More on Free Office Suites: Office on a Stick

More on Free Office Suites: Office on a StickMore on free Microsoft Office suite alteratives and their ramifications: Since my last post on the availability of free office suites, with emphasis on LibreOffice, I have received many comments. Several people mentioned the questionable start of Kingsoft. I was not aware of this, but apparently the original version of its free package expired after a year — without a previous warning! Of course, if the user paid for it, the company would re-activate the “free” package. That ploy seems to have ticked a lot of people off. I believe that, at this time, the free version is indeed free, but the scandal left a bad taste with many users.

One aspect of free office suites that I had overlooked in the last post is the possibility of using them without a dedicated host computer. Ob55555555 [sic] pointed out that OpenOffice can be loaded on a USB stick for portable application. I have not done that, or even looked into how to do it, but I do have Ubuntu on a stick complete with LibreOffice and Firefox. Sometimes popping the stick into a borrowed computer and booting to live Linux is useful both for immediate surfing the Internet and for the availability of an office suite that I am familiar with. (Live installation simply means booting to RAM from the stick without bothering the hard drive or the native OS. Most modern computers permit this. For those that do not, I carry a bootable CD of live Linux.) As a nice extra, Firefox can sync up with my bookmarks over the cloud so that surfing is just like at home. Checking email is not an issue with a Web-based mail client. What more can you ask for? And it all comes in a small flash drive.

My boot stick has a lot of empty space, so should I want to write a letter for later review or create a spreadsheet and save it, both the letter and the spreadsheet can be stored and not lost when the live session is closed. The other resources of the host computer are available with some effort, but accessing the host hard drive through Ubuntu is simple. This means that I could copy files from the host and edit them with LibreOffice and save the result of either or both the hard drive and stick. A word of warning: Before you let me or anyone else plug anything into your computer, be aware this is a security issue. A Windows logon password does not prevent my live Linux from accessing personal data. In fact, the stick has an application that will tell me the Windows passwords.

Violating security is potentially a bad thing since I could, given a few minutes alone with a computer, copy a lot of personal data on my USB stick and log off before anyone knew. But on the other hand, I have successfully recovered data from a client’s non-booting system this way before digging in to see what the problem was. Getting in and grabbing data before mucking about can save things that otherwise might be lost in the process of trying to fix the computer. Before hard drives completely fail, they sometimes signal their impending demise by suffering a few bad sectors. With a quick response, sometimes data can be salvaged before total failure.

Carrying this process a step further, why bother carrying a laptop or tablet with you when all you need for most things is a simple USB stick? Almost anywhere you go there will be a potential host for your live system. Staying at a motel? Log on to the communal computer and you will not leave a trail behind you on the hard drive. You might have to talk to management to make it happen, but that can be part of the adventure. What is life without a few puzzles? Finding a suitable host at other places such as airports can be a problem, but still, this is an interesting alternate lifestyle — no laptop.

I have not tried to make a live version of Microsoft Office or any other paid-for and protected software applications. It probably can be done with some effort and maybe by violating the user agreement. If so, that is another reason to become familiar with any of the free alternatives.

Finally, why do we think everyone needs a complete suite? If all you want is word processing, why buy or download a complete suite with components you are not planning to use? Having the equivalent of Microsoft Access will not do any good for the average user. LibreOffice comes with a great facility for writing mathematical expressions. I like it, but what fraction of the intended users need it? I think the answer is that people — power users and beginners, alike — want a simple decision. Download the suite. That is simple. By downloading the whole thing, they are assured of at least getting what they want. The alternative is to present users with a menu that will likely confuse and turn off a significant number. Hard drive space is essentially free, so why not simply include all applications with each package — even when that means a majority of functionality across all downloads will not be used?

So experiment and find the suite you like. Then I’ll bet you can find a spate of free tutorial videos for it. As a tutor, I suppose the availability of free tutorials should distress me, but I love it and am glad to share links with my clients. And it works both ways. Sometimes clients will send me links that I did not know about. The world has changed since I first tried to wade through an early manual for GIMP. Free things do not always mean cloudy documentation.

