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.

No comments: