What Free Office Suite is Best? Why?

Which Free Office Suite is Best? Why?This week I gave two related presentations, and already one of them might be outdated. The first presentation was on LibreOffice for a general audience of seniors. The second was on applications available for easy download on Linux presented at a PC users club. LibreOffice also played a part in that. Both audiences were composed of seniors who were interested in learning more about computers. Both presentations were well-received.

At the LibreOffice presentation, I mentioned that it is not the only free alternative to Microsoft Office by a long shot. There are at least five or six others, most of which I had tried. Then I gave the usual demonstrations of word processing and spreadsheets and demonstrated compatibility with Microsoft. Then we had an open Q and A period. One of the questions asked about LibreOffice was the history of how it came to be and how it compares with the alternatives. We discussed the difference between open source software and other types of free applications. Although I have tried most of them, there was a glaring exception. I knew about Kingsoft, and had read reviews of it, but had not downloaded and tried it. Kingsoft comes in two varieties: free and premium. For what it is worth, Kingsoft comes from China.

After the presentations, I decided to download and install the latest version of Kingsoft. It is really good! This causes me some heartburn and moral dilemma. Kingsoft is not from the open source community. It is from a Chinese company that would dearly love to have you expand beyond its free download version to its premium version — which is still much less expensive than the equivalent Microsoft product. This is not even close to the sense of community one gets using LibreOffice.

All this brings out is the old analogy that “free” can mean free as in “free beer” or free as in “free speech.” Both OpenOffice and LibreOffice are free in the first sense, but LibreOffice seems to be freer in the second sense, which contributed to their bifurcation. In the case of Kingsoft, there is no question about being free in the second sense. So how important is it that an application does what is it supposed to do and does it with compatibility? Does that parameter trump all other considerations?

Maybe a good comparison is the difference between regular and organic food. A nutritionist might find no difference between an inexpensive tomato and one that is certified organic. Maybe in a blindfold test you might not be able to tell the difference in taste. So why should you pay for organic? Maybe you do not believe the nutritionist. But I suspect that the majority of people who spend the extra money for organic products do it for essentially irrational, unsupported feelings. Organic sounds better, and I feel better when I buy it — so there!

In the same way, I might be unable to make a completely rational decision about which free office suite is best because the offerings range from highly organized corporate to loosely organized open source. The motives driving the developers range from pure money-making to something that is difficult to describe and not sound like I spend evenings around the campfire singing “Kumbaya.”

To work out of this mental dilemma, perhaps we should back up and try to define the scale upon which we measure the value of freely available suites. Because Microsoft is the elephant in the room, one measure is how compatible the components are with Microsoft products. The inability to import or export to Office is a strong negative.

Another value is related since it also involves Microsoft. How easy is it to learn a new application if one has a passing knowledge of Office?

Do candidate suites have a full offering of all major components and functions? The free version of Kingsoft does not seem to offer macros. Is it worthwhile to upgrade? AbiWord is a nice word processor, but it is not part of a complete office suite. The list could go on to examine Lotus Symphony, OpenOffice, LibreOffice, and the various cloud alternatives (such as Google Docs). When we make the rational comparisons, I suspect that one or two might be eliminated, but the remainders are not significantly different from each other. Therefore, the ultimate choice takes us back to the moral one of whether or not we want to support a particular organization.

If the organization does not make a difference to you, then you are like the person who buys good (i.e., nutritious) food that might or might not be organic.

Finally, there is the issue of what your friends are using, and that consideration can trump every other parameter. If people in your community use LibreOffice, you will probably use it and benefit from mutual exchange of tips and shortcuts. If the people around you are not adventurous and unwilling to learn new things, they are likely going to stick with Microsoft and not even acknowledge that there are worthy alternatives.

My experience dealing with many seniors is that most of them are surprised that there is more than one game in town. Then they are doubly surprised to learn that some of the other games are free. Most of them are turned off by the concept of a free office. If it is free, they reason, it must be second-rate. This attitude amazes me since all of them use a free search engine and free email clients.

