Google pack

Those nice ‘do no evil’ folks over at Google have made a rather interesting addition to their Google Pack. Google Pack is a bunch of software Google gives away, most of it is free or open source. The idea is that for someone who just picked up a new pc with Windows and little else, this set of software will get them up and running with some useful stuff. (once they have cleared off all the pre-installed crapware of course!).

So whats new? They added StarOffice from Sun. StarOffice is what OpenOffice is based on, and is a complete Office suite similar to Microsoft Office. Star Office usually costs 70 USD or so, and has some proprietary stuff that OpenOffice doesn’t. (Google Pack link here). A few people (including me) are curious why they didn’t include OpenOffice instead – could it be the MS Office migration tools that are in Star Office but not OO?. I also wonder why there is not a Linux Google Pack. I have no idea if Google Pack is widely used or not – do you? (how many downloads?)

The big thing about including SO, is that there is already talk of connecting up StarOffice Calc to Google Spreadsheets. That basically gives you Excel Services type functionality for nowt. And potentially for non Windows OS’s. Funnily enough this was something I was thinking about only the other day (although I was thinking Excel/VBA-Google s/s). I think there is already an Essbase add-in for OpenOffice, so the connectivity features where Excel was always so strong, are appearing gradually in the competition. With this (free) deal you now have a fully featured desktop s/s editing tool, and a simple way to share key parts of your spreadsheets. The limitations of Google spreadsheets on-line editing suddenly go away.

I don’t think StarOffice has VBA though still. In fact I suspect MS have some pretty strong legal protection in this area, as VB is a proprietary flavour of BASIC, not a standards based language like C/C++/C#. (You’ll notice no-one else has a Visual Basic editor, there is REALBasic which is probably similar, but is not VB. Contrast all the C/C++ editors and compilers and the Borland/Code Gear C# IDE – these are ECMA or ISO standards). BTW anyone who released a decent VB(ish) IDE that produced native win32 apps (zero install) would find a willing audience, maybe I should check out Real Basic – they have been doing well since the retirement of VB6.

I’m sure I must be missing something obvious (pls tell me!). To me the biggest unique selling point of MS Office is VBA, none of the competition have got anything as widely used or as ‘good’ (good, as in gets the job done), or even compatible. I know there is limited love at MS for VB and those that use it (Morts right?), but I really think a major VBA IDE overhaul would add sales and protect their market position. (and if they could spin off a non .net VB IDE that would be handy).

Do you think VBA is that big a deal? If not why not? and if not then what, if anything do you think is/are the key benefits of MS Office over the others? Do you think StarOffice/Google spreadsheets is significant or am I reading too much into it?

Do you think there is that much inertia and tradition around using MS Office that nothing these ‘competitors’ could do would have any real impact?



4 Responses to “Google pack”

  1. Ken Puls Says:

    VBA is the largest thing holding us on Office vs one of the open source competitors. Over the last 5 years we have come to rely very heavily on the automation that I have implemented through VBA. Without that, we would surely have flown the coop to Open Office a long time ago.

    While OO does have a macro language, my limited forays into it have left much to be desired. I basically came to the conclusion that it would cost me more to re-write all of my macros to move to the “free” software than it would cost to buy new licenses for Office 2007.

    As for the StarOffice/Google thing, I do see it as significant. We invested our time in developing our apps in Office because we had it. Many small business in this day, however, will keep costs down by trying OO or SO. The more you give for free, the more likely the new smaller business will move to these products. (Remember that 90% of large businesses start as small businesses.) And once they start to develop apps using whatever automation languages these products support, they will be hard pressed to move away.

    This is probably the single biggest thing I don’t understand about the way Microsoft works. VBA is their single biggest hook that can ensure an Office customer is theirs for life. Despite this, they do not promote it. Why? Personally, I’d be creating certification courses and encouraging as many people to use it as possible. You know that as soon as they have more than 2 things built in VBA that they most likely will never be able to move away from it!

  2. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    StarOffice vs OpenOffice : I don’t know but perhaps customer support has something to do with it. Enterprises want to be confident about this kind of thing.

    VBA : I think there’s two topics. MS’s VBA : it’s been outsourced to Summit Software for a while and it’s already known to be in maintenance mode. VBA IDE : the IDE itself, any third-party can integrate it, it’s not cheap, Summit Software sells a license.

    VBA versus others : that’s where it becomes interesting. First of all, you’ve got to admit that Microsoft themselves are making power users lives miserable with the new DOCM/XLSM/PPTM file extensions intended to exclude files with VBA macros from others. I don’t know what their long term intentions are, but should they want to retire VBA in Office 15 (next next) or so, they would do just that!
    One of core problems with VBA itself is speed and reliability. As a vendor of a server-side Excel alternative, I can see that most of my customers are replacing their VBA macros with external code (native, .NET, delphi, …) for exactly those reasons. With Microsoft showing the way of VSTO .NET assemblies, I guess that’s at least consistent with what third-parties are doing…But VSTO still uses Excel COM which is too slow.

  3. Harlan Grove Says:

    StarOffice and OpenOffice have StarBasic as their common macro language. Just another BASIC dialect. While MSFT may be able to protect VB[A], they have no such claims to BASIC generally since it was developed more than a decade before MSFT was founded, and there are at least a dozen BASIC development systems on the market or as FOSS.

    StarBasic is less polished than VBA, and it’s IDE is a lot less polished than VBE. From my perspective, its biggest drawback is the inability of udfs to return arrays. More generally, SO/OO Calc is weak on support for array formulas.

    In terms of the future, XLSX files, i.e., without any VBA modules, still provides a platform for Excel’s main language: cell formulas. If UDFs and macros could only be implemented in XLAs (or is that XLAXs?), XLLs, COM DLLs or .Net assemblies going forward, I could live with that, but it’d definitely change the nature of Excel.

  4. dermot Says:

    VBA is magic. Although I try not to include business logic in it, and mainly use it for automation, it has been extraordinarily useful over the years in my (financial consulting) industry

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