Home > Technology > Open Source Roundup: OpenOffice.org

Open Source Roundup: OpenOffice.org

I recently rebuilt my computer, and even though I had a copy of Microsoft Office 2003 (the last release I like) sitting around, I decided to try just using OpenOffice instead. For those of you who don’t know about OpenOffice but somehow managed to find a blog that reviews it, OpenOffice is an open-source competitor to Microsoft Office providing basically the same features. Don’t get too excited, platform vigilantes- while OpenOffice is free and open, all that code forms the base for new releases of Sun’s StarOffice. And Sun is at least half as evil as Microsoft.

That said, OpenOffice is one of the best free software suites around. It does just about everything Microsoft Office does, plus extra. For instance, its draw application is capable of more features than Visio, including converting bitmaps to vector art, and OpenOffice applications can output to PDF without the benefit of any free or retail plugins. OpenOffice Writer, the chunk most people will be interested in, does everything Word does and can even open and create Word’s .doc files (why you’d ever want to make a .doc file is beyond me). Perhaps the most striking feature of OpenOffice is Spreadsheet, which is almost feature-identical to Excel.

OpenOffice is not perfect. Writer performs noticibly slower than Word, and its spellcheck and autocorrection features feel incomplete and second-rate next to Word’s. When working in the .doc format, Writer is vulnerable to the same poor performance as Word, generating errors in long documents and getting genuinely confused with track changes. As files are passed back and forth between Office and OpenOffice, they seem to degrade somewhat as well. This doesn’t happen when you open a  Word document in Writer, but after your files have bounced between the two several times you may notice a font off or some spacing gone here and there. It’s really no worse than what happens when you move files between different versions of Office.

Final verdict: Microsoft Office is a fine suite, but considering it’s free, OpenOffice has nothing to be ashamed of. OpenOffice has come a long way and I’d say it’s ready for prime time. Its adoption by business may forever be nixed because, frankly, American businesses don’t trust open-source applications, but for any user looking to save a few hundred bucks, it’s a great alternative. Businesses should consider this: right now, Office Ultimate is retailing for $679.95. Assuming your business has 300 employees, who all need office software, and assuming Microsoft cuts you a whopping 50% discount, you’d still save over a hundred grand by adopting OpenOffice.

Think about it.

8/10 (9/10 if you’re too poor for anything else)

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