At this time, I know one person who uses Kingsoft primarily, and a handful of seniors who use either OpenOffice or LibreOffice. But the largest fraction of the seniors I know bought various versions of Microsoft Office. Some of them, who are on limited budgets, bought it after I recommended they try a free alternative. Go figure. But then I still prefer LibreOffice to Kingsoft and have difficulty defending that. Go figure.

Upgrading To Office 2010 And Alternatives

There should be an image here!Q: I’ve got an old computer that has Office 2003 on it that I am about to replace. Should I get Office 2007 or Office 2010 if I am going to upgrade? — Kyle

A: Microsoft’s Office Suite has become so ubiquitous that many people buying new computers just assume that it’s part of Windows, which it isn’t.

Even though you’re using Office 2003 on your old computer and will likely have Windows 7 on your new computer, as long as you have the original disk you can install and run Office 2003 on your new computer with no problem.

If you want to upgrade, the costs may be about the same for either 2007 or 2010 depending upon when and where you buy your computer.

The biggest complaint for those that have upgraded from Office 2003 to Office 2007 is the new navigation system known as the ‘ribbon,’ which dramatically changed the way you work with the various programs.

The actual menu system that has been in Office products from the beginning changed dramatically when Office 2007 was released (big mistake, IMHO).

For those willing to work through the learning curve of the new interface, the general response is that it’s more useful, but I have yet to meet anyone that fell in love with the ribbon system from the beginning.

Microsoft heard the uproar, loud and clear, so Office 2010 has more of the traditional menu system (Backstage) intertwined with the new ribbon system so that it’s less traumatic. It also added the ability to fully customize each ribbon, which again, if you are willing to spend the time learning, will be very handy.

Other improvements of Office 2010 over 2007 include:

  • Paste preview: You can now preview text or graphics before you paste them in
  • Improved picture-editing tools: many more adjustments that you can make to images on-the-fly (including background removal)
  • Better text effects in Word
  • Sparklines for Excel: add mini charts inside of a cell to show trending of the adjacent data
  • Easier embedding and editing of video in PowerPoint
  • Easy Web broadcasting of your PowerPoint presentations: others can see your presentation via their Web browser
  • Outlook gets social: You won’t have to switch to see your Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. feeds
  • Outlook adds Conversation view: see your email messages as a conversation (like Gmail) instead of individual messages
  • Better search tools throughout
  • Stronger security settings: better tools to protect documents from unauthorized access & editing
  • Office Web Apps: a limited online version for document sharing and calibration (to compete with Google Docs)

In my opinion, if you’re going to upgrade, spend your money on Office 2010 so you get the benefit of what Microsoft learned from Office 2007’s issues.

If you are an Office ‘power user’ you will likely appreciate the new features in Office 2010 more than someone that occasionally taps out a document, never or rarely uses Excel, or has no need to create PowerPoint presentations.

There are still two other alternatives that you may want to look into and they are both free!

OpenOffice is a ‘generic’ version of Microsoft’s Office suite and is generally compatible with Microsoft’s file formats. I say generally, because formatting is often lost or altered when converting a Microsoft Office file into an OpenOffice format and vice versa (though even going from an older version of a Microsoft Office file to a new one can have similar formatting problems).

If you only use the basics and don’t have to collaborate with other users on documents, OpenOffice is more than capable of allowing you to be productive.

Last, if you want to make it easy to work with documents from many different machines, you might want to consider moving to the “cloud’ by using Google Docs.

Google Docs is a basic, but solid online alternative to installing productivity software on your new computer. You simply log into your Google account and work with all of your documents ‘in the cloud,’ which is actually on Google’s secured servers.

The downside to Google Docs is that you must have an Internet connection to access and work on your documents (not so good on airplanes, etc.), so make sure you think through how and when you will work with your documents.

Ken Colburn
Data Doctors Computer Services
Data Doctors Data Recovery Labs
Data Doctors Franchise Systems, Inc.
Weekly video tech contributor to CNN.com
Host of the award-winning “Computer Corner” radio show

OpenOffice A Threat To MS Office?

The idea of Microsoft Office being threatened by OpenOffice borders between laughable and unlikely. Bear in mind that I prefer OpenOffice ever since MS Office went all ribbon happy with its UI. Made me run screaming for an older copy or something new.

