2.4.0 2.4.0

Summary: 2.4.0 is a free, open source alternative to Microsoft's Office application suite. It is fantastic if you need basic office applications — such as a word processor or spreadsheet — at no cost. However, large organisations and power users may be disappointed by its lack of features and support.

SHARE: 2.4.0 is a free, open source alternative to Microsoft's Office application suite. It is fantastic if you need basic office applications — such as a word processor or spreadsheet — at no cost. However, large organisations and power users may be disappointed by its lack of features and support.

In its original form, was a proprietary office suite known as StarOffice and developed by StarDivision, but that all changed when Sun Microsystems bought the company in 1999.

Although Sun still sells StarOffice, the company also released the software's source code and created a new, community-driven project; The suite is now free and is available under the GNU Lesser General Public Licence. runs under Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. The download is 127MB and the install process is quick and painless. We originally reviewed 2.0 in 2005, but several revisions later the program has a lot of new features.

Being an open source project, has an intuitive interface that you would expect after feedback from a large community. However, you may be a little confused at first if you're used to Microsoft Office — the two are subtly different. is closer to Office 2003 and below, and is markedly different in user interface from Office 2007's new "ribbon" style.

You can get free support for the software from the forums. We found the help forums to be straightforward, but not comprehensive. has no equivalent to Outlook. However, there are free open source email clients worth checking out, such as Mozilla's Thunderbird 2.

A nice feature of is the fact that you can add on extensions, which offer all kinds of unusual add-ons that proprietary vendors wouldn't touch — English to Hindi Dictionary and Thesaurus anyone?

Broadly speaking, you won't have any problems opening Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint files (including Office 2007 files) in, and you will be able to save to Microsoft's formats for use with Office. A multitude of other file formats are also supported. Unfortunately, at times a document won't be formatted quite right, but it's usually no problem to work around. goes a little further than Microsoft in some places and allows users to export directly to PDF. It also has its own file format, ODF, which Microsoft has pledged to support.

While supports macros, macros written for Microsoft Office won't work in, and can't be transferred, which could serve as a major stumbling block for those looking to migrate, depending on how much effort has been placed into writing macros. You'll have to rewrite them all.

Something you might want to consider if you plan to install across systems with limited resources is that it's considerably more hungry than Microsoft Office. launches a "Quickstarter" on boot that will use up 20MB or so of system memory before you even launch an application. We ran Writer and Microsoft Word simultaneously and found Writer consumed around twice the system resources of Word. is considerably more memory hungry than Microsoft Office

Of all the applications available in, its strength lies with its word processor, Writer. For those who use only the standard functions in Word or another proprietary office software, Writer is likely to meet your needs, unless you rely on a grammar checker, which is missing from the word processor.

Although the feature-set in is smaller than Microsoft Office, the development team has obviously worked hard to make some common tasks simple. For example, allows you to change the default language for different documents, paragraphs or even sections of text — a useful tool for Web publishing.

Changing the default language is easy in

We really enjoyed using Writer's interface. For example, a right click will give you access to commonly used formatting functions. Another useful shortcut is the ability to export directly to PDF with a single click. This function appears across all OpenOffice applications.

In addition, we found Writer's "help suggestions" to be less intrusive than Microsoft's irritatingly perky "Office Assistant", while the help files comprehensively documented the application's functions.

If Writer is the strength of OpenOffice, then Calc is its relative weakness. While Calc is a solid mathematical tool, its capacity to create graphs is inferior — you just can't represent data with the flair of Microsoft Excel, and graphs are one of Excel's most-used features.

Both the type and the customisability of graphs is limited. You're stuck with basic graphs including pie charts, bar graphs and XY scatter graphs. Once you create the graphs, they're basically images, with very little editable dynamic content. If you're in science or finance and need to demonstrate complex equations graphically, or want to create trend lines on your graphs, you may find frustrating.

Graphing options are very limited in Calc

One positive aspect about Calc is that it actually offers around 30 per cent more functions than are offered in Excel (roughly 338 in Calc versus 233 in Excel). Combined with Math, this makes OpenOffice a great mathematical tool and a worthy Excel rival. Alas, if only it could create better graphs.

Turn over to see Math, Base and our verdict.


