NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2007
Open Office 2.3 – Popular FREE Office Suite
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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http://download.openoffice.org/2.3.0/index.html - FREE Download
http://distribution.openoffice.org/cdrom/iso_downoad.html - FREE CD Image

Every school day I work with college students who have a need for a full featured office suite on their computers, but who also lack the fiscal resources it takes to purchase the ubiquitous market leader, Microsoft Office. I also have first hand knowledge of local small business owners who have a similar need for a comprehensive office suite, but lack the budgetary capacity to put a licensed version of Microsoft office on each of their computers. I have worked with low income single parents, struggling to properly educate their kids, who have a need for a quality office program, but simply can not afford to purchase Microsoft office from one of the local “big box” stores. These people, and many others, have a valid need for a full featured office suite, and can either not afford to purchase one, or desire to use a “freeware” product instead of the monopolistic market leader. Fortunately for these people, and everyone else for that matter, there is a free alternative: Open Office.

Open Office version 2.3 was recently released. Open Office is a free, comprehensive suite of office software that is feature rich, compatible with the market leader (Microsoft Office), and uses a similar interface requiring a near zero learning curve for those already familiar with office software products.

Open Office consists of six integrated modules that allow the user to easily accomplish virtually any traditional office task. The modules are the word processor “Writer”; an equation and formula writing utility “Math”; a powerful graphics package “Draw”; a full featured spreadsheet “Calc”; a comprehensive database utility “Base”; and a presentation utility “Impress”.

Arguably, the most widely utilized office software utility is a word processor, and Open Office provides a great one with Writer. Writer is not just a full featured word processor that is a direct competitor of Microsoft’s popular Word, it also incorporates many of the desktop publishing capabilities competitive with Publisher. Many common tasks are automated by the use of a “Wizard” which provides templates for letters, faxes, agendas, minutes, mail merge, and other routine tasks. An “AutoCorrect Dictionary” can check and correct spelling as words are being typed. For those who need to export documents to the web, Writer can save documents in the universal HTML format, allowing for rapid uploading to a web server. Publishing needs such as a table of contents, bibliography, and an index can be easily created with Writer. Documents can be saved in the universal standard Open Document format (XML), or in the common “portable document format” also known as PDF, without the need for an external PDF writer. For those who have a commercial office suite at work and Open Office at home, and for those who collaborate and exchange documents in Microsoft’s Word (doc) format, Open Office can read and write the doc format. Writer is a very capable word processor that can satisfy almost every writing need, and best of all it is free.

Possibly the second most utilized office software product is the spreadsheet, and Open Office obliges with its Calc software. Calc can do whatever most other spreadsheets can do, including number crunching, charts, and tables. The interface and menus will be familiar to any one who has used a major competing product such as Excel. Formulas can be entered similarly to other spreadsheets, but an added feature is the ability to use common terms instead of formulas and cell numbers; one example is to simply type “quantity * price” to get a sales amount, rather than typing geekish terms like “=B4*C4”. Open Office spreadsheet documents can be saved in the universal open document format (XML) or in PDF format. Calc can also read and write Microsoft Excel’s XLS format allowing for the easy exchange of files between products.

Many of us do presentations, and Microsoft’s PowerPoint has become the de facto standard for presentation software. Open Office can accept the PowerPoint challenge with its Impress software. Virtually anything that can be done in PowerPoint can be done with Impress, and the intuitive and familiar interface that many of us are already accustomed to is substantially preserved with Impress. Impress offers animations and special effects to rival PowerPoint. Like other Open Office components, Impress can save its files in the open document format, or as a “Flash” presentation in the SWF format. Not to be outdone by its competition, Impress can read and write in the PowerPoint PPT format allowing PowerPoint files to be opened and edited in Impress, and played on any PowerPoint equipped computer.

Open Office is not just a Windows product; there are versions for Mac OS-X, Linux, Solaris, and Free BSD. Open Office is also not just available in English, but also in dozens of other languages ranging from Albanian and Afrikaans to Vietnamese and Welsh. Open Office is truly a universal office application that can easily serve in a domestic application or with the largest multinational corporations. What is especially nice about Open Office is its price; it is free. Open Office can be downloaded from openoffice.org. It is a large download, in excess of 120 megs, depending on version desired, but it is free. For those who may want to distribute Open Office on a CD, such as to employees or students, an image file for a CD can be downloaded and burned to as many discs as desired for distribution.

Now when one of my students commiserates that he can not afford a full featured office suite, I will refer him to the free Open Office. Since it can read and write Microsoft Office file formats, there should be minimal problems moving files between home and school. For those who desire to do first class presentation, Impress will do an impressive job. Writer can write with the best of them. Calc can calculate and hold its own with the best competitive spreadsheets. Draw can read almost all popular graphics formats and compose its own popular graphics, and also output in SWF “Flash” format. The Base database program can read and write almost all database formats, and easily create reports. There is not much missing in Open Office, and it has definitely gained attention. According to the Open Office website (Market Share Analysis), over 100 million copies have been downloaded worldwide, and countless more distributed on disc.

To quote a popular phase from the old “Mikey” TV commercial, “Try it – you’ll like it”. I tried it and I liked it. You can too. There is nothing to lose, other than some download time. Go ahead and download Open Office 2.3. You may not need another office program after you do. NOTE: Image source – OpenOffice.org website

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