This article here does a fair summary of how Microsoft sees OpenOffice and whether or not it could one day be a threat. But the fact remains as long as MS is dictating what file formats are to be used for office docs in the business world, Oo is going to continuously be playing catchup.

So yes to Microsoft wanting to keep an eye out on the competition as it has learned that it is hardly infallible. But it is also going to find that, for many individuals, it’s difficult to compete with free. It can be done, but not with installed software most likely.

[awsbullet:openoffice how to]

Smooth Presidential Cuckoo In 3D

Is Froot Loops really a “Smart Choice” for health? [If so, maybe you’ll go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!]

Facebook’s got “gaydar?” [It also marks me as a member of the Whig party, so who knows how accurate it is?]

Is Dell funding a presidential bid? [Do I even know anybody at Dell anymore?]

For excellent savings and all of your downloading needs, be sure to check out our downloads page! It is updated frequently, and there are great finds!

My eBooks!

The whole world should be silky smooth.

3D television expected next year. [I probably won’t get one until I’m 4D.]

If you’re looking for the best way to maintain your home or office network, look no further than SolarWinds.

Who doesn’t enjoy a little swordfighting, thievery, and treasure hunting now and again? [On an iPhone, even!]

Students are easy targets for identity theft.

How to become “Internet Famous” according to Jessica Randazza. [My Internet autograph is worth 27 cents!]

GoToAssist can help you provide instant support to clients, friends, or family members.

The speedy Firefox jumped over the lazy, brown browser. [Or, as I like to call it, “coffee-colored.”]

Zune HD and the forgotten world. [Another Microsoft marketing mystery to ponder.]

Matt Hartley says that “the iPhone is NOT an enterprise level mobile device.” [I think Enterprise crew uses tricorders.]

A new language could improve home computer security. [The password on a Post-it stuck to your monitor still won’t help.]

How ’bout them Iggles? [Jennifer Aniston not available for comment.]

OpenOffice needs some changes.

“Save Fair Use, while people still know what it means.” [More fan mail for the RIAA.]

dLAN 200 AVeasy turns your power grid into a home network! [Literally plug and play.]

Capturing images on your screen is pretty simple, right? But what if you want to do more with them? Then you want to snag a copy of SnagIt. How did you ever get along without screen capture software? This one even integrates with AOL instant messenger and potentially your blog, too! Start your next screen capture the right way — manage it with TechSmith’s SnagIt.

A home network drive’s not a bad idea — but who will buy one?

A wireless mouse that doesn’t lag? Microsoft’s SideWinder X8 may be just the thing. [This should make some gamers very happy.]

Will Oracle Save OpenOffice From Extinction?

Microsoft has dominated the software market not only with Windows but also their Office Suite of software products. Over the years the only real competition has been OpenOffice which Sun had been providing to the masses. But now that Oracle has devoured Sun, the question now is what will become of OpenOffice?

OpenOffice has provided a free alternative to consumers whether they are using Windows or Linux. For some consumers the cost of Microsoft’s Office is cost prohibitive. Even for schools that are reeling from the effects of slashed budgets due to the current economic climate, OpenOffice can provide the students with an effective alternative.

If you haven;t used OpenOffice before, you must consider the fact that it does not have all of the bells and whistles associated with its paid counterpart. But for day to day usage that most consumers need, it is satisfactory in its performance. OpenOffice provides a word processing unit, as well as presentation, database, spreadsheet and drawing modules. Basically it is a complete suite of products rolled into one.

In the past I have recommended OpenOffice to home users, church groups, non-profits and others as a free option to the more costly Microsoft Office.

But not that Oracle has bought out Sun the OpenOffice project could face elimination. I would hope that Oracle will keep the project going. There is a definite need for a free suite of products that OpenOffice provides.

Comments welcome.

OpenOffice downloa can be found here.

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.

Hot-Rodding OpenOffice Writer

One of the PCs I use frequently is an old eMachines box with less than stellar performance. Many of the applications that I take for granted on my desktop at home won’t perform well enough to bother with, and some of those that do perform their jobs only grudgingly.

