Can Oracle OpenOffice put a dent in Microsoft Office?

At a time when Microsoft appears particularly vulnerable, Oracle is preparing for a run at the desktop productivity market

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The biggest indication Oracle may be serious was the announcement of Oracle Cloud Office in mid-December. At the time, exact details on Cloud Office were scarce (InfoWorld's Woody Leonhard derided it as "just a demo"). But the Oracle website recently posted more details -- and the bits are actually downloadable. Here's what's clear so far: Cloud Office basically competes with Microsoft SharePoint, with collaborative features and the Oracle equivalent of Office Web Apps included. And just like SharePoint, Cloud Office is meant to integrate with the vendor's desktop office apps.

However, while Microsoft is moving to a subscription-based, per-user/per-month model -- with the option to have Microsoft host Exchange, SharePoint, and Lync servers -- Oracle Cloud Office is meant to run on customer servers exclusively and comes with a perpetual license. In other words, the "cloud" in Cloud Office is the private cloud. And Cloud Office isn't cheap: It costs $90 per user with a minimum of 100 users, plus $19.80 per user for the first year of support. Moreover, it requires Oracle OpenOffice Server, a "document processing solution" that costs $5,500 per processor (plus $1,210 for the first year of support). Add the cost of Enterprise Edition for the desktop, and for the whole shebang you might easily pay $300 per user.

Ah, Oracle, king of the hidden costs. Does anyone need a Microsoft Office clone at Microsoft prices? And who would you expect to be more ingenious at figuring out new ways to make you pay through the nose for software, Oracle or Microsoft? Can we call it a draw?

All this may indicate why Oracle seemed happy to let the LibreOffice folks go. You don't want to make money? Fine, see ya. We're going to capitalize on the OpenOffice brand and make a bundle, or at least try to.

A side note in Oracle's favor: Cloud Office's support for mobile devices will undoubtedly be better than that provided by SharePoint or what we've seen so far from either Office 365 or Google Docs. Oracle's enterprise applications were among the first to support the iPhone; Microsoft seems hellbent on just supporting Windows Phone 7, a platform not yet ready for enterprise use.

One sign OpenOffice may be making Microsoft nervous is a series of video hit pieces released last October comparing Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel to Writer, Impress, and Calc. And who knows what IBM may be cooking up with Symphony, its own free-as-in-beer version of OpenOffice? As Microsoft customers squirm under the yoke of ongoing Office licensing and maintenance costs -- and the jury is still way, way out on Microsoft's risky Office 365 play -- the desktop productivity market may be thrown open in a manner we haven't seen in decades.

This article, "Can Oracle OpenOffice put a dent in Microsoft Office?," originally appeared at Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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