OpenOffice.org 3.2

OpenOffice.org 3.2

Available from: http://www.openoffice.org

Minimum Requirements: Windows 2000, Linux 2.4, MacOSX 10.4, Solaris 10, 256MB RAM, Java RunTime Environment required for database, wizards and additional features.

Supported by computing giant Sun, now subsumed by Oracle, OpenOffice.org has long been held up as the major rival to Microsoft Office. Its applications closely mirror Microsoft's, with Writer standing in for Word, Calc for Excel, Impress for PowerPoint and Base for the Access database, while OOo (as lazier typists like to call it) also includes a business graphics module, Draw.

OOo's biggest strength is its strong feature set. While Writer can't match Word 2010 for flashy type effects or graphics capabilities, and Impress won't even get you close to the slick, TV-style visuals and animations you'll find in PowerPoint, OOo has all the features that your average corporate power user would find essential.

This means it also has everything that most of us would need. Put some time into Writer or Impress, and you'll find that you can pull off professional-looking documents and multi-page reports in the former, and presentations, complete with sophisticated layouts, images, video clips and animations and transitions in the latter. Calc, meanwhile, is a very strong rival to Excel, with step-by-step wizards handling some of the more advanced functions and formulae, and its own version of Excel's high-end PivotTable feature, known as DataPilot.

The problem is that pulling off these results isn't always as easy as it might be. Ooo's user-interface is broadly similar to Office's circa 2003, and while this arguably makes things easier for those who liked the old ways and hate Office's new ribbon-based approach, it also means that, if you want real editing power, you'll spend a fair amount of time hunting through toolbars or experimenting with right-click, context-sensitive menus to find the right option.

In Calc, where most of the options you'll need are accessible right from the toolbar, this isn't an issue, but if you want to, say, start editing text styles in Writer then you might have your work cut out. If you're familiar with Office 97 to Office 2003 then the learning curve will be less steep, as so many things function in basically the same way; newcomers, however, might find the cluttered interface and formidable range of options rather bewildering.

OOo also misses out on the features that make it easy for design-challenged users to create good-looking documents in Word or PowerPoint. While templates are either provided or widely available on the Web, elements like themed colour and font collections are not supported, and there's no equivalent to some of the ‘building block’ ready-made page elements you'll find in the Microsoft applications.

OOo supports Office file formats up to Office 2007, and, as the basic file formats haven't changed from that version when Microsoft introduced its XML-based formats, compatibility should extend to the Office 2010 versions. In practice, this varies dramatically from document to document and application to application. The basic layout may be the same, but you won't always find images correctly arranged or heavily styled text displayed accurately, and you may find slide backgrounds missing or styles ignored. Generally speaking, OOo gets so much right that it's hard to complain, but we're a long way yet from perfection.

Overall, if you're an experienced Office user and the type of person who's not afraid to put in a little graft, then OpenOffice makes an excellent alternative to Office. It won't suit everyone, however, and those looking for a more helpful UI or a more design-focused feature set might want to plump out for Office 2010, or look elsewhere.

Verdict

Still the most convincing straight swap for Office, OpenOffice.org is only let down by patchy compatibility and a user interface that's beginning to look long in the tooth.

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