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Topics: Open Source, Microsoft, Oracle

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  • Lets face it, for 99% of users out there, both Corporate and Home, StarOffice does the job admirably. Unless you're right into heavy technical stuff then it's great. Most secretaries, salesmen and people wanting to type up a sponge cake recipe never, ever use any of that stuff anyway. I snuck StarOffice onto my work PC years ago and no-ones ever noticed, and I get word/excel/powerpoint files all day long. Add it to Firefox and Thunderbird and I've got this Windows PC pretty much into shape !
  • OpenOffice Draw should not be compared to image manipulation programs like PhotoShop or Gimp, because these were designed for pixel manipulation, whereas OpenOffice Draw is a vector graphics application.

    The best comparison is to compare OpenOffice Draw with Microsoft Visio, in which each have their strengths, but where I prefer OpenOffice Draw because it is productive and supports many file formats that I need.
  • What is the point of revieving OOo-2.4.0 in August when 2.4.1 was released in May?
  • ...Once you create the graphs, they're basically images, with very little editable dynamic content...

    I'm not sure that the author has "played" around enough with the graph functions to fairly review them. Graphs created with Calc are fully in Excel...although admittedly it is not always intuitive on what you have to click on to edit a particular feature. Also Excel itself is hardly the benchmark for graphing function, as I have found it to be just as difficult to work with as far as creating and editing graphs...particularly if you have a complex situation (multiple y-axes, etc.).
  • If you are going to highlight the memory usage of, then we need to know how much memory "winword.exe" is running on your system. Without that figure your assertion is totally invalid.

    "It also has its own file format, ODF, which Microsoft has pledged to support."

    The author really needs to get the facts straight. ODF is not OpenOffice's file format, it is in fact an ISO/IEC standard.

    From the WIkipedia page: "The OpenDocument format (ODF) is a file format for electronic office documents such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents. While the specifications were originally developed by Sun, the standard was developed by the Open Office XML technical committee of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium and based on the XML format originally created and implemented by the office suite (see XML). As well as a free and open OASIS Standard, it is (in its version 1.0 manifestation) published as an ISO/IEC International Standard, ISO/IEC 26300:2006 Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0.[2] The OpenDocument standard meets the common definitions of an open standard, meaning the specification is freely available and implementable."

  • Hi Everyone,

    Thanks for the feedback. I want to address some of it.

    Firstly, I am not comparing Draw to GIMP or Photoshop, clearly they have more functionality. My intention was to point out that if you already either of these programs (as I do) the functionality of Draw won't be an issue. (See later comment about the "open source set-up jigsaw.")

    In regard to graphs, I was making reference to Calc's seeming inability to create trend lines from data. If there is a way to make Calc do this, please let me know. While you can still use the "LINEST" function, this process is hardly straightforward, and doesn't allow you to display equations on your graph.

    The memory usage of winword.exe on my system is about 25MB.

    You're right, ODF is an ISO standard, and was the first standard. But so is OOXML.

    I am aware 2.4.1 is available, but I wrote most of the review while still using 2.4.0. I would be interested to know if the update invalidates any of my comments.


    Alex Serpo
  • You can create tend lines by Insert-Statistics and choosing, say, a type of regression curve. You can then have the formula show by selecting the regression curve on the graph and double-clicking the regression line. This brings up a dialog box. Select the Equation tab and then equation. This places the equation on the graph. Hopefully, that's what you wanted to know. Cheers!
  • One thing not mentioned that bears heavily on the quality of Open Office is that it is one integrated program, rather than multiple independent programs. MS Office, by contrast, is a set of independently developed programs grouped together under a brand name.

    This is why Open Office has a bigger memory footprint when you're only running one application. If you're running, say, Writer and Calc at the same time, the memory footprint is lesser, because much of the code is loaded only once, but used by both programs.

    This is also why I consider Draw one of the real strengths of Open Office, rather than a weakness. It's not meant to compete directly with Adobe Illustrator, for example. It's meant to add good solid vector-based drawing functionality to all the other Open Office applications. The MS Office approach is to create the illustration in Visio or another application, then import the graphic into Word. In Open Office, you simply create the drawing in Writer using Draw.

    I've gotten more and more fond of Open Office as I've used it. I find it especially useful for technical documentation, where I can easily create an outline, add screenshots, draw arrows and rectangles directly on the screenshots, and export it all to PDF. Sure, I could do every bit of that using multiple other applications, but not as quickly and easily.

    Open Office is under-rated. If you know anyone stuck using MS Works, help them install Open Office. You'll have done your good deed for the day.
  • The graph tool is surprisingly capable, but it's not even remotely intuitive.

