Managing home-school working can be tricky, especially where documents created at school need to be opened at home and vice versa. Most teachers use Microsoft Office
and often don't consider whether the home computer has a copy of Office when sending work electronically. Work-arounds include readers
(which don't allow home changes to be made, and don't offer the use of preformed templates or writing frames), or converting to the document format Adobe PDF
, which doesn't offer any editing, effectively turning it into a dead worksheet. Similar issues apply to other files formats used in education such as i-whiteboard files and media files etc.
Becta have recently suggested the need for greater support for Open Document Format
, used in products such as Open Office
, a free Open Source Office Suite.
Microsoft's response has been an initiative
that should see greater compatibility with its key Office applications. Microsoft have released a translator
that enables documents created in Open Document Format
to be read by Word
, and enables Word documents to be saved in ODF format!. The translator is part of a wider project, and will include other Office components such as Powerpoint
for release later in 2007. The translator is available for download as a plug in
. This is a very welcome move by Microsoft that recognises the need for interoperability of formats.
I have been using Open Office
to evaluate how usable it is in education, and whilst serving basic, I have concluded that it is nowhere near as comprehensive (and familiar) as Microsoft Office. Would I swap and move to Open Office having used both for a while? no! For what I do every day, Microsoft Office
does it better, and if I worked in a school I'm afraid I would prefer to lose other applications before swapping. The cost of Microsoft Office
to schools is in fact low, as special education deals have been in place for some time both locally in Kent through our Civica contract
, or through the Becta agreement
. It is value for money for the features it offers.
The clincher for me has been our teams use of a Microsoft Sharepoint Portal Server
platform. This allows teams to save work and documents securely to a web location as easily as to the hard drive. I can discuss, review and share documents with colleagues online. Frankly this collaboration is transforming the way we work! The potential for educators and learners is the reason for Kent's strategic investment in Microsoft software architecture in its Kent Learning Zone
. Microsoft has little to fear in supporting ODF
and other Open Office
formats; however the gesture is appreciated and positive.
Recent application usage statistics indicate that Microsoft Word is the most used application in our secondary schools, (followed closely by Internet Explorer).This indicates that MS Office is a critical application for schools.
The issue of how parents and children can open application specific formats needs to be thought through, but I am not persuaded that Open Office
is the answer over a near universal de-facto proprietary standard. Thin client may offer hope, where a child can access their school desktop and applications online from their school.
Schools should consider having a policy that agrees common file formats, preferably with parents involved, and then find ways of achieving them. The move by Microsoft to recognise the ODF
format is good news, but isn't a signal that we should all switch to Open Office
. By all means download and try Open Office
; I encourage you to. My bet, is that, like me, you will want to stay with Microsoft Office