(MoneyWatch) Microsoft Office has been the backbone of the business world for decades; to this day, about 90 percent of business professionals use Office, even if companies don't quickly step up to the latest version, which Microsoft refreshes every three years.
But the recent release of Office 2013 raises some troubling questions, and could represent the right time for some businesses and individuals to get off the Office track and switch to an Open Source alternative like LibreOffice. I recently debated this question with CNET writer and former CBS MoneyWatch contributor Rick Broida in Geek Vs Geek: Has Time Run Out for Microsoft Office?
What's the concern with Office 2013? At the core, Microsoft is tweaking the pricing strategy for Office, encouraging users to move to a Software As a Service model in which they pay an annual subscription rather than buying a license outright. Office 2013 -- or actually, Office 365 -- costs $99 per year, and includes 5 seats (good for a small office or a family, for example). Unfortunately, that means you need to renew your $100 subscription annually, or it simply stops working.
In the past, Office customers were able to decide when (or if) they spent $300 for the next upgrade. If you wanted to continue to use Office 2003 for the next 10 or 15 years, that's perfectly fine. But Office 365 takes that budget flexibility away, costing you $100 per year for the rest of your life.
Of course, you still have the option of buying Office 365 the usual way, but as, Microsoft initially tried to chance the license by saying you could only install it on a single PC, once, for the life of the software -- so you couldn't move it to a new PC when the existing one died, for example. Yes, Microsoft did back away from that policy after a huge online backlash, but it certainly points the direction that Redmond is going. By the time Office 2016 comes out, it's likely that you'll no longer be able to buy a copy of Office and use it however you want, forever.
Are there options? Absolutely. A veritable horn of plenty of Office alternatives exist: OpenOffice, LibreOffice and Google Docs, just to name a few. Whether you step over to one of these depends mainly on how much enthusiasm you happen to have for learning new software -- and for dealing with occasional file format issues. There's also the fact that Outlook is just about the only mainstream email client available.
What do you think? Is life without Office possible? Read the entire debate, and sound off in the comments. I'd love to know what you think.