OpenOffice – Could It Be Right For You?

I have been using Microsoft Office for about 15 years and have always found it a very good software product. Yes, there have been some minor issues, but for the most it has been a very useful products. On the Windows side of my system I continue to use Microsoft Office 2007 Ultimate and thus far I have enjoyed the product. But since I am also booting into Linux Mint, I have also used OpenOffice, which is the default product that comes with Mint.

I am using OpenOffice version 3.2, which, as I stated, was the default that came with Mint. OpenOffice is a complete suite of products that is very similar to what Microsoft Office offers. Though the product names are different, the Calc spreadsheet is similar to Excel, Writer is similar to Word and so forth. The basic functions are the same. Notice the word basic. Because using OpenOffice is basically the same as Microsoft Office, so the learning curve I found was minimal.

There was one thing I discovered about myself and my relationship with either Office products. I have changed how I use Office over the years. There was a time I used mail merge, spreadsheets, and made presentations. But that is no longer the case. I basically use Word for creating documents which require minimal functions. I also find that I use .pdf documents the most for receiving newsletters from other organizations.

I copied over all of my Word documents from Windows 7 to Mint. OpenOffice had no problem opening any of them. In fact, OpenOffice also allowed the saving of the document in either Microsoft Office file formats or its own file format. Compatibility for me wasn’t an issue.

The best way to find out how well 3.2 can work for you is to download it and give it a try. Versions are available at the link below and versions are available for 32 bit and 64 bit Windows, Linus, OS X, and also for Solaris.

After using OpenOffice, along with Mint, I discovered that OpenOffice has everything I needed. Your mileage may vary.

Oh, I almost forgot the best part. OpenOffice is free. :-)

Comments welcome.

Download OpenOffice from here.

Microsoft Office Web Apps Rock

There should be an image here!Most of the time, I find Microsoft technology irritating. Typing this on Ubuntu, I think anyone who knows me realizes that in most instances, I prefer non-Microsoft products. Well, today Microsoft pulled a fast one on me and developed a great Web product: Office 2010 Web Apps.

Now I am still not a fan of the whole ribbon UI thing. It’s nothing Earth shattering, but I could do without. Despite this, I could not get over how much smoother looking and faster the MS Office Web Apps are over Google Docs. Running Chrome, on Ubuntu, I found that MS Office rocked along at speeds that I think might be a bit faster than Docs. But this may just be due to the connection at one time vs. another to the Internet.

Regardless, kudos to Microsoft for not only making this cross platform available to EVERYONE, but also making things easy to use… even with the ribbon UI. Good job to its dev team — I am impressed. Now I can utilize Docx when I need to without having to get creative.

[awsbullet:Office 2010 For Dummies]

Google Docs To Delete Office 2K?

There should be an image here!Office 2000 is indeed, older than most people might care to admit. But for many folks, it is just what the doctor ordered and does what they need it to do. Sadly, it is coming to an end of life here soon, which means there will be no more security patches for this software. Will this translate into more people making the switch over to Google Docs? Not for those who have never heard of it.

With all of the excitement at the prospect seeing massive number of people suddenly dropping MS Office 2000 for Google Docs, apparently the fact that most people have no idea what Google Docs is or does, has not entered into anyone’s mind?

I would go on to say that there are there are plenty of reasons why using Google Docs make a lot of sense for most people. This being said though, others still, might prefer to use Open Office instead? But there will always be those, especially those who do a lot of document sharing, who are willing to fork out the cast for MS Office in its most current form. But they are not using old MS Office 2000 now, are they?

OpenOffice 3.0 – Just Another Office Suite?

I have to admit that I was expecting a heck of a lot more from the latest release of OpenOffice, at least a Web site with some content on it (wink). And as luck would have it, the Ubuntu release is 32bit only… so I had to use “The Force,” so to speak. Basically that is Linux speak for forcing the install even though it is designed for the 32 bit architecture. In the end, it installed fine. Yet once I opened up the application, I was surprised to see that visually, very little has changed. Then I remembered how Fisher Price-looking the latest release was, immediately I felt a lot better. For me, I was simply not a fan of the newer MS Office interface and would prefer to use 2002 or 2000 instead, myself.

