Within the space of the past few weeks, Office 365 and a host of other Microsoft services went down because of a DNS foul-up. Just yesterday, it was Google Docs going down for the count. And, in both cases, there were many cries of outrage from users.
I know there's nothing new about Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) failures. They happen all the time. I just wrote about this very subject last month. But the latest failures hit home.
Maybe it's because grandson William is currently going to school remotely. Everything he learns this year runs on his Chromebook through Google Workspace for Education Fundamentals. When it's down — and it also fails — he's back to watching Peppa Pig.
Now, that's not inherently a bad thing. He likes Peppa. But it's also a problem that extends beyond just the classroom. As one person put it on Reddit, "My entire school is pretty much disabled by this, we can’t download Microsoft products on our Chromebooks, or any other writing program for that matter."
That, my friends, is a problem. Anytime you depend entirely on a single cloud-based program or suite you're just asking for trouble.
Of course, these days we do this all the time. For example, with April 15 just ahead — and it's still the due date for corporate taxes even though you and I have until May 15 to file your personal taxes in the US — the Internet lines to Intuit's Quickbooks Online and TurboTax are burning up. And many businesses live (or die) every day using Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs such as Salesforce, HubSpot, or Freshworks.
But these are all fairly vertical programs. If you weren't using a cloud-based SaaS, you were probably using a client-server program. (It, too, came with a single point of failure.)
Office suites are a whole different matter. If you're doing work in a front of a computer, odds are you're using an office suite at least some of the day. Therefore, might I suggest that before you invest everything in Office 365, Google Workspace, or Zoho Office Suite, you consider keeping a company-standard traditional office suite around.
You could use Office 2019, or the forthcoming Office 2021. But let me offer up a better, more universal suggestion: LibreOffice.
LibreOffice is an open-source office suite. It's based on OpenOffice, which it superseded years ago. It includes a word processor, Writer; a spreadsheet, Calc; a presentation creator, Impress; a vector graphics and flowchart editor, Draw; a simple database program, Base; and a mathematical formula editor, Math.
If you can use other office programs, you can use LibreOffice. It supports most of today's popular document formats, including Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx), Excel (.xls, .xlsx), PowerPoint (.ppt, .pptx); Adobe PDF and the Open Document Format (ODF). Admittedly, its support for Microsoft's formats isn't perfect.
But if you ever read Microsoft's Office Open XML File Format "Standard" closely, you'll find even Microsoft doesn't fully support its own standard. Practically speaking, if you're doing very elaborate work in Word or Excel, you would be better off sticking with Office.
On the other hand, LibreOffice won't cost you a single cent. It's also available on all major desktop operating systems. And, when I say all, I mean all. This includes Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux, and even ChromeOS. The last comes from LibreOffice's commercial partner Collabora via the Google Play Store.
You can also run LibreOffice from the cloud with LibreOffice Online. Collabora, which offers LibreOffice servers to cloud companies, also supports LibreOffice Online server instances for Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, openSUSE, Univention Virtual Machines, and Docker images.
Is it good enough to persuade you to switch from the mainstay public cloud office suites? That depends on you. Personally, I use LibreOffice and Google Docs pretty much interchangeably.
What I do know is that it's nice to realise that no matter what machine I'm on, I'll always have an office suite at my fingertips — no matter what's happening on the cloud or even if I don't have an Internet connection.