16 May 2009

OpenOffice Update

OpenOffice.org - the free, multi-platform, "office" software suite of programs and tools - recently launched version 3.1. I wrote about version 2.0 back in 2006, and since then the program has only improved further. Rather than repeat the whole structure of my original argument, I thought I would just punch out a few quick reasons why OpenOffice.org can and should replace your version(s) of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access:

1. Features. These programs do everything that Microsoft's programs do - and sometimes more. For example, any file / document can be exported to PDF format with one click (and without buying or installing any additional software, like Adobe Acrobat). With two clicks, you can control the quality of the PDF, the file size, the inclusion of bookmarks on the page, how it looks when it opens, and more.

2. Interoperability for imports. In addition to being able to open Microsoft Office documents perfectly, OpenOffice.org has worked for opening a range of other files, including former Microsoft files that have been corrupted or improperly closed. Moreover Microsoft has, in recent years, dropped some of the converters it used to include by default with programs like Word. OpenOffice.org still has them - and they work better than Microsoft's ever did anyway.

3. Interoperability for exports. Want to save a file (yours or someone else's) as a Microsoft Word document? OpenOffice.org will do it, with no problems. Want to convert that presentation into an easy, web-enabled Flash file? OpenOffice.org will do it, no problem. Got an old Access database you can no longer ... access? OpenOffice.org will open it - and let you extract the data into a spreadsheet.

4. Languages. Speak another language? Want to use an office program that knows that language, dictionary and all? OpenOffice.org can be had (for free) in a wide range of languages, from Afrikaans to Vietnamese.

5. Add-ons / extensions. The smart developers at OpenOffice.org use the Mozilla / Firefox model and have opened up a whole world of "extensions," additional items components (from new document templates to new functions), many of which can also be had for free.

6. Stability. Since I started using OpenOffice.org full time in 2003, I think I can count on two hands the number of times the program has crashed. That's with heavy-duty use, for files in multiple formats and across multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS X, and even Linux). Six years, 10 crashes? When was the last time your software worked so well, Microsoft?

7. Environmental conservation. This may sound silly, but think about it: it's a lot more environmentally sensitive (and cost-effective) to deliver a program that requires no additional packaging. Each new computer you buy with Microsoft Office installed comes with crap you will likely throw out, from the packaging to the reinstallation CDs. OpenOffice.org is free, which means that it's readily available - which means that crap is unnecessary. Need a new copy? Just download it when you need it.

8. Global accessibility. Hand in hand with the environmental message is one of global do-gooding. Free software like this is liberating: classes of people can get easy access to a valuable, high-quality product. Yes, this is limited to people who already can afford a computer; but as the cost of hardware falls, the freedom to choose other software products increases their utility. And there is a reason that governments are also switching to OpenOffice.org: it saves taxpayers money, too.

9. Cost. You can't beat free. Seriously. Especially when free is really, really good.

Every software has some thing bound to drive a user nuts. For me, it's the hidden nature of OpenOffice.org's "Recent Documents" menu: it's only accessible when some kind of document is already open. But that's a small thing, and easily managed. Everything else is great, which is why, several years later, I'm once again back telling people to take a look. It's worth it.

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