Microsoft Office on the way out

Office still reigns, but it is facing increased competition from free online applications.

Microsoft has been reveling in reports that its new operating system, Vista, sold 20 million units in the first month of its release. The good news ends there. Vista has been less than cooperative with some software, and this incompatibility has led the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to ban the usage of Vista on their computers. Most startling was the FAA’s announcement that it will be considering the use of Google Apps, a collection of tools including e-mail, documents, and calendar, instead of Vista applications. This switch gives unprecedented credence to a new breed of options for Internet users.

While the FAA would pay a small price for access to Google’s premium applications, the basic tools are available free to any individual. Microsoft Office has had competition from the free Open Office program in the past, but Google and other online-based versions offer the convenience of access from any computer. For the college student on the run, this is extraordinary. With the simple creation of a free account, you can log onto any computer and work on papers, create databases or keep track of your schedule.

Even more exciting than Google’s new offering is another online program called Zoho. Unlike Google Apps, Zoho has its own version of PowerPoint and can produce charts from spreadsheets; as of now. Zoho is additionally compatible with Microsoft Office and allows users to work in Office while offline and transfer work easily back and forth. Like Google, Zoho offers free and premium packages of its services.

Currently, it is most useful to use Google Apps and Zoho in conjunction with Microsoft’s already established and universally accepted Office programs. It is, however, worth noting how quickly the online applications have made their mark, and the abundance of options can only mean good things for students and consumers.