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Kicking the Windows habit: OpenOffice vs. Microsoft Office

A longtime IT consultant explains why he advises his clients to choose the free OpenOffice desktop suite over similar packages that cost money, like Microsoft Office and StarOffice.

If your company is thinking of shelling out money to pay the new subscription rates for Microsoft Office, or the fee to equip workers with Sun's StarOffice software, remember to download a free copy of OpenOffice, and try that out first. You might like what you find.

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  • At least, that's what one veteran IT consultant has been telling his clients.

    Paul Marshall Reeves, a longtime independent IT consultant who works with companies both small and large, said you should remember that OpenOffice, the free, open source desktop software suite, is based on the same source code as StarOffice. The two suites are almost functionally equivalent, he said. StarOffice's creator used the source code developed by volunteers. Sun later bought StarOffice, added some proprietary applications and is now selling the package at $76 per copy.

    "The only real difference between StarOffice and OpenOffice is the level of support offered by Sun, and the fact that StarOffice includes a database application," said Reeves. He added that the best way to get technical support for problems with OpenOffice is to hire a crack IT team at your company or to post your problem on the OpenOffice Web site, and wait to see if other users can help you out.

    The decision to sell and provide support for StarOffice comes at a time of renewed interest in alternatives to the market-dominating Microsoft Office. Many users aren't happy with Microsoft's new subscription-based licensing policy for the office suite because it requires an annual fee in addition to the base cost. It also forces folks to pay in advance for future upgrades. Reeves believes that OpenOffice is just the ticket for disaffected MS users willing to defect.

    If you're worried about the lack or organized support for OpenOffice, Reeves recommends trying it out anyway. You may be surprised, he said, because the volunteer developers at OpenOffice do a good job of finding open source replacements for proprietary applications included with StarOffice and MS Office. Also, he pointed out, the average user isn't concerned with or simply doesn't need most of the added technology included in the commercial software suites.

    After evaluating OpenOffice, if you find that you still need highly- organized support resources, then Reeves believes StarOffice is the right choice.

    "StarOffice 6 is much different than previous versions," said Reeves, who is in the process of trying to convince some clients to switch to OpenOffice or StarOffice. "When you opened up previous versions, it basically opened all the applications at once, so it took it forever to load when you'd open it."

    Now StarOffice has a new look and feel, similar to that of MS Office, where you can pick and choose which applications to open when you need them, he said.

    Many users have complained about problems converting documents written with StarOffice over to Microsoft Office and vice versa. Many of the problems have popped up when users tried to convert documents written with StarOffice's word processing application over to Microsoft Word. Reeves said many users have experienced unexpected font changes and added or missing characters when going from Writer to MS Word. Also, he said, Writer doesn't always understand the formatting of MS Word documents.

    As a final thought, Reeves said buyers of personal productivity suites should remember that users at their company don't have to fall in love with the suite you choose. "They just need to be able to use it."

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    This is an old article, but it still helps to mention that for most users there are plenty of options to allow for viewing and editing of Microsoft Office documents. Google Docs, Open Office and allow for ways that 90% of the office can participate in sharing, reading and editing of Office documents without requiring everyone have a license to Office. Save those for the primary content creators and power users that need all of the features.