There are good, even free, alternatives to Microsoft
Business in Vancouver,
June 19, 2001
The high-tech office column
by ALAN ZISMAN
Over the past three columns, we've looked at
new office suites
from Corel and Microsoft. Between them, these two
account for most of the market, but they're not the only options.
Lotus/IBM, for example, continues to develop
office suite. Their latest is the Millennium version. It's often found
preinstalled on IBM's popular Thinkpad notebooks and other hardware,
users tend to overlook it in favour of the Microsoft or Corel products
with greater mind and market share.
That's too bad. Along with offering reasonable
compatibility with Microsoft
file formats, Smartsuite's components offer a lot more. Wordpro is
the best of the word processors for page layout. The Lotus 1-2-3
is a modern version of this classic. The Freelance Graphics
package, Organizer personal information manager and Approach database
combine power and ease of use. The suite has long included
features that Microsoft is just starting to offer. The suite is an
good choice for organizations using Lotus Notes for networked
Sun purchased and continues to update Star
it for free download (or as an inexpensive CD for those averse to 50-MB
The latest version 5.2 is available for Windows,
Solaris/Sparc or Linux
users and promises improved compatibility with Microsoft file formats.
While Microsoft is pushing Office XP as a step towards its vision of
connectivity, Sun makes the same claims for its office suite
Somewhat more modest perhaps is Software 602,
as a free download, at least for home/small business users (www.software602.com).
The free Windows-only version promises Word and Excel compatibility,
with Outlook Express and digital camera and scanner support.
(also free) is required to activate the spell checker. Relatively
paid versions add a variety of network features, the ability to create Adobe
Acrobat PDF files, and more.
If you have a fast and stable Internet connection,
there are also several
Office alternatives online. They won't be as responsive as an
on your local hard drive and will be totally unusable when you don't
network access but, overall, they work better than you might expect.
On the other hand, perhaps not surprisingly, they have
by the general Internet commerce meltdown. Of six such offerings
by PC Magazine last summer, two have vanished (including their
of breed, Hotoffice), while one has merged. Still worth a look
is Thinkfree Office (www.thinkfree.com).
While more of an Office-lite
than a product a power user would love, it offers online Write, Calc
Show programs, along with folders for storing your work. The company
aimed for what it considers the 80 per cent of users who use 20 per
of Office's features. Write, the word processor, offers a choice of
compatibility or HTML creation, complete with graphics and tables,
checking and user-customizable dictionaries. Java-based, it will run on
Windows, Linux and Mac systems and requires only about 10 MB of space
a user's system. The 20 MB of Cyberdrive space provided shows up on
system as if it were a hard drive, but is accessible anywhere you have
an Internet connection.
Despite the name, Thinkfree is no longer available
free; it costs US$50
a year per user. More online storage is available for additional costs.
Other Office alternatives include the more modest
programs, still offering
more than most of us really need: Microsoft Works or Appleworks (Mac
Despite the range of alternatives, the most popular
Office XP alternative
will remain older versions of Microsoft Office. While Microsoft claims
an astounding 250-million Office users, only 20 per cent upgraded to
2000. It remains to be seen how many will be seduced by Microsoft's
of where it wants you to go today.