Categorized | Productivity Software

Hardware and Software 3.6. Productivity Software

Productivity software encompasses all those applications you need to make your business run. The fundamental productivity applications are called “office” applications, which typically refer to word processors, spreadsheets, email applications, calendars, contact management, presentation software (like PowerPoint), and note-taking software. More specialized products include graphic editing software, video editing software, accounting, project management, finance, and communications.

3.6.1. Microsoft Office 2007

Microsoft Office 2007 is a suite of productivity programs. Designed for Windows and Mac OSX, Microsoft Office in all its iterations is far and away the leading office productivity suite in the world. No matter what you choose as your office suite, Microsoft Office will loom very large all throughout the life of your business since people will be sending you Office documents on a daily or even hourly basis. It is the de facto standard for all word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents.

Microsoft Office 2007 was released in February, 2007, and represents a very radical departure from all previous versions. While all the previous versions depended on command menus, the new version depends on tool bars. While new users may find this much easier to use right of the box, experienced Office users, particularly power users, will have a steep relearning curve to master. In another significant revision, the new Office 2007 saves files in an XML format, allowing for easy, live Web posting and portability.

The Microsoft Office suite of applications encompasses a large number of diverse programs with a “core” set of office productivity programs consisting of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Excel.

  • Word—word processing; Microsoft Word is the dominant, industry standard word processor
  • Excel—spreadsheet; Excel is the dominant, industry standard spreadsheet application
  • PowerPoint—presentation and slide show software; PowerPoint is the dominant, industry standard presentation application
  • Outlook—email, contact, task manager, and calendar application; called Entourage in Office for Mac
  • Access—database
  • Publisher—desktop publishing
  • Project—project management software; Project is the dominant, industry standard project management software solution
  • Visio—diagramming software for producing flow charts, process charts, system diagrams, Web site diagrams, wireframes, etc.
  • OneNote—digital notebook and document search
  • SharePoint Designer—HTML editor and Web site manager; formerly called FrontPage
  • InfoPath—electronic forms and information gathering integrated through SharePoint (Web) services
  • Accounting—business accounting, bookkeeping, and finance
  • Groove—peer-to-peer application connectivity
  • Communicator—instant messaging, voice-over-Internet, Web conferencing

The Windows version of Microsoft Office 2007 is available in eight editions. Each edition represents a different package of applications.

  1. Microsoft Office Basic (Word, Excel, Outlook; bundled with new computers only)
  2. Microsoft Office Home & Student Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote; $149)
  3. Microsoft Office Standard Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook; $399, upgrade $239)
  4. Microsoft Office Small Business Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Access, Publisher, Accounting Express; MSRP $449, Upgrade $279)
  5. Microsoft Office Professional Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, Accounting Express; MSRP $499, Upgrade $329)
  6. Microsoft Office Professional Plus Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Access, Publisher, OneNote, SharePoint Designer, InfoPath, Groove, Communicator; available only through volume licensing)
  7. Microsoft Office Enterprise Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, InfoPath, Communicator; available only through volume licensing)
  8. Microsoft Office Ultimate Edition (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, Project, Visio, SharePoint Designer, OneNote, InfoPath; MSRP $679, Upgrade $539)

For Macintosh, Office 2007 only comes in three configurations: Home & Student Edition, Standard Edition, and Professional Edition.

3.6.2 OpenOffice

OpenOffice is a free, open-source office suite that includes word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, vector drawing, and database applications. It has been designed for diverse operating systems including Windows and Unix-based systems such as Linux. When version 3 is released in 2008, the application will also work with OSX. The OpenOffice community of developers intended the application suite to be a fully compatible, total replacement for Microsoft Office.

Originally a proprietary software suite called StarOffice, the code was released as an open source project in 2000 to try to break Microsoft’s dominance of office software. As such, it is free to download, use, and modify.

Anyone who is familiar with any of the Microsoft versions of these products will find OpenOffice a breeze to use. The software looks and feels like Office 2003 (Office 2007, of course, is radically different in its user interface). The software can read all file formats, including Microsoft formats, and is supported by a community of very eager volunteers. But there is a caveat. First, OpenOffice is not compatible with Office 2007 documents (but, for that matter, neither is Office 2003 compatible with Office 2007 documents. The OpenOffice word processor handles any Word document you can throw at it, but the spreadsheet (Calc) has some problems with Excel files, and the presentation software (Impress) cannot import the more fancy PowerPoint animations or transitions (and it cannot reproduce them, either). Again, version 3 promises to fix many of these―particularly integration with Office 2007―but don’t expect version 3 until mid-2008.


