The first thing which probably springs to mind when one thinks of a word processor for Windows, is the ubiquitous Microsoft Office. It’s no secret after all that it has been the king of the hill for many years and the standard by which any would be competitor is judged. Few would disagree that it’s a very good suite of software, in fact, probably the only issue anyone has with it, is the fact that it’s vastly expensive.
There are many reasons why competition for this market are thin on the ground; development for one is expensive, and Microsoft got the drop on everyone there; nowadays all it takes is a few tweaks to some aging routines, move some features around, change some one-click features into two-click features (so you really notice them), design some new icons and voila, a new version appears and the MS limitless coffers swell even more.
Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, and in my obvious aversion to giving MS/BG any more of my hard earned (and overstretched) money than is absolutely necessary, I’m always open to alternatives and Open Office Writer, part of the OpenOffice.org Suite (current version 3.2.1), is, pretty much, the only other runner.
The first thing I should mention is that the OpenOffice.org (commonly referred to as OOO), suite of programs is entirely free for both individual and business use; in fact, it’s Open Source, meaning that anyone with the inclination and ability to adapt the source code, is free to do so.
Secondly, and of particular importance considering that most of the World uses MS Office, it is entirely compatible, being fully able to open, edit and save documents produced in that program’s format.
Personally, based solely on the above two points, I can’t think of any reason why anyone wouldn’t want to change from MS Office to Open Office, unless you think BG needs more of your hard earned cash.
“But I/my staff have been using MS Office for years and it’s just too difficult/expensive to retrain!” I hear you cry. Well, there is something in the argument that it does take a little time, and willingness on the part of the operator, to adapt to a different layout, but no more so than when a “new” version of MS Office is released. Not one person in my office, for example, who has been running MS Office 2007, has yet figured out where half of the (previously, easily available) features have been hidden or replaced with meaningless looking icons.
Assuming you’ve read this far, you’ll, perhaps, be interested how OOO compares with MS Office in action; how easy or difficult it is to migrate from the hugely overpriced option to the entirely free option; any pitfalls to look out for, and advice on what to do with all those expensive MS Office CDRoms you’ve got lying about the place (other than cool-looking place mats for coffee cups).
The OOO download is a little over 150mb and includes the entire suite of programs; Database, Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Drawing, Presentation software etc; all compatible with the MS Office suite of programs.
OOO Writer is the Word Processor which, upon opening, looks pretty similar to (pre-2007 versions of) MS Word, with a menu bar situated above the default toolbars, which hold the most frequently accessed commands, a brief look at which reveals that most are self-explanatory; toolbars for additional options are available on the View menu if you desire and all toolbars are customisable.
By default the margins are visible as an outline on the page, but this can also be turned off. The bottom of the screen contains information similar to MS Office; page number, formatting, current language, insert/over etc, and a zoom bar.
Clicking on the various menus reveals that everything you ever used in MS Word, you can find here too. There are one or two slightly noticeable differences, for example “Page Setup” on the MS File menu is the “Page…” option on the OOO Format menu.
Thankfully, however, once these small differences are overcome, composition and editing of documents is very similar to MS Word, saving in the format of which is a simple option on the file save dialogue, which, by default, uses the OOO format “.ODT”. I haven’t come across any complications with using the “odt” format, however, should you need to retain compatibility with MS Word by default, you can make such the default setting in the options menu.
Are there any issues? Well, not so much an issue as such, but the redraw isn’t particularly good. It happens rarely in MS Word, where, during editing, some characters will be drawn, corruptly on the screen, or a border line isn’t drawn or it doesn’t erase etc, it’s nothing more than an irritant and isn’t transposed to the final, printed document, but this does occur constantly in OOO and takes a little getting used to, a quick scroll off screen and back on again usually correcting the visual corruption.
Another niggle is the default font, We use Times New Roman 12 point as our default font in all our documents in the office, which isn’t a problem choosing in OOO, except that, for some obscure reason, it keeps wanting to change to Cordia 14. Again, this is easily rectified by highlighting the affected text and changing it on the format toolbar above, which though a pain, becomes second nature quite quickly.
The only other issue that I could envisage is technical support (or lack thereof), from (perhaps) trained professionals paid to guide you through problems you might be having. Whereas MS provides technical support for its products, with efficient, highly-trained, crack personnel sitting idly by in Mumbai awaiting your technical query, support for OOO is not quite so easily obtained. There is a wealth of help and guidance on various websites and discussion forums designed to help you solve any problems you might encounter, but a busy business doesn’t necessarily have the time, resources or inclination to waste on the search for it. There are options to subscribe to commercial support organisations, but then, it’s not free any more is it?
In conclusion, support and a couple of irritants aside, if you haven’t already changed from MS Office to Open Office, why not?