In my never ending quest to examine alternatives to Microsoft products, I decided to take a look at Open Office for Windows. Open Office is the open source version of Sun Office...or is Sun Office the proprietary version of Open Office? No matter. Open Office is free for the download, so I wanted to see if this was an exception to the rule: "You get what you pay for.". While it's not perfect and doesn't have all the bells and whistles of Microsoft Word, the happy news is that it's a strong competitor for basic tasks; and for the price, it's an amazing value.
The first thing I noticed after installing the download (65MB) on Windows XP was that there were no application names anywhere on my Start Menu. Instead, under the "Open Office" program group, I found a list of the types of documents the office suite was built to handle, i.e., text document, drawing, spreadsheet, presentation, or html document. This same philosophy is built into every application in the Office Suite. When you click on File/New, you'll get a menu that allows to not only make a new document in the application you're working in but also in any other application in the office suite. This is shown in the picture below. The application window shown is one from Writer, the Open Office word processor.
You can also see that you can select some basic templates that will allow you to make labels or business cards. Selecting "Templates and Documents" brings up a dialog that allows you to select from files and folders in your "My Documents" folder, folders that contain templates, or new document types.
Writer itself comes up in "page layout" view as shown above. The only views I could select were "Online Layout" or "Full Screen". In any of these, you are always seeing some aspect of the page layout. A "Normal" view where I could see only the words I was typing could only be approximated by using the "Zoom" feature to zoom in closely. (However, on my Windows XP Home computer running an AMD 2800+ CPU with 512 MB DDR2700 memory and an ATI Radeon 9000 All in Wonder video card, all zooms or view changes were instantaneous.) Maybe a future version of this word processor will include a normal view. (Hint! Hint!)
Writer's layout reminds me a lot of WordPerfect for Windows, though all the major word processors don't really differ that much. The address bar showing the path to your document is a nice touch. Document styles can be accessed either through the drop down menu just beneath the address bar or via the Stylist, a palette that can be turned on and off via a tool bar button (the one just to the right of the Star"), that contains and grants access to paragraph styles, character styles, frame styles, page styles, and numbering styles. (It reminds me of Word v.X's Formatting Pallet, even if it's not quite as elegant.)
For basic tasks, the word processor is competitive with Word. While it may not have all Word's bells and whistles (like Smart Tags, etc.), it can automatically check spelling while you type, though the feature is turned off by default. It does have an auto complete feature that guesses the word you're trying to type and surrounds the guessed letters with a grey box. If you agree that the program has guessed the right word, you need only to hit the Enter (Return) key to have it complete the typing for you.Other features can be turned on and off through the Tools/Options menu. All in all, I doubt if most people will notice a lot of difference between it and Word.
The word processor opens each document in a separate instances rather than having all windows within one instance of Word. (If you've used Word 2002, then you know it handles documents in the same way.) Writer's native format is .sxw which the Help file reveals is an XML format. (Since I'm not using XML anywhere but at home with Open Office, I'm not sure what that means to me, yet.) It can also save and open files in Word format, i.e., Word 6.0/95/97/2000/2002 as well as text, rich text format, Star Writer, and HTML formats. Tests of its ability to open and save Word documents containing basic formatting were flawless. However, none of the documents I had available to me had any tables or other advanced formatting features which is where the true test of a word processor's cross-latform capability lies.
Writer, like all other Open Office applications, have context menu (right mouse button) support. in Writer, the items on the menu often have arrows that lead to large "fly out" menus. For instance, on the menu is a "Font" item. Selecting it brings up a scrollable menu of all fonts installed on the system (like those in PageMaker). Font, Size, Style, Alignment, Line Spacing, Case and Characters are all accessible in this fashion; other entries on the context menu (like Character, Paragraph, Page, Numbering/Bullets, and Edit Paragraph Style) bring up tabbed dialog boxes when selected.
Spreadsheets are handled by Calc. Calc toolbars are very similar to those in Writer. Spreadsheet access is controlled through tabs at the bottom left corner of the screen with arrows allowing to roll to more if they are not displayed. In the picture below, I opened a simple spreadsheet containing some the latitudes and longitudes of some places I have visited, recording their values for reuse in a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) device.
You can see that the spellchecker works here as well and doesn't like the spellings, as true as some of them are, of some places.
The context menu is visible here, and the functions are almost identical to those of Excel's. One difference is the "Selection List" which will bring up in a small, separate window items you have already selected. (I'm not sure what you do with that, yet.)
In the picture below, you can see the "Format Cell" functions selected from the context menu displayed above.
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