OpenOffice offers the same core group of applications as Microsoft Office, but does not offer equivalents for the more specialized applications such as Sharepoint Designer, Publisher, Visio, or Project.

  • Writer — word processing; very similar to Microsoft Word in look, feel, and functions; also includes a WYSIWYG HTML editor; unlike Word, Writer includes many of the mathematical functions offered in the spreadsheet program, Calc
  • Calc — spreadsheet; roughly equivalent to Excel in features; can export spreadsheets as PDFs
  • Impress — presentation and slide show software similar to PowerPoint but with the added ability to export presentations to Flash files; does not have some of the more fancy or powerful PowerPoint animation effects
  • Base — database that works with many other databases using XML or its own MySQL database
  • Draw — vector graphics drawing application (see 3.4.1 for a description of vector graphics)
  • dBASE — a database application specifically for Microsoft Access databases.

3.6.3 NeoOffice

NeoOffice is a free, open source Macintosh OSX version of OpenOffice 2.1 with all the same features and functionality of OpenOffice. Like OpenOffice, NeoOffice supports and saves to all Microsoft document formats. It also handles Excel macros and is fully integrated into the OSX system, that is, it uses native Aqua menus, integrates with the Finder and search functions, uses OSX fonts, and supports copy/paste and drag-and-drop between applications.

3.6.4 Scribus: Open Source Desktop Publishing

Like OpenOffice, Scribus was designed to unseat Microsoft’s dominance of the market. However, Microsoft’s Publisher has barely even dented the market in desktop publishing; instead, Quark and InDesign are the applications of choice. However, if you plan to do even a tiny bit of desktop publishing, such as newsletters and brochures, Scribus is a free, open source desktop publisher that easily matches the features found in Publisher (but certainly not Quark or InDesign). Scribus is configured for Windows, OSX, and Linux.

3.6.5 Powerbullet Presenter: Free Presentation Software

Although it is proprietary software, Powerbullet Presenter is a free alternative to Microsoft’s PowerPoint. What sets it apart is that it outputs the presentation as Flash files either for publication on the Web or as stand-alone executable files.

3.6.6. Web-based Productivity Software

Google Docs and Spreadsheets (formerly “Writely”)

Google Docs currently offers beta versions of their word processor and spreadsheet office applications. Software and service is completely free. You can create documents and spreadsheets from scratch or edit existing documents or spreadsheets (including Word and Excel formats) online; applications save to a variety of formats including Word and Excel. The service also allows you to share documents―and editing privileges―with other online users. Documents can even be revised by different people at the same time―an online chat service allows you to discuss changes with others while you edit. Files are saved to an online storage area, to your desktop, or can be published as Web pages. Most importantly, your documents are accessible through Google’s powerful search engine, making it easy and quick for you to find documents based on the content of those documents. Forget what you wrote to someone last year? Do a search on a word or name and it’ll come up.

Google’s Gmail

While free online email has been around for awhile, notably Hotmail (the original free email service) and Yahoo Mail, these earlier versions were simply Web pages that accessed email files. Gmail was the first online email application and remains the best. It uses Ajax technology (which allows a part of a Web page to change without loading the entire page) and looks and feels like a real email application, like Outlook or Eudora. The cost is free and the service includes 2,600 MB of storage and the full search capabilities of the Google search engine. Yahoo Email ( now offers an Ajax-enabled full online email application. (Rumor has it that a Hotmail version, code-named Kahuna, is also in development).

Thinkfree Office Online

A free online office application meant to totally replace Microsoft Office. You receive one GB of storage and access to a word processor (Write), spreadsheet (Calc), and presentation/slideshow application (Show). All three applications are almost fully compatible with Microsoft documents and they are designed to look like and have all the features of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint 2007. Unlike Office, Thinkfree will also output documents to PDF. Besides the online software, you can also purchase a desktop version based on Java that is compatible on Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. They also offer an iPod and U3 version.