    As mentioned below, it does do trend lines and things, but it's certainly not obvious.
  • OOXML is NOT an ISO standard yet, at least not until all of the appeals against it have been dealt with (FOUR countries appealed the decision to grant it ISO status).
  • " is considerably more memory hungry than Microsoft Office"

    I'm not the first one to notice your assertion is incorrect.

    Use Sysinternals Process Explorer to see the "Private Bytes" column, which shows how much unshared memory the application is using... It's still not perfect, but not as inaccurate as your numbers.

    The numbers shown in Windows Task Manager do _not_ tell you how much memory a program is using.

    The "Mem Usage" is indeed the "Working Set" for the application : the least amount of data that must be kept in RAM to allow the program to run at a given time. A 100MB application could have a 1MB working set if it does nothing : however, it will still hold 100MB in memory (RAM or pagefile).

    Microsoft Office applications are "optimized" to show a minimal working set : they are written so that the OS thinks most data can be moved to the pagefile. Minimize your Word 2003 window and the working set will drop to 2MB. The total memory consumption (private bytes and shared bytes) will however NOT change.
  • By the way : OOXML actually refers to *nothing* clear.

    There is some "OOXML"-called specification that is currently in the process of becoming an ISO standard.

    There is also some "OOXML" file format that's implemented in MS Office 2007.

    The two are different and COMPLETELY incompatible. Supposedly, Microsoft will make MS Office "ISO OOXML"-compatible for Office 14... which could be due in 3 years.
  • My question is, did they ever fix tile/poster printing? This feature, perfected by MacDraw in ~1985, has never worked in OO, and still did not the last time I checked (Ver. 2.3).
  • I think the reviewer missed one of OpenOffice's most compelling features: it's emphasis on Styles. These go beyond anything offered by MS-Office, to include page, frame and graphics styles.

    Similarly, the reviewer did not appreciate the value of Draw. (Comparing Draw to GIMP or Photoshop is silly, BTW. Illustrator or CorelDraw would be more appropriate). With graphics-styles and features like 3D objects, connectors, Draw is excellent for technical illustrations, flow-charts, diagrams etc. It's probably not great for graphic-artists, but for everyday document illustrations, it's top-class.

    Finally, Math is a very pleasant environment for composing equations. It's not as flexible as Latex but it's mnemonics are easier to learn and read. I'd take this over the equiation-editor in MSO any day (I speak as a physicist).

    Calc (like all spreadsheets including Excel) is crap.

    A new feature in development is HybridPDF generation. This produces PDFs which incorporate the ODF source document, so the PDF can be reloaded in OOo with no loss of fidelity. Users without OOo installed can still view the file in a PDF-reader.
  • The notion that charting is a strong point of Excel is an idea I've never heard before! Quattro Pro was better... and that was 10 years ago. If you really want to chart, you get something other than Excel for the job.
  • Custom colors not possible?

    Create an object, right-click the object, select Area... from the right-click menu.

    In the Area dialog box, click the Colors tab and have at it.
  • I do not have any idea if Open Office uses more system memory than MS Office or not but even if it does SO WHAT! How much does Open Office cost to download? $0.00 now how much does MS Office cost? I think it starts at around $300.00 and up. Now how much does the DDR2 memory cost for my PC? The last time I checked a 2 1GB sticks was less than $50.00 at Now even if my system needed more memory to run after installing Open Office the additional memory would be far less than going out and feeding the MS cash cow yet again.
  • Hi all,

    As a Latin American user, I have to say that I've never paid for Microsoft Office. In most of the developing world, people use cracked versions, like me.

    Since price is not an issue, I find Writer very user friendly and less cumbersome than Word, although the functions track changes and add comments in Writer are much less useful. Word, on the other hand, has grammar corrector and gives you confidence that the format will not change in other's people computers, which you can never be sure with Writer. That's why I have to convert to PDF, blocking other readers to make comments and changes.

    I tried to migrate from Microsoft Office, but many features are lacking (specially in Calc) and I just couldn't. For the moment, OpenOffice is a good complement for Microsoft Office, but it cannot replace it.
  • Just a short note to let you know that Open Office also runs under Linux, a platform you somehow omitted under your Specification Heading.
  • "If you're in science or finance and need to demonstrate complex equations graphically, or want to create trend lines on your graphs, you may find frustrating"
    Who in Science uses Excel for graphs?! That's what Python is for, and that's free, too