OpenOffice.orgPublish date: 19 October 2009 by Raymond Robinson
One the most common uses for the PC nowadays is to create and use documents, spreadsheets and/or presentations. It is almost inconceivable to think of a PC, especially in a corporate environment, without something like Microsoft Office loaded on it. Yet it is even more amazing to think that if you want functionality beyond the capabilities of WordPad and Paint, an office suite can set you back thousands of rands!
I am currently creating this document using a completely free application called OpenOffice.org Writer. The document creation utility included in the also free OpenOffice.org office suite.
OpenOffice.org is a feature-rich suite of office applications that support documents, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics and database connectivity. It even has some features not found in the Microsoft suite such as the ability to create .PDF files. (For a Microsoft add-on PDF creator you would have to go here.)
The suite vaguely resembles Microsoft Office 2003, and can open Microsoft Office 2007 documents. It is a truly viable alternative to the mainstream suite that most people currently use. What you don’t get however is an email client like Outlook, but you can get a free email client elsewhere.
We have Sun Microsystems, Inc. to thank for OpenOffice.org. Back in the 90’s they realised that they were perhaps paying Microsoft millions of dollars for the use of Office unnecessarily. They also realised that their Solaris operating system could do with office apps.
Sun consequently bought a company called StarDivision, which had created an office suite called StarOffice that was competitive in features with Microsoft Office, with one important difference — the suite ran on GNU/Linux and Solaris operating systems as well as Windows. Sun then released the StarOffice programmers’ source code as an open source program and called it OpenOffice.
By making OpenOffice.org open source, Sun generated a community of more than 100 000 computer programmers and enthusiasts who were interested in creating new features and even providing support for the program — and all for free!
Today OpenOffice.org is a "stable and mature" product. One of its primary benefits to end users is that it was designed as a single bit of software. This means that there is great consistency in terms of its interface, making the learning curve between applications quite gentle.
Evidence of this consistency is the fact that you can open any type of OpenOffice.org compatible document from any OpenOffice.org application. Even its Help features work across applications. Finally OpenOffice.org runs on all major platforms including Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris and Apple Mac.
The OpenOffice.org suite consists of the following components/products:
Writer is a powerful word processor, much like Microsoft Office Word. As far as functionality goes it offers a wide range of features like AutoCorrect, AutoComplete, AutoFormat, Styles and Formatting, Text Frames and Linking, Tables of Contents, Indexing, Bibliographical References and Tables, and other objects.
You can quite literally write a book in Writer, something the guys over at Dummies did when they put together OpenOffice.org for Dummies.
Spreadsheets are indispensable to modern business. Some people spend their entire working day creating and customising worksheets to analyse critical data. So the idea of a free application that could meet such critical needs seems a little foreign.
Calc is OpenOffice.org’s spreadsheet application and is powerful enough to meet the needs of most number crunchers. It offers functionality like Advanced DataPilot technology, Natural language formulas, an Intelligent Sum Button, a comprehensive range of advanced spreadsheet functions, Styles and Formatting, and a Scenario Manager for "what ifs".
For multimedia presentations OpenOffice.org offers Impress. There are a wide variety of tools offered in the application with 2D and 3D clip art, fontworks, special effects, animation, and high-impact drawing tools that allow you to create professional presentations. A great feature is the ability to share your work via pdf, html and even Flash.
There is also a drawing tool included in the suite in the form of Draw. The application allows you to draw, sketch and manipulate objects. You can rotate objects in two or three dimensions and even render images so that they appear photo-realistic. A very handy feature in Draw is the ability to create flow diagrams and charts which is useful in project planning.
Finally OpenOffice.org includes a database application in the form of Base. Easy to use but powerful, Base allows user to create and modify tables and queries via your own database or via its built-in HSQL database engine. There is even a handy wizard for beginners to get started.
People familiar with Microsoft Office and use Microsoft Outlook to connect to a Microsoft Exchange email and calendar server, will find that no equivalent MAPI client exists in the OpenOffice.org suite however.
I have looked for alternative MAPI clients to connect to Microsoft Exchange (without POP3, IMAP4 or HTML), but have not found any viable alternative at this point. Comments for Outlook alternatives are welcome.
OpenOffice.org 3 is free to download, free to install on as many PCs as you like, free to pass copies onto colleagues and friends. It’s completely free in every sense of the word.
OpenOffice.org version 3.1.1 can be downloaded from www.openoffice.org and is approx. 150 MB in size.