Sunday, August 19, 2007

OpenOffice for the home office

I will start my series of reviews of Open Source software by looking at OpenOffice. The name suggests it all: OpenOffice is the open source competition to expensive but powerful Microsoft Office. It is freely down loadable and is distributed under the LGPL (GNU Lesser General Public License).

The biggest hurdle to switching from Microsoft Office to another software is that the majority, if not all, customers and partners of any business will continue to use Microsoft technologies. Any alternative, must therefore, be compatible enough with Microsoft so that exchange of documents is not hindered in anyways. OpenOffice fares fairly well in this regard and supports all popular Microsoft document formats.


OpenOffice comes with the following components:
  • Writer: word processor and desktop publisher.
  • Impress: multimedia presentations
  • Math: mathematical equations editor that can be inserted in to other OpenOffice components.
  • Draw: create graphics and diagrams.
  • Calc: spreadsheet program
  • Base: simple database program


In the simplest form, installation requires downloading the installer and executing it. If support for OpenOffice Base is required, Java will need to be installed. The OpenOffice installer provides an option for Java installation.

OpenOffice has its own OpenDocument format for saving documents. At the same time it supports the Microsoft document format. As part of the installation, we usually configure OpenOffice to save in the Microsoft document formats.

This is done by starting an OpenOffice component like Writer or Calc. From the menu, choosing Tools | Options. Expanding the Load/Save tab on the left, then selecting the General sub option. Text document, Spreadsheet and Presentation can be changes to always save in the Microsoft 97/2000/XP format.

OpenOffice Writer

The interface for Writer has a familiar look, and any one comfortable with Microsoft Word should be able to easily catch on to it.

I have been able to open all Microsoft Word documents that I came across, although at times the layout on OpenOffice Writer would be slightly different to that on Word. After editing the document and saving back as a Word document, a warning is displayed that some formatting may be lost if not saved in the OpenDocument format. I have not seen any loss of formatting though.

One of the features that I find very useful in OpenOffice is the ability to directly save in to a PDF format. This is a good way to deliver documents that will not be edited by the receiver. It is also a good way to ensure that formatting remains consistent wherever the document is viewed or printed.

OpenOffice Calc

Provides a very similar interface to Microsoft Excel, making it very easy to learn and start using immediately. Has equally good support for creating graphs and complex calculations. I have not come across a Microsoft Excel worksheet that breaks in Calc, however, there are bound to be some functions which will mismatch from Excel to Calc. The majority of the users, who use just the basic functions should not see this.

The worksheets can also be converted to PDF format.

OpenOffice Impress

Slightly different interface to Microsoft Power Point but intuitive enough to quickly come up to speed. Can open Power Point documents but the layout can become distorted. Likewise, presentations created in Impress may become distorted in Power Point. Therefore, if the presentation is to be delivered, it is best to use the same software that was used to create it.

Presentations can also be exported to PDF, which can be useful for archiving purposes.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

How Free Software can help your home office

With the use of technology, your home office can work like a Fortune 500 corporation. Here I just list a few things that I found were very useful for our customers (who are typically home office / small businesses like yourself):

Web Portal
Opportunities are endless. Some of these although obvious, still a lot of the small business do not really make good use of.
  • Create a corporate image. The good news is that home office and small businesses can also have good online images like the big guns in the industry.
  • Market products and services.
  • Sell products / services and receive payments online, 24 hours a day every day.
  • Provide valuable information and news about the company, industry etc. Easily update this information through the use of Content Management Systems (CMS).
  • Provide 24 hour customer support, including instant automated queries on order status.
Customer Relationshisp Management (CRM)
  • Maintain customer information.
  • Create marketing plans along with their budgets.
  • Create campaigns targetted to different categories of customers.
  • Manage leads, quotation, pre-sales, sales and post sales.
  • Customized offerings to customers based on their profile and history
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
  • Production / Services management depending on whether you are a products or a services company or both.
  • Project management including scheduling, budgeting related expenses etc.
  • Financial management including chart of accounts, accounts, taxes, general accounting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, bank statements, balance sheets, fixed assets etc.
Online Collaboration Tools
  • Online calendars to publish events, seminars and schedule appointments with customers, partners, suppliers etc.
  • Wiki as a way to share marketing plans, research, meeting minutes or any other document that may need to be shared or worked in collaboration with customer and partners.
Free Software to the rescue
Free Software's open architecture allows anyone to freely modify it to their specific needs. This vastly improves the ability for small organizations with limited resources to implement solutions customized to their business. The cost will vary according to the requirements of the organization. From a one time consulting fee for installation and customization to a monthly fee for continous development. For instance, for only $1500 a month TMM Software Systems develops, maintains, upgrades and hosts the software and web applications needed to run your business.

In the next few posts, I will review in greater details the actual software and the magic it can do for your business.

I have already seen small business, with very little investment, develop very successful job boards, real estate portals etc.