse for a data connection.
Initially, I chose to create a new data source and was presented with the wizard which I used to connect to the SQL Server. I then selected the table and gave it a friendly name to finish.
Following this, I used the Filter option to select all people within a specific geography range (the range was 280-655 inclusive to pick out 7,818 records listed as being with the United States. Here’s a sample of the records returned.
The match fields had been completed by the wizard and therefore, I was able to quickly insert an address block and a greeting line.
All of the letters were immediately available for preview as well as edit, print and email.
The entire process took just under ten minutes for me to complete.
I then began to run through the process in OOo 2.2.0.
The first thing I needed to do in OOo was to create an Address Data Source using the wizard, configure the settings, choose ODBC (as this is the only way to connect to SQL Server,) browse for an ODBC setting and organise my data sources. The first thing I noticed here was that this may not be the way an average user would tend to think when it came to creating a mail merge.
Next came the need to add a User DSN through Windows ODBC Data Source Administrator (point to note, this would have to be installed on every machine that would need to utilise this as a data connection,) by choosing SQL Server, entering the SQL Server details, connecting using Windows authentication, changing the default database and leaving the rest of the settings alone.
With my data source created, I was able to successfully test the data connection and my data source was ready for use in OOo.
Next up, I had to select it from the list, ensure the properties were correct, choose the table I was going to use, match the fields manually, no automated mapping was completed (even though the field names were identical to the address block names in some instances) and give the data source a name.
With my new data source complete I then used the Mail Merge Wizard to open the Apology for Defective product letter. Initially, it took the mail merge wizard 40 seconds to open the first screen.
I set the document type to be a letter, not an email and I created a new address block (whilst applying the surprisingly ten minute time consuming geography filter at this step also,) salutation line and checked the layout.
The processing time during the initial steps was significantly greater than using Microsoft Office Word 2007, often taking up to 30 seconds to move from one wizard step to the next. However, the Adjust layout step took a full 3 minutes to move to the next step. I’m also unsure why I had to rematch the fields having done so earlier.
Finally, I started the mail merge which took approximately twenty minutes to complete...
All in all, the whole process took just under fifty minutes, five times longer than it did using Microsoft Office Word 2007 although this was considerably longer on my first few attempts as I struggled to locate the functionality in OOo and how to put the whole thing together.
The conclusion... The time taken to complete essential tasks therefore is extremely important. If organisational end users were to be so unproductive then staffing overheads would considerably increase. Whereas Microsoft Word 2007 handled the process with the minimum of fuss and flexibility, using OOo actually felt like a development tool at times and a throw back to the days of Word 95.
I've included the comprehensive screen shots here with the aim of allowing anyone to recreate this experiment. Thankfully, this is a science project, not a business.
It's all just about doing things easier isn't it? In many of my external meetings I meet partners and
Good clean comparison. Maybe slightly biased due to the combination of tools you were using (the open source enthusiast would probably argue that mail merging from mySQL is far easier) and the fact that you are probably more familiar with MS Office.
Say, for example, I'm a busy kinda guy (I am, honest!) and I need to send out a mail shot to all the
Simon - I ensured that I familiarised myself with the process in OOo before undertaking this and documenting the results. I had previously completed the task four painful, time consuming times in OOo just to be sure that I could do it in the least amount of time possible. I practiced once in Word 2007 which was simplicity itself.
Clearly demonstrating why good investment into IT solutions shouldn’t only consider the initial costs. Whilst the example focuses on a particular task, all good businesses strive to become more effective thus it’s not only about the time taken to complete a task that a smart manager should consider, but the ‘knock on’ and hidden effects. In my experience in the IW environment, open source solutions impact on staff morale which leads to higher staff turnover. The ‘overall costs consideration’ is an effective point to offer when pitching to a potential customer who has ‘managed’ with open source solutions.
I know I need to wear my flame proof shorts for posting this, however, Chris has done an amazing post
Hi - I'm so glad I've read this! I was recently employed part time by a charity which uses OpenOffice. A longtime Microsoft Word, etc., user, I have just about mastered OpenOffice - and it does the job pretty well. But Mailmerge!! It only took you fifty minutes! Congratulations. It's taken me hours and hours of puzzling to the point of neurosis and I'm no nearer success. And my trial mailmerge consists of ten animals in the database with their addresses, dietary requirements and grooming needs. I thought it was because I'm 68 that I was struggling. Thank you for restoring my self-respect.
Marion - If you'd like a little further insight into this, send me an email through the link near the top of this page and I'll do my best to help out...
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