Try as I might, I don’t seem to be able to get happy with the “lightweight” word processors like Abiword, and I despise the Microsoft Works Word Processor for what it obviously is: a makeover of WordPad with just enough real word processing features to frustrate you and cause an upgrade to Office. In short, I always end up back with OpenOffice Writer — which isn’t a bad place to be at all….

Unless you’re on the eMachines I mentioned, which started out badly and has gotten worse as it ages. Try to run Writer on it and, if some background program cranks up and demands enough resources, as often as not the thing will freeze up and require a reboot. If there was no data loss, I’m lucky. (Don’t ask me why I don’t upgrade the thing; it’s a long story, beginning with the fact that it isn’t mine.)

I don’t use desktop word processing very often, preferring Google’s online service, but there are times when you just need the power of a full-fledged program for things like brochures or other projects involving object manipulation. So, when OpenOffice 2.4 arrived and I decided to upgrade, I figured I’d see what I could do about streamlining it a bit.

After downloading and clicking on the OpenOffice installer, there’s a hiatus during which it unpacks the installation files to the desktop, and then it presents you with a choice of a full or “custom” install. Now don’t think a custom install will save you any disc space. As far as I can tell, a custom install has everything there in the program file (about 375 MB worth). However, instead of loading it all up when you invoke, say, Writer, it tends to keep most of it to itself, greatly speeding up the load time and RAM use, and even reducing the processor load a tad.

The big question is what to install, and what you can afford to leave out. Turns out, if all you want is a kick-butt word processor, that’s most of it. So here’s a list the stuff on the menu, what it does, and what you can probably forget about.

Custom Installation

  • Calc — Performs calculations, analyzes information and manages lists in spreadsheets — the OpenOffice app compatible with Excel. If you don’t anticipate doing any of those things, you can probably forget about Calc.
  • Draw — Creates and edits drawings, flow charts and logos. Ditto for Draw.
  • Impress — OpenOffice.org’s equivalent of PowerPoint. If you don’t open those silly .ppt things that people insist on forwarding all over the Web, then you probably don’t need Impress. Even if you do bother to open the things, you can always do it in Gmail as a slide show, or use Microsoft’s PowerPoint Viewer.
  • Base — Creates and edits databases. If you don’t know what a database is, you probably don’t need this, either.
  • Math — creates and edits scientific formulas and equations. This is for typing, and importing to documents, equations and other math that can’t be reproduced by a word processor. If, like me, you can’t imagine what you’d use it for…

Optional Components — These are mostly add-ons that work with the applications listed.

  • Java Runtime Environment — I have yet to use any portion of OpenOffice that requires Java. The only thing I know of that uses it is the mobile device filters (later). I’ve run Writer with it disabled for years, and the only change I can see is that it loads a lot faster.
  • Graphic Filters — For reading non OO graphic formats. If you don’t work with graphics or want to import them into your documents, forget it.
  • XSLT Sample Filters — One presumes that, if you know what these are, you know whether or not you want them.
  • Python-UNO Bridge — this gives users the ability to automate OpenOffice applications using the Python Scripting Language. Probably not needed for everyday use, would be my guess.
  • Online Update — allows OO to check for (you guessed it) updates. I’d keep it, even if you don’t plan to update. It’s good to know what’s happening in that department.
  • Mobile Device Filters — These are text and spreadsheet filters for importing and exporting documents from/to Palm and PocketPC devices. I abstained.
  • ActiveX Control — Enables Internet Explorer to display OpenOffice documents. Since I don’t use Internet Explorer except on Microsoft websites, and since I can always export documents in another format if I have to, I see no use for it — and ActiveX has enough security problems that I keep it disabled in IE anyway.
  • Windows Explorer Extension — Keep this, unless you don’t want to see OpenOffice info, such as thumbnails, in Explorer. (Note: Windows Explorer, not Internet Explorer.
  • Quickstarter — Pre-loads part of the OpenOffice program into memory and holds it there to help the applications start faster. I find that the stripped-down installation loads plenty fast enough to suit me, but if you’re constantly opening and closing documents and have at least 512 MB of RAM you might want to keep it. You can always disable it, if it seems to cause problems.

So, there it is. The good thing about all this is that, since OpenOffice is free, you can always download a fresh copy and install things you may be missing, or just begin an uninstall, which brings up the option to modify the installation instead.

