Pillar of Value:
Office Suite = Notebooks
The office suite on our computers functions like a physical notebook and pen. We write our ideas, create charts, and perform calculations in our notebooks to save and sometimes share with others. The office suite familiar to most is Microsoft Office. Regardless of whether you buy a Mac or Windows machine, buying the Microsoft Office suite of tools is almost always a necessity. If you’ve ever bought a new computer, you’ve inevitably performed the Microsoft license dance. Maybe you check if your family and friends have a spare license you can use. You might even ask a niece or nephew if they can purchase a license for you with their student discounts. In the end, you are beholden to Microsoft for your everyday digital notebook needs.
When discussing digital ubiquity, it doesn’t get any more ubiquitous than Microsoft Office. Microsoft’s proprietary office suite software has become the standard across the globe. As a suite of tools, Microsoft offers a word processor (Word), a spreadsheet (Excel), and a presentation program (PowerPoint) among others. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are considered essential programs and an ability to use them is part of basic computer literacy.
As with any application, it is important to examine its approach to consumer privacy. In 2018, Dutch investigators found Microsoft Office tools collected consumer data such as email subject lines and snippets of content in violation of GDPR regulations. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, when evaluating any application it is important to take into consideration the practices of the organization providing the service. Similar to the relationship between WhatsApp and Facebook (discussed here), examining Microsoft’s general practices is a crucial step in our critical analysis of the Office suite. In 2018, LinkedIn, a Microsoft-owned professional networking site, used 18 million emails from non-LinkedIn users to purchase ads on Facebook in violation of Europe's GDPR regulation. Microsoft also has a record of trying to sell facial recognition software to the DEA in 2017 and 2018. Now, Microsoft has taken steps to remedy both situations. They have clarified and reformed data use and privacy settings in LinkedIn and have called for stronger regulation regarding the use of facial recognition technology by the US Government.
When discussing Microsoft Office, we must also take into account that a majority of home computers and laptops contain this software. As such, there is added responsibility placed on Microsoft to ensure they develop and distribute Office ethically. To this end, we must take a closer look at how Office is developed and distributed. As proprietary software, Microsoft Office lacks transparency in development, and limits access through their restrictive licensing policy.
I believe it is important for us to reexamine what software we deem “necessary” to perform a function. By accepting Microsoft’s proprietary software as necessary, we allow them to gatekeep the fundamental functions provided by Microsoft Office. If we consider the growing alternative office suite in Google’s G Suite, we are only allowing another corporation using proprietary software to become the gatekeeper of a necessity.
When we have collectively decided that certain computer functions, such as word processing and spreadsheet creation, are required for basic technological literacy, why are those functions tied to the use of a single piece of proprietary software? When software becomes a necessity, why is the code kept secret through closed source development, and access limited through restrictive licensing? These questions ultimately concern trust. When it comes to software, trust can be earned through open source development.
In open source development, developers allow the public to examine the code of the software being developed and consequently earn the trust of those dependent on it. Through open source development, the global community contributes to the development of necessary software, not just a select group of developers in a single company.
Transparency is vital to developing trust in the digital world and a higher level of trust between tech companies and consumers is possible. LibreOffice is an office suite application that uses open source development to earn trust through transparency. LibreOffice is a free and open source office suite with a robust and active development community. With LibreOffice there is no license, no account creation, and no data collection. They provide the necessary functions of an office suite while earning and maintaining the trust of their users.
When a resource becomes fundamental to participation in the global community, we should not accept proprietary software gatekeeping access to these tools. We should expect corporations developing and providing these programs to earn our trust through open source development and transparency.
Using and sharing alternatives like LibreOffice helps promote these standards while actively driving change towards trust and accountability in software development and technology as a whole.
LibreOffice provides a complete suite of programs packaged into a single application. LibreOffice saves files in an open file format so they can be opened in Microsoft programs such as Word and PowerPoint smoothly. Conversely, Microsoft Office files can be opened in LibreOffice without the need for external conversion. They have a robust development community and plenty of documentation providing guides and tips for new and experienced users alike. For those who require additional functionality, LibreOffice has an entire library of freely available templates and extensions. Below is the list of programs packaged into LibreOffice:
- Writer: Writer is equivalent to Word.
- Calc: Calc is equivalent to Excel.
- Impress: Impress is equivalent to Powerpoint.
- Draw: Draw is equivalent to Visio.
- Base: Base is equivalent to Microsoft Access.
- Math: Math is a formula editor. With Math you can create and edit complex mathematical formulas within a program like Writer or within the Math program itself.