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Review of OpenOffice by John Coulthard


I have been exploring the use of free Open Source software as an alternative to Microsoft Software for some months now. I installed Open Office on my Windows 2000 computer to see if I could use it to perform all the tasks I used to do with Word 2000. I have been using Open Office for about 3 months now for my word processing and spreadsheet needs. In a nutshell I am satisfied. I recommend Open Office to anyone who wants a reasonably powerful word processor and spreadsheet program for their Windows or Linux system. Compatibility with Word 2000 is not perfect but good enough to allow the sharing of documents.

My "complicated" MS Word documents contain things like Tables of Contents, Tables and images that I wrap text around. Open Office can read and write all these files. In fact you can configure it to keep the files in the MS Word format by default. However I recommend keeping your documents in the native Open Office format and saving them in the word format only when you want to exchange them with other people. For straight forward documents (no tables, no word wrapping around images) compatibility with Word 2000 appears to be perfect. For more complicated documents the compatibility is not perfect. For example text may not wrap around images in exactly the same way. The differences are not large and I do not consider them "show stoppers". However, for complicated documents, expect the MS Word people to have to "tweak" the document somewhat if they want exactly the same output. Similarly you may have to "tweak" documents you receive from people using MS Word. Open Office documents are automatically compressed and typically take up only a tenth to a half the file space that is used by the equivalent MS Word formated document.

Open Office does not have the same "look and feel" as MS Word. The functionality that I need is there but how I invoke it often differs from MS Word. You won't find Mail Merge under "Tools... Mail Merge...", it is under "File... Form Letter." and works in quite a different fashion. For some functions, for example handling Tables of Contents and Tables, I found Open Office to be more intuitive to use.

Open Office can handle all my MS Excel documents. The compatibility is much less perfect than it is for Word documents. Just about every spreadsheet had to be "tweaked" somewhat due to differences in the way Open Office handles things. But there were no show stoppers.

Conclusion

Open Office is certainly worth a try before spending a lot of money. I don't consider myself a "power user". It has been years since I have used Styles – don't worry if you don't know what they are. But I also know I use Word Processors in ways that many people never consider. I wrap text around images. I use Tables of Contents and Tables. I generate mailing labels and business cards. I use mail merge. All this works, although not necessarily in the same way as MS Word does.

See www.openoffice.org to obtain a copy of Open Office. It is quite large at 50mb. If you don't have a high speed Internet connection you may want to visit a friend with a high speed interface and CD writer to obtain a copy, or order a CD for a small cost.

This document was created using the Open Office HTML Web editor.

About the Author

a retired Computer Professional with a broad range of computer skills gained providing technical, management, and instructional support at the Computing Services Department, University of British Columbia. To see what keeps me busy when I am not busy on my computer check my personal home page.