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.

Six Of docx, Half A Dozen Of The xlsx

What can I tell my senior clients about docx and xlsx? Several have had the unpleasant experience of not being able to send readable files to friends. It is rather lame to suggest that recipients should go to Microsoft and download a converter to solve a problem they did nothing to cause. What is the motivation for them? The onus of providing readable files should be on the sender. [Note: I routinely convert my WordPerfect files to doc for distribution.]

My clients could always do the necessary conversions before sending files to less sophisticated users. That is inconvenient for new users.

I tried to explain the combination of XML and zip and promised open formatting that goes into the new formats, but my clients do not care about such things. One asked me what is the advantage of switching to docx. What would you answer?

My response is that the question is no more relevant than asking why driving on one side of the road is better than the other. There might be some advantages lost in the sands of time (like where most drivers hold their whips when propelling a chariot), but the only advantage for the majority of drivers today is that conforming avoids the unpleasantness of driving into oncoming traffic. A similar advantage will accrue to users of the improved docx format. So how to you like Vista?

All of this begs a question: why should a text file need zipping? The obvious answer is because it is bloated. Bloating in Word is not totally caused by text formatting and fancy graphics. Similar documents in Word and WordPerfect can have a factor of two difference in size with no difference in formatting or other normally useful data.

This rant started because, in my frustration, I have started to recommend that clients download and try Starwriter 8 in the Google package. It is free, folks, and guess what? The output files can be read by other programs. I have experimented with the spreadsheet alternative to Excel, and it is very nice too. With options like this and the related OpenOffice available, I cannot in good conscience tell my clients that when they buy a new computer, they must also shell out more money for Office. BTW, I happened to pick up a free copy of Corel’s latest office suite (home edition) for free with rebates. That is an attractive alternative also if you qualify.

However, given the world we live in, I will sooner or later have to pony up and purchase the latest Microsoft Office simply to be able to test drive it enough that I can respond intelligently to questions from my clients who are inevitably migrating to it. After all, the clients do not care about the underlying technology. They simply want to operate at the highest level with the least interaction with the bowels of their computers. I serve their needs if I can teach them how to use the commonly available tools to do what they want with minimum hassle.

If a senior client wants to send a text file as an attachment to a friend and have that friend be able to open it, then a speech about marketing strategies and the changing technology is no help. The client just does not care.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]docx, xlsx, office, openoffice, document[/tags]

IBM Joins OpenOffice.org Community

The OpenOffice.org community has announced that IBM will be joining the community to collaborate on the development of OpenOffice.org software. IBM will be making initial code contributions that it has been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including accessibility enhancements, and will be making ongoing contributions to the feature richness and code quality of OpenOffice.org. Besides working with the community on the free productivity suite’s software, IBM will also leverage OpenOffice.org technology in its products.

The text of the full Press Release is here, and an accompanying FAQ is here.

[tags]open source, IBM, openoffice, sun microsystems[/tags]

Google Sneaks StarOffice 8 Into Google Pack

In line with its policy of introducing features to its various offerings and then letting people discover them on their own, Google has concluded an agreement with Sun Microsystems to include StarOffice 8 — Sun’s Productivity Suite — with the Google Pack offered by the search mavens as a “one stop solution” to basic computing needs.

Other programs in Google Pack include Google Toolbar, Spyware Doctor, Google Photos Screensaver, Skype, Norton Security Scan, Google Desktop, Google Talk, RealPlayer, Google Earth, Firefox with Google Toolbar, Picasa and Adobe Reader. The programs can be downloaded singly or as the full “pack,” and Google provides an updater to manage them. The updater is required to download from the Google site, but can be disabled or un-installed after downloading if desired. In the case of StarOffice there’s an integral updater accessible through the “Options” menu, so the Google Updater is superfluous.

StarOffice, based on the OpenOffice platform but containing code from Sun as well, is widely considered to be the leading MS Office competitor at the present time. Periodically Sun — which donated the original StarOffice code to the OpenOffice community — takes a “snapshot” of the OpenOffice.org code base, integrates proprietary and third-party code modules, and markets the package commercially at a nominal price. This is the first free offering of StarOffice 8 that I know of, although v. 5.2 has been available for free download since shortly after Sun acquired StarDivision.

