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lifestyles Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd Dispatch
customer support
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week I wanted to talk to you about a trend that has really become apparent over the last few years.

Remember when you wanted to have a suite of office products - Microsoft Word, Excel or Powerpoint comes to mind - and so you'd go and buy the software, install it with a license key and then you'd be set? You could even choose which individual pieces you wanted and buy them separately.

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Then things started changing. Microsoft began bundling their packages, you could get a home version or a full version - the home not having specific programs, like Microsoft Access or Publisher. For many of us, this difference wasn't a big deal, because we were perfectly happy with the stripped down Home version.

The one thing that didn't change was the price tag. Office products always have been, and probably always will be, fairly expensive. It's not to say that it's not money well spent or that it's not worth the price tag but sometimes it gets to be frustrating to think about how much each Powerpoint actually costs you if you don't use the program that much.

The bundling does frustrate some people and with a higher price tag a second option emerged - Office substitutions. One of the most popular is Open Office. Those that are familiar with Linux OS will recognize this standby as the open source (read: free) version of it's pricier cousin. It offers a word processing program, a spreadsheet program, a presentation program and more- just like Office does, the only difference is Open Office doesn't cost you a penny.

The one major drawback to Open Office is that it's not exactly the same as Microsoft Office. We've been trained for years to understand how the Microsoft Office suite works and to subconsciously train ourselves to know how each program works. For those that have a knack for picking things up, or for those that are OK with investing a small amount of time to learn the differences, Open Office is really not that different. You can even open Office file extension in Open Office and save documents as Microsoft Office files, too, just to make the transition easier.

However, despite all these benefits Open Office is not toppling Microsoft and probably never will. Why? Microsoft Office is too ingrained in our systems.

Even though Open Office hasn't been the competitor many wanted it to be, it did contribute to a shift in Microsoft. To reduce the flow to Open Office and also to benefit from the subscription mentality of the general public, Microsoft also began to offer their Office suite as a subscription.

Think of it as a lease; you make a payment, an annual renewal and for that you get the latest version of the software, all the benefits and it is significantly less than purchasing the entire suite outright. This is appealing to many people who need these programs to be up to date - small businesses, those that work in highly regulated fields and those that simply want to stay up on the programs available all benefit from a lease type program as this.

There are, however, certain types of computer users that don't benefit from this. The major upside the full purchase option is that you completely own those products to use, and you don't have to keep buying new versions, in the vast majority of cases, older versions of Office will still work, for example, many people were still using Windows XP right up until it was phased out after years of use. It still functioned, and you didn't need to rush out and purchase a new computer every year.

If you do the math, it doesn't take you long to see that by choosing the lease program it doesn't take you many years to reach the equivalent of the full suite purchase price. If you consider how often there have been major updates to the suite, that requred a new release and version, it is about the same number of years to make the comparison break even.

So, if you're like many people who opted for the Home bundle, you may actually benefit more from buying the full suite, knowing that you will be using an older version for a number of years, but it will still work to your expectations.

Finally, this brings up my last consideration in these office programs, consider the free version of things, but one that has a commitment to upgrades and improvements is Google.

Along with the other myriad programs, technology and services that Google has come to offer, one major bit is their suite of office programs. Google Docs, Sheets and Presentations offer the basic Home bundle all over again but they are free. They are also updated fairly often, and those also do not cost a thing.

I've actually been using them for a number of years already but recently our office decided to make the jump to use Google products for the majority of these services and programs.

It has worked great to have these programs for the various committees and things that I'm involved with because it's so easy to share the information with other people.

I can also access the information from any web browser or device that has an internet connection which means I have much more freedom in what I can save and how I can access it.

All in all there are a number of options that are out there but the main ones are buy the program, lease the program or use the cloud. If the past couple years are an indicator, I think the cloud based options like Google's suite will be the winners.

Check them out sometime, readers, you may find that one of these nontraditional options is just what you're looking for.

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