Well, I finally decided to check out OpenOffice.org’s free office suite software. It is an open-source software solution which includes word processing (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), database (Base), slide show presentation (Impress), drawing editor (Draw), and scientific equation creator (Math). Open source software allows the source code to be open to the public, which allows thousands of developers to work on it and offer the software for free. See this article on the possible future for open source software. After reading about about this software and knowing that Microsoft offers it’s Office software suite for about $499, I thought I’d give it a try and compare it.
First, OpenOffice.org is offered free of charge on virtually any operating system. The user interface for Writer, Calc, and Impress are very similar to its Microsoft counterparts Word, Excel and PowerPoint. These three programs are really all I checked out, as I don’t use Access that much. Apparently Math is helpful for people who want to publish scientific formulas and such, and I’m not quite sure what Draw would be used for.
Anyway, not only is the interface very similar to Microsoft, but OpenOffice.org’s software will also load and save Microsoft files (*.doc, *.xls, *.ppt). It takes a little bit of adjustment to change the default file type to save as, but you can switch OO.org’s software to automatically save as Microsoft files instead of the open standard (that should be becoming more popular in the next few years or so). Several standard Word functions, such as Page Setup, Headers and Footers, and some others are located in other menu’s, so Writer does have a little bit of a learning curve. I did open several old Word files in Writer and they all looked identical to what they look like in Word. Writer is a great program.
Calc (OO.org’s Excel) also opened up several old Excel files flawlessly. Calculations all worked great and the formatting was the same. However, while reading more about Calc, I’ve seen several people report that complex Excel files involving graphs and charts have been all screwed up. The general consensus is that if you are a heavy Excel user Calc might not cut it, but for the general user, it’ll work just fine.
Now, Impress could handle any PowerPoint file with any slide transition I could through at it, but in a few cases of slide shows with outlines, the tab spacing was way off. Any other PowerPoint slide show ran just fine.
Now, it should be stated that using any of these programs to create new files will run great, and can be used in coordination with Microsoft Office, so you can still access all of your old files. In fact, I would strongly recommend OpenOffice.org to anyone looking for a fantastic free alternative to Microsoft Office. If you’re a student, it’ll be great. If you just use Word and Excel, take a shot at OpenOffice.org. However, if you do a lot of interoffice document work or are a heavy Excel user, you may be better off with Microsoft Office. Either way, it’s a free download, so why not give it a shot?