According to WikiPedia, the company and the copyright and trademark of StarOffice were acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999 for US$73.5 million. Sun was seeking to compete with Microsoft Office, and also wanted to save money on licenses for Microsoft Office and Windows:

The number one reason why Sun bought StarDivision in 1999 was because, at the time, Sun had something approaching forty-two thousand employees. Pretty much every one of them had to have both a Unix workstation and a Windows laptop. And it was cheaper to go buy a company that could make a Solaris and Linux desktop productivity suite than it was to buy forty-two thousand licenses from Microsoft. (Simon Phipps, Sun, LUGradio podcast)

Again according to WikiPedia, the “advantages” of SunOffice over OpenOffice (at least they’re differences, if not necessarily advantages) include:

  • Several font metric compatible Unicode TrueType fonts containing bitmap representations for better appearance at smaller font sizes
  • 12 Western fonts (including Andale Sans, Arial Narrow, Arial Black, Broadway, Garamond, Imprint MT Shadow, Kidprint, Palace Script, Sheffield) and 7 Asian language fonts (including support for the Hong Kong Supplementary character set)
  • Adabas D database
  • StarOffice-only templates and sample documents
  • A large clip art gallery
  • Sorting functionality for Asian versions
  • File filters for additional older wordprocessing formats (including EBCDIC)
  • A different spell checker (note that OpenOffice.org does include a spell checker as well) and thesaurus
  • StarOffice Configuration Manager
  • Macro Converter for converting Microsoft Office VBA-macros to StarBasic

Other differences include: StarOffice only supports 10 languages (compared to over 25 for OpenOffice.org), and StarOffice is only available for the Windows, Linux, and Solaris operating systems (while OpenOffice.org is available for 8 operating systems).

Given that StarOffice does offer advantages in terms of usability over OpenOffice, it could be worth considering if you want to replace Micro$oft Office or if you’re buying a new PC and don’t want to pay the exorbitant cost of installing it to begin with. Since MS Office 2007 is currently US $249.99 at TigerDirect (OEM version), an alternative suite that’s compatible with common office documents such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and so forth, could be a useful option to consider.

And yes, I know there are those of you who will panic again about Google getting its hooks into you, but think about this. First of all, you don’t know how far Micro$oft’s into your business, because you can’t access its code to find out. At least Google tells you it’s collecting information. And second — when Google rules the world, you’ll be sorry for all those remarks. You have been warned

[tags]productivity, openoffice, staroffice, microsoft office, google pack[/tags]

New Zealand Schools vs Microsoft – Can't Afford MS Office

Well it seems that our neighbors down under have a major tiff with being able to afford using Microsoft Office on all of the 25,000 computers in their school system. The story from the NZ Herald here seems to indicate that the school district was facing some $2.7 million in additional licensing fees, which it could not afford. The school computers are all Apple systems using Microsoft Office.

The school district estimated that some 30% of the systems were not using the Office software product and therefore paying for these unused licenses was a waste of funds. Funds that it seems it did not have. In fact the article seems to project that in the next ten years the schools would be facing a $100 million shortfall. Though some schools have opted to keep MS Office on some of the systems by purchasing separate licensing, others are seeking alternative solutions like using Apple’s word processing software.

After reading this article, the first thought that crossed my mind was why didn’t the school district just opt for using OpenOffice, which is a freebie? Most word processing programs work very similarly to each other. Though MS Office has many more bells and whistles, OpenOffice still would afford the students a positive learning experience. It seems that this would be the easy solution to the problem and save the school district some big bucks.

This is the type of situation where Open Source software can make a huge dent in the Microsoft monopoly. Plus you can’t beat the pricing. :-)

What do you think? Is it time for school districts that can’t afford the expense of Microsoft software to look at alternatives? Or will the students who do not learn the MS Office products suffer when they enter the workplace?

Comments welcome.

[tags]microsoft, software, office, school district, new zealand, openoffice[/tags]

Excel Substitutes?

