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Sunday, January 30, 2005

This Free Office Suite Has Come a Long Way, Baby

All you users of office software might remember StarOffice from such office suites as Lotus and, "I Can't Believe It's Not Microsoft."

If you've grown tired of paying Billy G. the semi-annual tribute for the privilege of composing Word documents that don't require your recipients to install an ancient file format converter, you do have a choice, you know. Let me explain.

After re-installing Windows on my laptop a few months ago, I never got around to re-installing my "semi-legitimate" copy of Office 2000. And since that POS is a bit long in the tooth now, I faced the hard choice we all must consider: pay for the latest Office suite or go open source. Well, after growing accustomed to open-source software from Mozilla this past year, I realized that open-source stuff ain't so bad. I remembered StarOffice from Sun Microsystems was free at one time, and searched it out. I found it, of course, but more interestingly I found another little gem from Sun called OpenOffice.

StarOffice now comes in a premium yet affordable version, but OpenOffice -- as the name implies -- is a free, full-featured, open-source office suite built from the codebase of StarOffice. Sun still produces StarOffice, and I'm not really clear how it differs from OpenOffice, but apparently there is a (slight) difference.

So, I downloaded OpenOffice 1.1, and it works like a charm. I can't see any reason to pay for MS Office anymore, and I might even try to persuade my IT manager to dump Office in favor of OpenOffice.

Some immediate items of note:

1. OpenOffice can import any Office document just fine.

2. The word processor, called Writer, offers a free "export to PDF" feature. Neat.

3. The suite doesn't come with a personal info manager like Outlook, but if you download Mozilla Thunderbird, you'll get most of Outlook's functionality, for free. Mozilla does offer a calendar extension that must be installed separately, but it doesn't integrate tightly yet. An upcoming release in mid-2005 will fix that.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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