Ah, I digress. So after playing a bit more with the latest OpenOffice release, I have found myself pondering:

  • Is it just me, or is this release loading faster? Perhaps instead, it has to do with my recent RAM upgrade? Somehow I suspect the latter is the most likely.
  • Features. Despite my not enjoying paying the Microsoft premium, the fact is that MS Office does have features not found elsewhere. Problem is, not everyone needs the Outline tool among others — myself included. This said, if I was in a real pinch, I would load up my copy of MS Office 2007 with CrossOver Office (based on WINE).
  • Lack of Power Users. Not everyone needs the advanced stuff not offered by OpenOffice and I think that bundled with the price of zero dollars is part of the reason why there has been such a demand for this suite.

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So was it worth the upgrade? I suppose so, certainly better than buying Lotus Symphony 1.1 which allegedly uses OpenOffice 1.x for its core. Yeah, not only are you paying the price, you are buying an older product at the core — how does this work?

At the end of the day, if you need a shiny looking UI and/or the advanced features provided by MS Office, then I would recommend sticking with it. For the rest of us simply needing a good Word/Excel/PowerPoint alternative, the choice is painfully obvious.

Freedom Of Choice

While OpenOffice has made some significant strides over the years, it is simply not doing as well as many users need it to. This leads some people to break down and buy the costly Microsoft Office product instead. I can certainly understand this, it is a simple matter of the tool that fits the job.

Thankfully, from within the closed source world there is still a freedom of choice, both Web-based and localized.

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Now many people to this day have the belief that if Java is powering the application, then it is slow, difficult to use, and generally feels like something from the 1990s. To be blunt, you would be generalizing based on your poor experience with one or two poorly written applications. The truth is that there are many applications that are built on Java technology that do indeed, blow the doors off of other similar applications from the price point to the overall user experience. This said, I think the trend with Thinkfree, Google, Microsoft, Zoho, and others to provide Ajax alternatives is a good idea as it provides even more choices.

As for those who point out that most of these options lack Outlook, I would point out that when I was still bound to that PIM on Windows XP, I chose to purchase the standalone CD, rather than the entire office suite. Later on, it turned out that I did not need that specific PIM any longer anyway. But the point remains, you can mix and match for your own needs. One office suite here, then use whichever PIM you desire with a little searching.

So what is your favorite office suite? Are you partial to older versions of MS Office, alternatives like OpenOffice, or perhaps the shiny MS Office being sold today with its new ‘layout?’ Speaking for myself, while I own a copy of Office 2007, it is the archaic menus and new layout that tend to drive me back to an older version of OpenOffice myself, as it is free to use. But this is just what meets with my own needs. To each their own.

Two Web Based Applications You Have Never Heard Of

Really pumped that I discovered these today, hoping that they are indeed, new to each of you.

Mint – Not to be confused with Linux Mint, Mint in this instance is all about finding a real alternative to your Quicken software. Not saying it is a true replacement mind you, however based on what I have seen – it very well could develop into one.

Zoho – Providing users just about anything you could imagine from a word processor to a real on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) tool, these guys are on the ball.

(edit – looks like Bill was already ahead of me here. Odd, as I discovered it elsewhere, must be using the same newsfeed?)

What I found most interesting about each of these online applications is that even if some of them are already offered by Google or Microsoft, there is something to be said about offering alternatives elsewhere.

In addition, some of apps I found are not really available by either of the aforementioned companies as of yet. Examples include Mint, along with a number of the Zoho applications including but not limited to:

  1. Zoho Wiki
  2. Zoho Notebook
  3. Zoho CRM
  4. Zoho Creator

To be clear, I am talking about online applications, not the offline sort or the ability to collaborate over the Internet using the offline apps.

So does this mean that online applications are beginning to grow up some? Not really too sure about that. Online office suites are one thing, however feeling comfortable enough to publish your financial data to a website, regardless of certifications and security, simply makes me a little uneasy. Then again, most of us do this everyday without a second thought – it’s called online banking. Perhaps it is time to put down our past prejudices and give these apps a shot? What do you think?

