OpenOffice: Why Pay for Office?

By Mike on 9:28 pm

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Most computers only come with very basic software. Apple is a little more generous while Microsoft systems tend to very sparse. With Windows computers, you really only get the bare essentials. Office suites tend to be the biggest letdown considering they're one of the most used programs. With most store bought Windows and Apple computers, you get either Microsoft Works or Appleworks. Both programs are extremely dated and limited in functionality. Apple includes Office, but only as a trial version. Office costs at least $170 for the basic Home & Student edition and up to a whopping $900 for the so called Ultimate edition. For the average home user, I think even $170 is a hefty price tag for an office suite. There is a cheaper Basic version but it's OEM only. Most software stores where you're average user shops don't sell OEM packages.
So what does $170 get you. Well, it gives you the basics. Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and something called OneNote. That last one seems to be a fairly useless program for making notebooks.

Now what if I told said to you that you could get all that for free. You'd probably think I'd gone nuts or downloaded a pirated version of Office. No, my way is easy, free, and 100% legal. It's called open source. You might be familiar with open source already. The popular Firefox web browser is an open source program. What this basically means is that a program's code is freely available to edit. Large communities of programmers work on these projects rather than just a few working for a software company. The finished product is usually available free of charge to the public.

Introducing An open source office suite. It once was a derivative of Sun Microsystems's StarOffice. It's available for regular download, torrent download, or on CD. All are free of charge. OpenOffice currently runs on all major operating systems including Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS X, and Linux.

The following programs are included with the suite.
-Writer: A word processor similar to Word.
-Calc: A spreadsheet program similar to Excel.
-Impress: A presentation program similar to PowerPoint.
-Base: A database program similar to Microsoft Access.
-Draw: A drawing program similar to CorelDRAW
-Math: A tool for creating mathematical formulas
-Basic: Similar to Microsoft Visual Basics

If you've used Office or Corel Office, you'll find these programs familiar and easy to use. The functionality of OpenOffice 2.2 is almost identical to Microsoft Office 2007. OpenOffice lacks programs similar to Publisher, OneNote, InfoPath, and SharePoint Designer. However, most of the features that these programs have are already embedded in OpenOffice's programs. For example, Publisher lets you save documents as professional quality PDF. So does Writer. In fact, in Writer, saving to PDF is a one click processes by clicking the PDF icon in the tool bar. Many of the programs Office adds aside from the core seven (mentioned above) are superfluous. In the tech world, it's called bloatware. You do not need to be paying $600 for that crap. The only major component missing is something similar to Outlook. However, the Mozilla project has Thunderbird for email and Sunbird as a calendar program. Hop over to for those. If you're using Mac, you already have programs similar to Outlook such as Mail and iCal.

When it comes to saving and transporting documents, that's always been a problem. OpenOffices uses the open document format, or .odt in the case of Writer files. As the name suggests, it's an open format. OpenOffice can also save files as Office documents so that Office can read them. It is also capable of reading a much wider number of formats from all popular Office suites.

If you're using a Mac, you might want to check out NeoOffice. It's adapted to run natively on Mac while the OpenOffice Mac version runs on the X11 windowing system. Don't worry about what that is. What the NeoOffice guys have done is tweak OpenOffice to run natively on Mac OS X using tools such as Java and Cocoa. What this means is that Mac users will have a full Aqua interface complete with proper menus and even visual effects. NeoOffice runs a little slower than OpenOffice X11. However, the X11 version has a clumsy interface due to it being essentially a near-direct port of the Linux version. NeoOffice is available for all versions of OS X. The current version is based on OpenOffice 2.1. It's compatible with both Intel and PowerPC Macs.

I've used OpenOffice for four years now and I highly recommend it. There's certainly no harm in trying it since it's totally free, no catch. Download it at

2 comments for this post

I'd pay $170 just for OneNote, which is neither useless nor for making 'notebooks'.

Posted on 18 September 2007 at 19:44  

Thanks for your post Todd.

My point here is that there are cheaper alternatives to Office that are just as good. However, you may be interested that Microsoft is $59.95 US to students in the US.

Posted on 20 September 2007 at 09:30