Here’s a good free
detour around Microsoft’s toll road
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
February 27-March 6, 2006; issue 853
High Tech Office column;
A few issues ago, we
looked at Corel WordPerfect,
with its new X3
version aiming to position itself as an affordable alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite.
WordPerfect promises an interface that will
seem familiar to MS Office users. It also has some useful features such
as PDF import that go beyond what Microsoft is promising, even in its
upcoming version, and, recognizing that Microsoft’s Office dominates
the product category, WordPerfect offers better-than-ever compatibility
with Office file formats. Not a bad deal for about half of what
for businesses, organizations and individuals open to alternatives,
it’s hard to beat free as a price. And that’s the cost of the
five-year-old open source OpenOffice.org office suite,
which also has a
new version 2.
suite, available for download from www.openoffice.org, includes word
processor, spreadsheet and presentation modules with good Microsoft
Word, Excel and PowerPoint compatibility. It also has a new database
module, though that makes no claims to compatibility with the Microsoft
The new version adds support for
password-protected MS Office files and for WordPerfect files.
redesigned interface will raise the comfort level for users moving from
Microsoft’s suite, while all modules feature PDF export, which
Microsoft is only promising for its next Office version. (OO.org does
not match WordPerfect’s PDF import feature, however.)
new interface is most improved on OpenOffice Impress, the suite’s
presentation module, making it a more effective challenger to
PowerPoint. Impress lacks the wealth of pre-made presentation templates
bundled with PowerPoint, though many of these have become such clichés
that forcing users to create their own slide designs may provide relief
to presentation audiences.
new OpenOffice.org version by default saves files in OpenDocument
format, a new international standard. It’s easy, however, to change the
defaults so that files are automatically saved in the equivalent
Microsoft Office formats, making for easier exchange with all those
users of the high-priced spread.
can take a while to load the first time, especially on older hardware.
There’s a trick that can help, however. Go into the options and disable
Java support, which is only needed by the database module; that can cut
startup time by half or more.
is available in versions for Windows, Linux and several other
Unix-dialects. A Mac OS X version is available, but does not support
the standard Mac interface, requiring installation of the Unix X11
interface. Alternatively, NeoOffice/J is a more Mac-like offshoot,
though it’s not yet updated with the latest OO.org features. If you or
your organization’s IT department turn pale at the thought of
downloading an office suite that lacks formal tech support, consider Sun’s StarOffice 8. While a
commercial product, complete with support,
StarOffice shares most programming code with its free OpenOffice.org
sibling, but includes some enhanced features such as a Macro Migration
Wizard to aid in converting Microsoft Office Visual Basic macros.
StarOffice pricing starts at around $85 and drops rapidly for multiple
you need to access Microsoft Access database files or if your business
has standardized on Microsoft Outlook for e-mail and calendaring, you
might have no options. Resign yourself to paying whatever price is
necessary to outfit yourself with Microsoft Office.
you have some flexibility in those areas, however, it might be worth
your while to add one to the over 50 million downloads of