OpenOffice Suite Review

excellent
key review info
application features
  • No commercial licenses or software compliance issues to worry about
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Some time ago, I needed a word processor to write an essay for school but I didn't want to throw away almost $200 for a bloated office suite package, most of which I wouldn't use anyway. While searching for alternatives, I've found an office suite with the same features, almost identical applications but most important of all, FREE. It was called OpenOffice and I haven't stopped using it since.

After two years of continuous development, OpenOffice has become a free viable alternative to other expensive office suites. It has a word processor (Writer), a spreadsheet (Calc), a presentation application (Impress), a vector drawing program (Draw), a Mathematic application to create and solve complex equations (Math) and a database frontend (Base).

Its interface provides a quite large number of enhancements designed to assist in the transition from proprietary office suites while providing the user with a new, functional and easy to use interface. Enhancements such as multi-pane views and floating toolbars, deliver a familiar interface and an impressive flexibility in how the new or existing users interact with the applications. For an increased customization, OpenOffice provides the ability to choose toolbar buttons, menus and to create shortcuts that suit every user's needs.

Significant improvements have been made in the compatibility with other proprietary office suites. Although OpenOffice uses a XML-based file format by default, it can open and save files in MS Office format easily, without following a special procedure. In addition, import support for Corel WordPerfection documents has been added, allowing a much easier cross-suite documentation.

Writer

Writer's interface has been designed to resemble to MS Office's Word, which makes an eventual switch to OpenOffice more comfortable. In addition, Writer has an impressive compatibility with MS Word: heavily formated MS Word files are opened almost exactly as they did in Word even if they included drawing objects, tracked changes and other advanced features. Of course, there are some features not supported, like MS Word macros or animated text but this is compensated with features like PDF-export or find-and-replace dialog that uses wildcards and regular expressions, which you can't find in MS Word. Also, OpenOffice provides an impressive feature which organizes macros and scripts in a tree-structured display.

Compared to past versions, Writer provides a few significant enhancements such as an improved word count feature, mail merge wizard and the ability to nest tables and insert bulleted and numbered points in a table.

Unfortunately, Writer is trying to bee too many things at once. Besides being a word processor, it also tries to be a HTML editor and a desktop publishing software.

Impress

What if you need to design a slide show? Can you use OpenOffice Impress or do you have to go back to MS Office's PowerPoint? Let's see.

The first time you run Impress, you will most likely feel nearly at home. Like the rest of the OpenOffice package, Impress has been designed to look and feel just like PowerPoint. Most of the tools are available and can even be found in the same places.

Despite the similarities, there are also some differences in key features such as in starting a slide show, adding special effects and in working with images or charts. Both PowerPoint and Impress start with a tutorial when setting up a slide show. In PowerPoint, the tutorial is called Wizard and helps you select the slide background, structure, the type of output and that's about all. In contrast, Impress provides a tutorial called AutoPilot that not only guides you through these three steps, but also helps you set the slide's transition type and timing, and a title page. Unfortunately, Impress doesn't offer any templates by default.

Overall, both Impress and PowerPoint have their good and bad parts. The perfect presentation utility will be, in my opinion, a combination of the two.

Calc

Calc is the spreadsheet program which can be used as an alternative to MS Excel. It's an easy to learn and use application. If you are an Excel user or ever used it for quite a long time, you will find working with Calc to be very easy, as its menus and dialogs are almost identical with the ones Excel has.

Compatibility with Excel is also quite impressive, being able to easily open, modify and save Excel files. Its features are a lot like Excel's and it even comes with some new features of its own.

DataPilot feature makes it easy to pull in raw data from databases and convert it into meaningful information. Its row limit is now increased to 65,536 data rows. Moreover, Calc offers a wizard which guides you through choosing and using one of the many advanced spreadsheet functions.

Calc menus and dialogs seem easier to navigate than the corresponding dialogs in Excel. It has been expanded to support up to 65,536 rows of data. Moreover, significant improvements have been made in the DataPilot feature, allowing users to carry out advanced analysis of data stored in spreadsheets and databases.

Similar to Writer, Calc's compatibility to MS Excel is quite impressive, but not perfect. For instance, charts based on pivot tables tend to be blank.

Base

Base was recently added to OpenOffice suite and it was designed as a Microsoft Access work-alike. Its SQL entry pane seems to be more adequate for users with prior SQL experience, while Access provides a bigger and probably better help system. Base error messages are rather obscure and clicking the 'More' button, there isn't any more useful assistance with the problem.

Moreover, Base can't work directly with MSSQL databases created by MS Access.

The Good

OpenOffice is a full-featured office suite that offers everything you need for creating dynamic documents, eye-catching presentations, analyzing data or managing databases. Being an open source software, it maintains the quality of being free and frequently updated by the open source community and most importantly, it's a viable alternative to other expensive office suites like Microsoft Office.

The Bad

While trying to be a better alternative to Microsoft Office, there are still some missing features which only MS Office provides, for the moment. Also, the resemblance to Microsoft Office which is more obvious with every new version can be disturbing for some users. The compatibility is a good thing but the MS Office-like interface should be optional and not mandatory.

The Truth

Overall, OpenOffice is a viable alternative to Microsoft Office. Besides being a free software, it also provides an impressive compatibility with MS Office documents. Some of MS Office features are still missing in OpenOffice but, as compensation, it has some new features of its own. Moreover, it's available for different platforms.

Check out some screenshots below:

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user interface 5
features 5
ease of use 4
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 
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