There are many fancy reasons that OpenOffice.org is a great choice for your office work. For example, its open source and it supports an open format document standard, OpenDocument.
But lets put "openness" to the side. Let me get down to the nitty-gritty: Its free (as in free beer) and it works. Whats not to like?
Ive been running a late beta of OpenOffice.org 2.0 on both my SuSE 9.3 and 10 Linux boxes and on Windows XP. And, you know what? It works great.
Ive started writing with vi on Unix and WordStar on CP/M. Over the years, Ive used Lotus Word, WordPerfect and, yes, every version of Microsoft Word for Windows from 2.0 to 2003. Along the way, Ive also used spreadsheets starting with VisiCalc, with many years spent on Lotus 1-2-3 and Quattro Pro and for the last five years, Microsoft Excel.
I could go on, but suffice it to say, "Steven knows office software."
OpenOffice.org is every bit as good as the best of all those proprietary programs—Lotus Word Pro 9.8 and Excel 2000 for my money—and in some ways its even better.
For example, OpenOffice.org supports XForms—a newish Web standard for building forms using XML—and it has excellent HTML support. If youre like a lot of people who use Microsoft FrontPage because you want a Web authoring tool that acts like a word processor, you should stop mucking about with the perpetually annoying FrontPage and move to OpenOffice.org.
No, its not an out-and-out Web authoring tool suite. For that, beginners should look to the open-source Nvu, while advanced users should head over to Macromedias newly updated Dreamweaver. But OpenOffice.org is more than good enough for most folks, and its free.
Got a ton of stuff already in Microsoft formats? Dont sweat it.
While extremely fancy documents—think legal paperwork—may not make it over from Microsoft to OpenDocument in perfect shape, the vast majority of your papers and spreadsheets will translate perfectly from one to the other.
Let me put it this way: Over the last four months, Ive flipped hundreds of documents and spreadsheets from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org and back again, and I havent lost a font or a formula yet.
The new OpenOffice.org also boasts an interface thats much more like the Microsoft Office interface. Unlike Microsoft Office, though, you can run it on Windows, Linux or Solaris and, regardless of platform, it looks and works the same.
The program will keep the look of its native environment. So, if youre running it on XP, it will look like an XP application; on Linux with KDE, it will look like a KDE application, and so on.
I havent been a big fan of personal database programs for a long time now. The only one out there these days that I care for at all is Microsofts Visual FoxPro. Yes, I can say good things about Microsoft products—when they really are good.
That said, OpenOffice.orgs Base Java-based HSQLDB database engine is a solid database. Its real selling point to me is that it has both good SQL and JDBC (Java Database Connect) support. In short, while I still look to FoxPro for PC-based databases, I can see using OpenOffice.org 2.0 to model a serious, server-based DBMS. The idea of even attempting that same job with Microsoft Access makes me ill.
On the other hand, I found one area of Microsoft Office where it still holds the lead over OpenOffice.org: presentations. PowerPoint is just a richer application than OpenOffice.orgs Impress.
Dont get me wrong. Impress is a fine presentation creation program. With its new Multipane View and many more animation effects and slide transitions, its far better than OpenOffice.org 1.1.5. For anyone who doesnt do a lot of presentations, Impress is more than enough. Its just that, in my experience, people who tend to work on presentations do a lot with them and they want every bit of power they can get their hands on. For those users, PowerPoint is still the better choice.
Finally, OpenOffice.org still doesnt have a grammar checker. If you have to have one of those, however, there is another open-source word processor, AbiSources AbiWord, which does come with one.
Of course, you could get that in Microsoft Office, but lets get back to brass tacks again. OpenOffice.orgs price tag: 0. Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003s list price: $499 new, $329 as an upgrade.
Day in and day out office usability? For all practical purposes, theyre about the same.
So, which would you rather buy?
eWEEK.com Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way. He can be reached at email@example.com.