While Microsoft Office is the obvious choice when it comes to word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software, OpenOffice provides a free and extremely capable alternative.
Like Microsoft’s software, OpenOffice features a text editor (Writer), a fully-featured spreadsheet (Calc), and a presentation application (Impress). All three are compatible with Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats, enabling you to open a Word (.docx) document in OpenOffice Writer or save an OpenOffice Calc sheet so it can be read by Excel.
This trio of office essentials is only part of the OpenOffice suite, which also includes a drawing app for diagrams and illustrations (Draw), database software (Base), plus a mathematical equation/formula editor (Math).
What's special about OpenOffice in comparison to other office software is the focus on modules and the use of XML as an internal data format.
While OpenOffice comes with few frills and lacks any extras like clip art images, customised document templates and a wide array of fonts, its functionality can be extended with plug-in extensions, such as dictionaries for Writer and a dedicated diagram generator for Impress. The software also supports a wide array of languages, from Afrikaans to Vietnamese, giving it an international appeal.
OpenOffice isn’t just free, it’s open source and licence-free. This means that you can download it as many times as you like, install it on as many PCs as you like, and use it for any type of work that you like. With a familiar interface and all the features you’d expect from an office suite, OpenOffice is powerful and flexible.
OpenOffice obviously isn’t as slick as Microsoft Office and, if you’ve been a regular Office user it can feel basic and awkward to use at times. Office compatibility isn’t pixel-perfect either - OpenOffice will open Office files but might not retain the exact formatting of the original. If you regularly need to exchange files with Office users this can cause some problems.
Verdict: Apache is further developing OpenOffice, which includes all the tools you need for the digital office - and everything for free. The program is now also better when it comes to importing and exporting Microsoft Office documents. Plus, OxygenOffice Professional, which is based on OpenOffice, includes further clip art, templates and fonts.