office software is becoming an increasingly viable Microsoft alternative
Alan Zisman (c) 2008 First published in Business
November 11-17, 2008; issue 994
High Tech Office column
With the release of the
2007 (Windows) and 2008 (Mac) versions of its widely used Office
software, Microsoft burdened customers with a set of new file formats.
The new Microsoft Word, for example, saves documents by default as DOCX
files rather than in the DOC format used since Word 97. The defaults
can be reset to the older formats, but I suspect few users have done
Microsoft released converters allowing versions as far
back as Office 2000 for Windows to open the new-format files and
belatedly did the same for Mac Office 2004 but not older Mac versions.
Not surprisingly, companies competing with Microsoft have had to play
catch-up if they wanted their customers to be able to work with files
created by Office 2007/2008 users.
In October, the developers of OpenOffice.org
did just that, giving version 3.0 of their free open-source office
suite the ability to work with the new Microsoft word processor and
spreadsheet formats – though not the new PowerPoint format. Version 3.0
also marks the first full release for Mac OS X, alongside versions for
Windows, Linux and other operating systems.
improved. The program starts up and opens files much faster than
previous versions. The interface has not changed much. It resembles
older versions of Microsoft Office, with standard menus and toolbars.
This retro look could be welcomed by organizations reluctant to train
employees to work with a mix of old-style and new-look Microsoft Office
versions. The OpenOffice.org software does, however, include features
not built into Office, such as the ability to export files in PDF
format (available as a free download with Office 2007, but not with
earlier versions). And some features – changing the default template or
working headers and footers, for instance – are easier in
OpenOffice.org’s Writer than in Microsoft Word.
Some Mac users
updating to Microsoft Office 2008 were disappointed that the new
version lacked support for VisualBasic macros created with earlier
versions. The new Mac OpenOffice.org 3.0 offers support for at least
some of these macros.
The ability of competitive products to
handle Microsoft Office file formats is key; the new OpenOffice does a
good job of this. Complex word- processing documents are imported with
formatting intact though, not surprisingly, Word features that lack
OpenOffice equivalents, such as SmartArt, are ignored.
doesn’t include an equivalent to MS Office Publisher page layout
program and doesn’t support that program’s files. The database module
isn’t compatible with MS Access. It can be used with a number of large
corporate databases however, and unlike Microsoft’s Windows-only
Access, is available to Mac users.
Just as the new versions of
Microsoft Office default to saving files in that company’s new OOXML
file formats, the various OpenOffice.org applications default to saving
files in the relatively obscure Open Document Formats (ODF). These
formats are recognized international standards and are getting
increased use. Even Microsoft is promising support in an upcoming MS
Office version. But it’s easy to change the defaults to the old
Microsoft file versions. Unlike in Microsoft Office, where you have to
do this separately in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, in Open Office you
can do it in a single dialogue box. I recommend doing so, whether using
OpenOffice or Microsoft Office 2007 or 2008. Recipients of your e-mail
attachments will be grateful.
Demand for the new version of
OpenOffice was heavy enough to temporarily melt down OpenOffice.org’s
servers, but they’re back in business. If you want official tech
support, wait for updated versions of either Sun’s StarOffice or IBM’s
Symphony, both of which are built on the same code base as OpenOffice,
but were not updated to the new version as I write.
economy makes OpenOffice’s price – free – more attractive than ever,
especially when combined with the new version’s improved performance
and compatibility. •