OpenOffice.org is a free office software suite which can be downloaded for free in place of alternatives such as Microsoft Office. This office software suite can replace the majority of functionality provided by other mainstream alternatives whilst being completely free to download.
OpenOffice.org is an open source project, which means that all of the design, coding and promotion for the project is provided free of charge by volunteers – Both individuals and companies. The project has been running for over 20 years, and the result is an extremely professional software suite which is intuitive to use and fully supported by the community. All of the source code, which is to say the programming behind the software, is freely available to anyone that wants to see or modify it, and anyone who wishes to is encouraged to help develop or promote the project in any way they can.
If after using the software for a while you feel you’d like to give back to the community, there is an OpenOffice.org ‘Help Wanted’ wiki page to get you started.
The three primary programs included in OpenOffice.org are Writer (Word processor), Calc (Spreadsheet) and Impress (Presentations). In addition to these the suite also includes software to create databases, create and edit images and solve mathematical equations. To get you started here is a quick overview of the programs included in the suite:
Writer – A versatile word processor, the equivalent of Microsoft Word; I sometimes use this for certain functions in which I believe it to outperform the Microsoft equivalent. This is certainly a viable choice for anyone wishing to perform standard word processing tasks such as writing letters or essays.
Calc – A comprehensive spreadsheet, the equivalent of Microsoft Excel; I must confess that I almost exclusively use Excel, but that is purely because I have a huge amount of experience in doing so. All of the important functions of a spreadsheet are covered by Calc, but are certain differences such as formula syntax which make it prudent to choose a single spreadsheet program and stick with it. Rest assured that if you choose OpenOffice.org as your office software suite and learn to use Calc instead of Excel you will not be doing yourself a disservice.
Impress – An impressive (…) presentation suite, the equivalent of Microsoft PowerPoint; As explained in my Death by PowerPoint article I rarely use presentation software in my own presentations, however this program performs all of the functions required for a professional slide presentation. One aspect that I like in particular, and which I believe to give Impress the edge over PowerPoint, is that there are a number of templates provided along with the program which can be used to quickly start producing your slides.
Base – A powerful program which can be used to produce databases, the equivalent of Microsoft Access. This program provides similar functionality to Access, but as with using spreadsheets there are certain differences between the two programs which make it impractical to try to use both. Once again as a function of my working background I have substantial experience of using Access and as a consequence I very rarely use Base, however I can say with assurance that it provides all of the necessary functionality to produce high quality small to medium sized databases.
Draw – Described on the official website as ‘The powerful graphics package’, Draw does exactly what it says on the tin. While it doesn’t have the range of features included in expensive professional programs such as Adobe Photoshop, Draw compares very favourably with free alternatives such as GIMP. I use Draw regularly, and indeed all of the screenshots on this site have been edited using it, although I would request that you don’t judge the program based on my limited graphical abilities!
Draw is also the first program not to have a direct Microsoft Office competitor, although it does include the ability to create process diagrams, building plans, etc. which is the primary function of Microsoft Visio. I am hugely impressed with this aspect of Draw, as I believe it to be significantly simpler to use than Visio and more than sufficient for the majority of uses which might otherwise require the user to purchase Visio.
Math – This is a hugely impressive program which can be used to create mathematical or scientific equations which can then be exported into Writer, Calc or Impress. Once exported the formula is treated like an image, which makes it really easy to use in the context of the document. If I were a scientist or mathematician myself I would certainly use Openoffice.org as my primary office software suite for this reason alone, as it is very difficult to replicate formulae in Microsoft Office with the same quality that can be achieved using Math.
Overall OpenOffice.org is incredibly impressive, particularly considering that it’s completely free. Bear in mind that this also means you can always have the most recent version of the software, unlike with paid alternatives which would require a significant outlay in order to achieve the same thing. As mentioned above I would definitely use this as my primary office software suite if I were a scientist or mathematician purely because of the benefits I’d gain from using Math. As it is I make use of some aspects of the suite regularly, whilst using Microsoft Office alternatives in place of others.
If you aren’t going to be forced by your employers to use Microsoft Office regularly, I can’t recommend OpenOffice.org highly enough. Even if you already have experience with Microsoft Office it is worth the one time effort of learning to use new software in order to benefit from the extra functionality and free upgrades for life.
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