OpenOffice.org

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[Note: this review was written by reader Sinkhan, a connoisseur of freeware and open source programs- The Freewaregenius]

OpenOffice.org is an open source office productivity suite comparable to MS Office. Its collection of programs include Writer (Word Processing), Calc (Spreadsheet), Impress (Slideshows), Base(database), as well as drawing, and math programs.

OpenOffice.org is compatible with MS Office in that it can read files written by MS Office applications and vice versa. The entire package runs on Sun Microsystem’s Java plug-in.

Word processing and the other branches of an office suite are some of the most vital and important programs used on a computer. With Microsoft 2007 costing well over $200 for basic packages to almost $700 for complete one, OpenOffice.org is a fully fledged office suite option that is available completely free of charge.

While this program is free one should not underestimate its capabilities:

    • Features: almost any feature that can be found in Microsoft Office can be found in OpenOffice.org. In fact a comparison of the two products reveals that OpenOffice.org has virtually every single feature that the Microsoft product offers (albeit not having the new “ribbon” system employed by MS Office 2007 now instead of toolbars). For a feature-by-feature comparison of OpenOffice.org and MS Office see this PDF from the OpenOffice website or this eweek article. One notable feature that OpenOffice.org has which MS Office does not is the ability to export any document straight into PDF file format.OpenOffice.org Calc Screenshot
    • Compatibility: OpenOffice.org is compatible with almost everything that comes from other office suites such as MS Office or Corel. In some instances failures to successfully open a document occur when macros are involved or the file was created in an older version of MS Office, but these are extremely rare. The current version of OpenOffice.org can open over 20 different Word file formats, so there is a very small chance that one will face any compatibility issues.
    • The user experience
: For the most part, the features of the program are located in the same spot as their equivalents in Microsoft Office. If that is not the case, they are usually place
d in a logical /intuitive area. For example, while the function to set tabs is no longer an individual menu item, it can be found in the “Paragraph” section.OpenOffice.org Impress Screenshot
  • Support: one of the advantages of being open-source and completely free is that a large community has grown to develop the program as well as provide technical support. While the included documentation is quite useful in its own right, there is an extensive archive of previously-asked questions as well as a large forum (more on user support below).
  • Localization/customization: the program has many localizations; it is currently fully translated into 19 languages with almost as many in varying stages of completion. OpenOffice.org comes with a large selection of dictionaries and thesauruses for different languages and that the user can choose to install.
  • Cross platform: OpenOffice.org also runs on almost every single operating system out there including many builds of Linux and Solaris (whereas MS Office is exclusive to just Windows and Mac).

Where I find this program really shines is in its ability to have bugs fixed or features added quite rapidly. If you encounter a bug or issue you can report it in the forums or other designated area of the site and the community developers, who are all volunteering of course, will generally try and tackle the problem and find a solution. In fact, in terms of finding solutions to any issues or problems you might face this is actually a better setup than the customer support typically provided for commercial software in that there’s no waiting for a long time for a small group of people from a company to get to the problem and then release a patch.

OpenOffice so far has an impressive track record of providing a comprehensive array of features. As for any features that MS Office has and OpenOffice.org does not, it is in my opinion a very safe bet that with a community of thousands of users, the continuous addition of comparable features is inevitable.

Another reason why I just find this program so great is that it tries to do something that few other companies have tried successfully: sticking it to Microsoft.

OpenOffice.org was spawned when Sun Microsystems realized it was spending millions of dollars on continually upgrading their versions of office software from Microsoft; at the same time, they needed office software for their Solaris operating system. It thence purchased a company called StarDivision that produced a suite of programs comparable to MS office (StarOffice) but could also run on Solaris and Linux. The source code to StarOffice was released and OpenOffice.org was born. Microsoft has worked incredibly hard to become the standard in every single way (esp. in the areas of operation systems and Office suites), but with OpenOffice.org users are finally presented with a real choice; and choice is good, especially if its free.

Version tested: 2.2.1

Compatibility: Windows 98 and up, Linux x86, Mac OSX, Solaris OE. Pentium processor, 128 MB RAM, 350 MB hard drive space + additional room for languages, a video card supporting at least an 800×600 resolution and 256
colours.

Go to the program page to get the latest version (approx 93 megs).