The Microsoft Office Suite of Products has a Twin -- and it's Free!
By Douglas Hanna
Microsoft Office is an incredibly powerful program with many great features. It's also expensive to buy or even upgrade. For example, one well-known web site has Microsoft Office 2003 Standard for $369.40 and 2003 Professional for $469.00. Even the Office Standard 2003 Upgrade Version lists for $226.80.
However, there's a great alternative available called OpenOffice 2.0. It has nearly all the same features and functionality as MS Office but costs a lot less. In fact, it's free.
OpenOffice.org is both a fully-featured office suite compatible with leading office products, and a virtual community working through OpenOffice.org's numerous projects. The community comes together at www.openoffice.org to develop, support, and promote the use of OpenOffice.org.
What do you get for free?
OpenOffice.org has historically consisted for a word processor, a multimedia presentation program, a draw program and a spreadsheet program, In October, OpenOffice.org released a long-awaited version 2.0 for Windows, Mac and Linux, adding a new database module, support for the OpenDocument file format, a fresh user interface, and plenty of other improvements.
But the license is still the same. You can download OpenOffice.org Version 2.0 completely free of any license fees, use it for any purpose- private, educational, government and public administration, commercial - and pass on copies free of charge to family, friends, students, employees, or anyone else.
How to get OpenOffice.org
To get this great, free program, just go to http://www.openoffice.org/ and look for the "download openoffice.org 2.0 link. It's blue on a bright, green background.
You will have to answer three simple questions. Once you answer the third ("Select Your Download Site"), you will go to a page that gives you several options for supporting OpenOffice.org. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and select "Continue to Download." The default will be "Save to Disk," which is what you want to do.
Now, comes the bad news for those of you who have telephone dial-up access to the Internet. OpenOffice.org is 75MB and takes over an hour to download even at 15KB a second This means you my want to go back to the original screen where you can elect to get the program on CD-ROM.
OpenOffice.org's look and feel
I have used only "Calc" (the spreadsheet program) and "Writer" (the word processing program). My experience is that these programs are virtually clones of MS Excell(tm) and MS Word(tm). I wrote this article using Writer and found the functions and commands to be darn near identical. For example, to check spelling, I press F7 just like in Word. When I select File, I see all the same options as in Word, ditto Edit. But here's one nice difference and that is when I select "New" from the File menu, I get the option of opening a text document, a spreadsheet or a database - without having to leave the word processing program to open a separate program.
I will admit that some of the menu structures are a bit different than Word or Excell but are nothing that can't be gotten used to in just a few sessions. For example, OpenOffice automatically saves Writer documents with the OpenOffice extension .odt. If you want to save the document as a Word document, you must remember to do a "Save As," and save the document in the appropriate Word format.
So, when it comes to OpenOffice.org, in the immortal words of that old TV commercial, "try it, you'll like it." And what I think you'll especially like is the price.
Here's something else that's new and free. It's called HD Radio and it gives broadcast radio the ability to sound as pure and crystal-clear as if you were listening to a CD-ROM. To learn more about this amazing new technology, just go my Web site, http://www.hd-radio-home.com, to get all the buzz. Douglas Hanna is a retired marketing executive and the author of numerous articles on HD radio and family finances.
(tm) MS Office, MS Word and MS Excel are the registered trademarks of Microsoft Corp.