There was much excitement around the release of OpenOffice.org 3.0 last month. Download servers were overloaded with the initial demand and many tech blog posts were written. But now the dust has settled it is a great time to look at some of the reasons that this version of the ever popular open source office suite could offer serious competition to its proprietary equivalents.
10 reasons to (possibly) stop using Microsoft Office and start using OpenOffice.org
1. Its Good Enough.
The latest release OpenOffice.org 3.0 provides enough functionality from an office suite for probably 95% of the computer users in the world. Most people’s use of Word Processors and Spreadsheets are not pushing the functionality now available. For the 5% or less of ‘power-users’ a closer look is required to understand the differences and how these can be overcome. Often if there is a specific issue someone else has also had this problem and very probably found a solution, as often is the open source way.
2. Familiar Consistent Interface
In the last 15 years most office suites have settled on a pretty familiar interface with consistent layout and descriptions, With the release of Office 2007 Microsoft have completely changed the interface of some but not all of its office products. OpenOffice.org uses a very familiar ‘classic’ interface which would be recognisable to most users allowing them o be up and running very quickly.
3. You Can Redistribute
Being able to redistribute copies of OpenOffice.org for free is incredibly useful especially if you are an organisation. For example a school could give copies to all students and parents and a company could give all employees and partners a copy. Currently parents are feeling pressure to purchase copies of Microsoft Office as their children are using it at school or worse still are pirating it.
Just as Firefox, the very popular open source browser, there is a full ecosystem around OpenOffice.org including extensions. These are where someone has added a particular piece of functionality that they wanted. These extensions can be downloaded from http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/ and easily installed. There are many extensions available but currently some noteable and popular extensions are ‘Writer Tools‘ adding some useful functionality for Word Processor users and Google Docs integration allowing you to automatically transfer documents to Googles on line office suite.
5. Open Formats
The default format for OpenOffice.org is ODF (OpenDocument Format) each program has its own ODF format Writer has .odt. Calc has .ods etc. With the release of Microsoft Office 2007 Service Pack 2 Microsoft’s own office suite will support ODF. This means that an OpenOffice.org user will be able to exchange documents, edits and updates with a Microsoft Office user all using an open standard format, this really is a great step forward. Of course there are many other products that support ODF, not just the two mentioned, from web applications such as Google Docs and Zoho to office suites including IBM Lotus Symphony and WordPerfect Office. Until Microsoft catches up OpenOffice.org can not only read and write .doc and .xls but can also read the new Microsoft 2007 format .docx and .xlsx. I have spoken about open formats before but suffice to say sharing and preserving documents in an open format has many benefits for individuals and organisations.
6. PDF support
OpenOffice.org has been ahead of Microsoft Office with regard to PDF’s for a long time making it easy to produce documents in a PDF format since early versions. Now there is an official extension which allows you to open and edit basic PDF documents within OpenOffice.org.
7. More Software
There is only one edition of Openoffice.org the ‘all of it’ edition. There are more programs with OpenOffice.org when compared to the Home and Student Edition of Microosft Office. OpenOffice.org includes a Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Presentation program, Vector Graphics program and a Maths calculation program.
8. Cross Platform
For the first time with version 3.0 OpenOffice.org now runs natively on Apple Macs (OSX) both for intel processors and the older PowerPC processors (strangely the PowerPC version is not available from the main download page but is available from other places on the web like http://ooopackages.good-day.net/pub/OpenOffice.org/MacOSX/3.0.0rc4/ where you can download RC4 which is the final released version). It has long been the office suite of choice for most Linux versions and of course has a full Windows version. Added to this support for BSD and Opensolaris it really is true cross platform application. Having a fimiliar inteface across platforms using Open Formats has many advantages but ultimately offers flexibility. For example you may have to use Microsoft Windows at work but use a Mac at home and want to share a document with a family member who runs a new netbook running Linux, all this is easily achievable if all pc’s are running OpenOffice.org.
9. If you already run Microsoft Office (or another office suite) there is nothing stopping you installing OpenOffice as well.
You can run more than one office suite. Using OpenOffice.org does not have to be an all or nothing situation and can be introduced gradually.
10. Its Free
OK, I deliberately put this point last as I believe it is not the reason to use OpenOffice.org. All of the 9 points above are more important than it being free. If OpenOffice.org is not fit for your purpose then I would not recommend using it and would say have a look around for some thing else.
Ultimately it will come downs to an individuals or organisations circumstances as to whether they could switch to OpenOffice.org. In the case of new businesses I would like to think they would choose to use OpenOffice.org before paying for a proprietary equivalent. Hopefully what version 3.0 does show is that OpenOffice.org has a bright future. Already we are seeing support for OpenOffice.org and open formats by enterprises and exciting projects like QuasiWiki, ODF@WWW and O3Spaces which use OpenOffice.org to help collaborative working.
The future is bright, the future is OO.o (well for me at least).