Web Apps DOA?

Are web apps from the likes of Google simply dead on arrival? Depends which Kool-aid you are drinking from. If it happens to be from Google, then of course everything web based is wondrous and should be held higher than the reliable local app that does not require an Internet connection. To be fair however, with additions of such items as Google Gears, some Google web apps could eventually gain some teeth.

That said, if you are drinking from Microsoft’s Kool-aid, then you would happily believe that people are totally fine with shelling out hundreds for a now bloated, psychedelic looking word processing app (spreadsheet, database, PIM, etc). Understand, I am not saying that Open Office is the best out there with regards to appearance and its use of Java is bloated. But wow, at least I can find the options I am looking for as the latest version of Office turned me off like a light switch. Office 2K, that was a good suite. Everything since has been fluff.

In the eyes of the average user, it is true, why would they have heard of anything other than Google Search or YouTube? Google has done nothing other than appeal to computer nerds with its online suite. See, the fundamental difference between Google’s Office suite and Microsoft’s is that I see it everywhere. On existing Windows installs, at the big box stores, even on TV. Where is Google? On YouTube? A link from the search engine? In IT related articles like this? Get serious.

If however, you were to take a CD, create a website link to Google Apps, then roll out really slick packaging, an ad campaign and perhaps most importantly, removing the odd-ball UI from the apps themselves, Google might have something. Google has a fairly decent word processor and its document sharing is nice, despite them no longer having the market there any longer thanks to Microsoft’s own efforts, be it not original. But at the end of the day, free or not, nobody of real consequence is honestly using their products…

Speaking frankly, Open Office, NeoOffice (based on Oo) and even ThinkFree, is in a stronger position than Google’s apps. Sure, they are a bit heavier in the bloat dept. However for anyone running a PC with half-way decent resources, they provide for solid products that are usable for the typical user. Does this mean that Google apps are not as good? No, in some ways they are better as the apps are only as heavy as the browser you use it in. Then again, Google apps have a layout that is as hair-pulling as the latest revision of MS Office.

Seriously, I have seen people try and use MS Office 2007. Each of them is clear – they want their old version of Office back. Then I setup Open Office to save as MS docs for them by default and all of sudden, they are blown away. For about 98% of the users out there (my opinion), MS Office is way more than is actually needed.

Microsoft does database software and PIMs (personal Information Managers) right for sure. But their word processing and spreadsheets are typically better suited for office settings with some highly unusual needs based on my experience. To be clear, I think Office 2000 was fantastic, no problems with it. However I own a copy of MS Office 2007 and honestly fail to see why anyone would put themselves through it.

Web apps DOA? Perhaps. And while I do not see Open Office gaining much share outside of people already sharing it with friends, other non-Java based competitors could easily mop the floor with MS Office by killing them at the cash register with a better price point. As for Google, it is true that people in the mainstream are not ready to accept free online apps as a free, service just yet. But then again, I never though Firefox would do as well, either, especially considering Microsoft bundling their browser with everything they touch! Guess anything is possible…

[tags]Microsoft, Office suite, word processing[/tags]

Detect And Repair In Microsoft Word

In a previous article I introduced you to the Detect and Repair function in Microsoft Word. It can be used to correct various application problems. However, not everyone is a fan of this feature. A Lockergnome reader recently sent me a response to the article, providing me with another opinion about using the Detect and Repair function. Since I felt it was a valid response, here it is for the rest of you to consider:

I have been fixing problems encountered by different users of the MS Office Suite since 1997. In my experience, the “Detect and Repair” tool is a waste of time except perhaps for newbies with absolutely no one to turn to for help. One reason is that the tool usually doesn’t fix anything because the problem is not caused by a corrupt file. More important, it is ALWAYS much faster to uninstall and then reinstall the entire Office Suite than to run the “Detect and Repair” tool to fix a single component.

[tags]diana huggins,office suite,150+ microsoft office tips,detect and repair,corrupt file[/tags]