Of all the online applications out there, Thinkfree comes the closest to reproducing all the features of Office or OpenOffice. Write opens and edits even the most complex Word 2007 files, but it will not import Word macros. In many ways, Calc is more powerful than Excel and can import even the most complex Excel spreadsheets―although it can only import PivotTables in a non-editable format. The weakest application is the presentation software; it can open any PowerPoint file, but only offers the simplest transition and animation effects.

Somewhat bizarrely, you can open files in one of two editing modes: QuickEdit and PowerEdit. QuickEdit is a slightly different interface and offers fewer functions. Like Office 2007―and unlike previous versions of Office or practically all other software out there―Thinkfree only gives you toolbars to access functions, no contextual menus.


A free online office application that reads and writes Microsoft Office applications. Based on Ajax and usable only on the Firefox browser, Ajax 13 offers word processing (ajaxWrite), spreadsheet (ajaxXLS), drawing (ajaxSketch), presentation/slideshow (ajaxPresents), and an iTunes type application (ajaxTunes). All the applications allow you to create Microsoft documents―so ajaxPresents will create PowerPoint files (.ppt) as well as Open Standard Presentation files (.odp).


An online office application accessible through a Web browser and based on Ajax technology (which allows a part of a Web page to refresh without reloading the entire page). As of the publication of this book, AJAXOffice is still in development.


A full office suite including word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, and desktop publishing. Cost is $0.99 per month and includes full access to the software and online storage. The application only outputs PDF files, so you will not be able to port your data to a desktop application. The application only accepts text-only input, so to port a Word or Excel file to the application, you have to convert it to text-only before pasting it in the gOffice editor. The word processor is designed mainly to produce letters and you do not have the styling options you have in a desktop editor. In fact, if you try to do anything that’s more than simple in terms of formatting, you’ll get dreadful looking output.


An online word processor similar to Microsoft Word currently in release 2.4.1. The application outputs as text-only or XHTML, which can be read by most word processors. The editor is distributed under an open source license but requires components to be downloaded and installed.

Num Sum

Free web-based spreadsheet you access through a Web browser. The company is developing a fuller spreadsheet that will require a subscription, but they plan to always offer the basic spreadsheet for free. Like the other office applications mentioned here, you can share your spreadsheet with other users and access it on any computer with a browser. In addition, the application allows you to publish your spreadsheets as RSS Feeds, which allow users to easily publish the spreadsheet on Web pages just by linking to the RSS feed. The application allows you to easily import files from Excel or Open Office Calc.

Like many online office applications, Num Sum has far, far fewer features than proprietary spreadsheets, but the designers claim the application is for users who have no use for the mountain of features that come with a program like Excel. You should note that the application creates “social spreadsheets,” which means that your spreadsheet is available for everyone to look at unless you mark it “Private.”


EditGrid is a free, full-featured online spreadsheet application that allows you to collaborate with other online users in generating and editing spreadsheets. It was designed to be an online replacement for either Excel or OpenOffice Calc. If you want the data traveling between your computer and the online software to be password-secured, you’ll have to subscribe for $5 per month. You can import and export spreadsheets to Excel, OpenOffice, PDF, and other formats.


Free online calendar that is based on Ajax technology and can be accessed through any browser. The application includes a contact management tool. The application will send out email reminders and can be converted into an RSS feed, meaning that real-time output can be easily placed on any Web page.


Free web-based presentation and slide show application. The application produces slide shows in HTML and CSS (the coding languages of Web pages), so the output can only be viewed in a browser. You can see a sample slide show at If you’re worried about showing slides with a browser window showing, hitting F11 on your keyboard will render the presentation full screen without the irritating browser window―it will look just like a PowerPoint slide show (well, close).

A free, Web-based note-taking application similar to Microsoft’s OneNote. Like all Web applications, the notes you scribble to yourself are available on any computer running any system. Again, like many online applications, the output can be converted to an RSS feed for easy insertion into Web pages.


Gliffy is a free online diagramming application similar to Microsoft’s Visio or SmartDraw that allows you to create flow charts, organization charts, wireframes, site maps, process charts, and so on. Output is only publishable as Web pages.

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