Bundle OpenOffice.org

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bundle OpenOffice.org on Every New Computer

This past weekend I installed OpenOffice.org on the home computers of three people in my community. Different people in my community needed the software, so I drove around town installing it. I ended up driving more than 50 miles.

Last weekend I installed it on 2 computers. While I adore OpenOffice.org, it’s not a great use of my time (and gasoline) to drive around town installing it everywhere it’s needed. Computers manufacturers need to bundle OpenOffice.org with every new computer they sell. Why?

Because the people who need it most don’t have an easy way of getting it installed. People who are new to computers -- or low income -- might have never heard of OpenOffice.org. Maybe they don’t know how to download software. Maybe they don’t know how to install software. They might not know someone who has the time and skills to help them install it.

It would have been a much better use of my time -- and the time of others in my community -- if I could have spent time teaching OpenOffice.org rather than installing it.

In one case I visited a friend who is a single mother taking college classes. She is required to make a PowerPoint presentation in her biology class. Since she doesn’t have the money to buy Microsoft Office, I offered to install OpenOffice.org so she could prepare her PowerPoint with the OpenOffice.org presentation program (which can save files in PowerPoint format.)

By the time I downloaded and installed OpenOffice.org, I barely had 10 minutes to teach her the presentation program before I needed to run out for my next appointment. I could have spent 45 minutes teaching her the presentation program in OpenOffice.org had the software been pre-installed on her computer.

In another case a friend who is a newcomer to computers bought a new iMac. His trial version of Microsoft Office had expired and he desperately needed a word processor. He has dial-up Internet at home, so I drove 30 miles over to his place to install OpenOffice.org. Actually, I mailed him OpenOffice.org on a CD disk, but Mac users need to first install a free program named X11 before they can use OpenOffice.org. Explaining to him via phone how to install X11 from a DVD disk that I had never seen before (the DVD that shipped with his iMac), was more than I cared to do. So I was forced to drive over to his place to help him.

Dell, Apple, HP, Toshiba, every computer manufacturer needs to include OpenOffice.org on every new computer sold. I know that Microsoft might not be thrilled with such a thing happening. Guess what? Computer manufacturers produce computers for us, not for Microsoft. Consumers ought to tell the manufacturers what we want bundled.

And here’s how that can happen. If you work at a school district, college, business or government office that purchases computers in large numbers from computer vendors, send a snail mail letter to these vendors telling them that they will be required to have OpenOffice.org on their computers for the next purchasing cycle.

It’s as simple as that. We tell computer manufacturers what they need to do. And do you think Dell or Apple are going to install OpenOffice.org on some of their computers, but not on others? Right.

And people who find OpenOffice.org on their new computers will be entirely free to purchase Microsoft Office for $300. The question they’ll need to ask themselves is -- “Does Microsoft Office provide $300 of value?”

Meanwhile, I can go about helping the other people in my community who need my help, without having to spend so much time installing OpenOffice.org. We’re living in the digital age. People need access to the basic tools to get what they need done.

Microsoft might not want OpenOffice.org pre-installed, Dell might not want to take that step, Apple might not want to ruffle MS feathers, and all the other companies might not want to do so. Guess what? They don’t get to decide. We’re the customers. We decide. We pay their paychecks. They’re producing products for us, not vice-versa.

Phil Shapiro

The author has received numerous local and national recognitions for his community service work. He has been quoted in the New York Times and the Washington Post on digital divide issues. And he’s tired of driving around town installing OpenOffice.org.