We figured we’d throw this out there in case anyone might have any solutions to the question posed here. In another response to Is OpenOffice Open Enough For You?, Gnomie Rodrigo writes:

I can tell you that it is possible to live without MS Office, depending on what you do for a living or as a hobby. I’ve been living without it for about two years now, and it wasn’t even a conscious decision. I switched to a new computer and simply forgot to install MS Office – and it’s been like this for all this time.

When I need to write something, anything, I’ll just go for metapad (that Notepad substitute, you know) and leave to format it on another place, like the Hotmail window or, in advanced cases, the good old WordPad that comes with Windows. In extreme cases, PageMaker will do it for me, but it sure does A LOT more than the regular MS Word and takes a lot less HD room.

Right now, I’m looking for a simple alternative to Excel, but Excel only, and a really simple one (just text charts with a little math, borders, and other easy stuff). I have two or three spreadsheets that were made in Excel (in another computer) and I occasionally have to edit them and guarantee compatibility at the same time.

Do you have any suggestions? Thanks a lot!

[tags]OpenOffice, Excel, Excel substitute, alternative to Microsoft[/tags]

"I Just Say No To Voluntary Servitude…"

In response to Is OpenOffice Open Enough For You?, Gnomie Michael B. Johnson writes:

Short Answer: Yes.

Long Answer: Yes, but… I don’t like OpenOffice’s styles, compared to Microsoft Word Outline view and auto-format – probably because I haven’t used it enough to get used to it. On my Linux machine at home, I use OpenOffice exclusively. Though I bought CrossOver Office and own a license for MS Office ’97, I couldn’t get MS Office ’97 to install the one time I tried. Now that’s probably not the fault of CrossOver Office so much as a lack of diligence on my part. After all, they offer tech support – it’s just that I haven’t had a convenient time during their business hours. (And I haven’t even tried Google.)

I think that OpenOffice Writer is a bit slow starting up when compared to MS Office ’97. A friend of mine tells me that Excel VBA just doesn’t translate well for his purposes, but the spreadsheets I’ve transferred over (without any macros) worked just fine for me. I personally would prefer a compiled executable to a Java bytecode solution, but Java is “open sourced,” if that’s a word.

I haven’t worked with the OpenOffice database thingy yet, whose name I can’t remember just now, beyond just launching it a couple of times and giving it a look over. I conclude it is usable, but I haven’t tried developing a complete solution with it yet like I have MS Access. You see, porting existing solutions takes time and just is not productive.

But freedom and ownership are vital to me: I will not lease Office software licenses from Microsoft. I own three Win2K licenses, one Win ’98 license, an MS Office ’97 Professional license, an MS Office 2000 Standard license, Visual Studio Professional 6.0, SQL Server 7.0 w/ 10 client licenses and various and sundry other licenses that don’t come to mind at the moment. I say that to demonstrate that I’m no software pirate; I just say no to voluntary servitude and relinquishing my data to be held hostage, to say nothing of the value of extensibility as a result of openness.

[tags]OpenOffice, Microsoft Office, Open Source, CrossOver Office[/tags]

Is OpenOffice Open Enough For You?

This afternoon, Ponzi asked me to install Office on one of our laptops so that we could use Excel and Word on it. Easy enough to do, right? All I had to do was find the CD, right? Well, I couldn’t find it – and I’m pretty certain all of my Office activations have been used up, anyway (especially now that I no longer have access to an MSDN account).

As I was digging through my software drawer, I started to think… do I really need to use Microsoft Office – or will OpenOffice do just fine for desktop productivity? Let’s think about this for a moment. OpenOffice.org is free software:

  • you may download OpenOffice.org completely free of any license fees
  • install it on as many PCs as you like
  • use it for any purpose – private, educational, government and public administration, commercial…
  • pass on copies free of charge to family, friends, students, employees, etc.

Writer, for the most part, is like Word – and Calc, for the most part, is like Excel. That’s all I really need on this laptop. Guess I can kiss Microsoft Office on ancillary machines good-bye? Forget about limited editions and 60-day timeouts, man. I don’t know if I could live my life on the desktop without Microsoft Office at this point (especially with Outlook playing such a pivotal role)… what about you?

[tags]microsoft office, office software, OpenOffice[/tags]