Open Office vs. MS Office - the Other Key to Windows/Linux Transition

As I have been going around alternately prodding my friends and family to try Linux, or asking them if they thought it would be possible, one thing I have heard repeatedly is that a lot of people use Microsoft Office and are concerned about their Office documents on Linux. I should also mention that a lot of them are very angry that Microsoft has changed the default document format in Office 2007 (again), such that it is incompatible with previous Office versions.

As I have been going around alternately prodding my friends and family to try Linux, or asking them if they thought it would be possible, one thing I have heard repeatedly is that a lot of people use Microsoft Office and are concerned about their Office documents on Linux. I should also mention that a lot of them are very angry that Microsoft has changed the default document format in Office 2007 (again), such that it is incompatible with previous Office versions. Yes, of course, I know there are converters and such, but it's just one more thing for users to have to worry about - and in general they aren't confronted with it, or sometimes even aware of it, until they send a critical document to a colleague and discover that the colleague can't open it...

Anyway, the point of all this is that all of the versions of Linux I have been testing come with OpenOffice.org included. For those who are not familiar with it, OpenOffice.org is a "free and open productivity suite" (to quote their web page), with programs which are the equivalent of the Microsoft Office suite. It includes:

- Write (Word Processing)

- Calc (Spreadsheet)

- Impress (Presentations)

- Draw (Graphics)

- Base (Database management)

- Math (Equation and Foruma)

Each of these programs is able to open files from the MS Office equivalent EXCEPT, currently, the new Office 2007 format. So if you are using Office 2003 or earlier, you can just open your document with OpenOffice, and off you go. If you are using Office 2007, you can either save your document in Office 2003 format, or you can pick up one of several (free) Office 2007 format converters. The next version of OpenOffice (3.0), due out this fall, will be able to read Office 2007 documents, of course.

Should you ever need to go back to MS Office, or need to send your documents to someone still using MS Office, OpenOffice has the ability to save documents in Office 2003 format (and lots of others).

I could go on and on telling you how good OpenOffice is. I have a number of Word documents and Excel spreadsheets which I use to track my work. I simply transferred those files to my Linux system, and started working on them with OpenOffice. Of course there are differences in tool bars, buttons, menus and the like. But it takes an absolute minimum of effort to learn your way around Open Office - certainly no more effort than it takes every time Microsoft comes out with a new release of Office, and a heck of a lot less than it took to learn Office 2007!

The best news of all is that OpenOffice.org runs just fine on Windows as well, both XP and Vista. So you don't have to take my word for it, and you don't have to take the Linux plunge to find out if you will be able to work with your documents. If you want to find out, just go to www.openoffice.org, download and install the latest release, and give it a try! I think you will be very pleasantly surprised, I certainly was.

So, if your excuse for not giving Linux a try was that you needed to be able to work with your Office documents... well, you just ran out of excuses. Think of what you will gain, too! No more suffering through all the gratuitous menu/toolbar/button changes that Microsoft makes in every new Office release. No more suffering through incompatible file formats between releases, which Microsoft seems to do every two or three releases - this is the second time it has happened that I can recall, and I assume that the recent OOXML debacle means that there is another change coming in the next Office release. Best of all, no more having to pay to upgrade to the new version every time Microsoft sees fit.

jw 15/8/2008

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