OpenOffice.org is an office suite you can download completely free of charge, which is quite the bargain, especially when you consider that it’s not a load of old tat. Not even close, in fact. This is a fully functioning office suite that’s compatible with Microsoft Office files, consisting of a word processor (Writer), a spreadsheet (Calc) and presentation (Impress) programs, along with a database (Base) and a vector drawing tool (Draw).
This is quite simply incredibly well featured for a free download. Writer offers a range of wizards (from letter templates through to a font wizard that allows the user to download fonts from the Internet), a PDF export facility, full word count, spell checker, auto-complete and auto-correct functions (the latter is very smartly implemented), a huge range of formatting options… basically, everything you’d expect from a fully-fledged word processor.
About the only downside is that things can go a little pear shaped when dealing with Microsoft Office documents containing heavy formatting, tables and suchlike, but in our tests we found it dealt with some of the fiddlier docs we threw at it better than our other word processor (WordPerfect), which was quite surprising. When dealing with Excel files in Calc, we also found the suite handled importing them just fine, and with version 2.2 OpenOffice’s Excel support has been improved (for example, it can now handle Excel files containing Pivot Tables drawn from external data).
So what else is new with version 2.2 of the suite? A number of tweaks have been implemented to solve some security issues, which is an invisible but welcome step. Various minor adjustments have been made to streamline the interface across the board and the result is an even slicker experience for the user. And naturally, there’s a huge raft of bug fixes.
We can’t stress enough how impressive this is for a freebie suite. Both Writer and Calc in particular perform admirably compared to full-priced rivals, and Impress and Base are right up there in terms of power and usability.
As this is an open source project, one obvious weakness is that there’s no customer support provided, aside from searching through and/or posting on the Web site’s forums. Essentially it boils down to a matter of time versus money: if you can’t take the time to scour the community message boards for your support if things go awry, and you really can’t afford to take any chances, then you’re best off forking out for a full-priced office suite. But that’s really the only downside.