More good reasons to leave Office on the shelf

Dennis o'reilly By Dennis O’Reilly

In his June 18 Top Story, WS contributing editor Scott Spanbauer presented several free and low-cost alternatives to Microsoft’s ubiquitous productivity suite.

If you need more reasons to shutter your Office apps, take a look at some of the suggestions that poured in from readers in response to the story.

The opportunity to save a few hundred dollars sounds appealing any time, but it’s especially attractive in an era of double-digit unemployment figures. That’s why the tremendous response of readers to Scott’s story in last week’s newsletter on Office alternatives wasn’t a big surprise.

Subscribe to our Windows Secrets Newsletter - It's Free!

Get our unique weekly Newsletter with tips and techniques, how to's and critical updates on Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows XP, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google, etc. Join our 480,000 subscribers!

PC Drive Maintenance (Excerpt)

Subscribe and get our monthly bonuses - free!

Your hard drives store photos, books, music and film libraries, letters, financial documents and so on. This ebook is aimed at helping you understand your hard drives, expand their capacities and length of life, and recover what you can from them when they fail. We're offering you a FREE Excerpt! Get this excerpt and other 4 bonuses if you subscribe FREE now!



Among the people offering yet another reason to give the free OpenOffice.org application suite a try is J.D. White:
  • “Re: Scott Spanbauer’s excellent summary of MS Office alternatives: I ordered this Vista Home Premium computer with MS Office 2007 Premium installed. I found that Word did not open usable versions of some previous Word documents (2000 and 2003), especially a six-panel mailable brochure (it scrambled and moved both graphics and text).

    “OpenOffice 2.4, however, opened it flawlessly and allowed accurate display, updating, and printing. Moral: OO handled older Word documents better than Office 2007 opened older .doc files. Also, OO opens the widely used .odt file, and version 3.1 even opens the obnoxious Office 2007 .docx while Office 2007 is just now discovering .odt. Also, OpenOffice has long given the option of saving as a PDF.
A reader named David is another OpenOffice.org convert:
  • “I switched to OpenOffice a few years back when Office 2K started fighting with other apps like Google Desktop. Even without any apps open, the computer would freeze for a couple of minutes on cut and paste activities. I asked MS about the issue and they told me to buy an upgrade.

    “I’ve used OpenOffice for fancy mail merges, complex spreadsheets, and a large book with a Master document, producing automated table of contents, index, and end notes. That did require using the ODF format, though.

    “The only issue I’ve had is with your suggestion to set file format defaults to MS Office formats. On three occasions, I’ve had large .xls format spreadsheets hiccup in OpenOffice and lose multiple tabs. Fortunately, I use FileHamster, which backs up on each save.

    “I’ve since migrated to using ODF format for spreadsheets and have found the files much smaller, faster, and completely reliable. I simply Save As Office formats or print to PDF when I share. Also, given my past experiences with not being able to open older MS file formats, I like the idea of using ODF as an archive format.”
For a closer look at OpenDocument (ODF) support in Office 2007 and OpenOffice.org 3, see Andrew Z’s post on the OpenOffice.org Ninja blog.

Save money by choosing Office Home and Student

As Scott pointed out in his article, few Office users need more than the basic features in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. You can get these three apps plus the OneNote note-taking program for a lot less than the price of the full-blown Office suites, as Jeri Stodola points out:
  • “You spoke at great length about the high cost of Microsoft Office and the free alternatives. However, you failed to mention the low-cost Office version — Office Home and Student 2007 — which includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote.

    “This [version] can be found for $100 to $150 and can be installed on three PCs! You don’t have to be a student to purchase this — no ID is asked for. I don’t think that $33 to $50 per computer is a bad price for Office.”
You’ll find more information about the Home and Student version of Office 2007, plus a link to a 60-day trial, on the Microsoft Office Online site. Also, you can buy this version of Office for only U.S. $79.99 on Amazon.com. (Note that the program is for noncommercial use only and doesn’t qualify for upgrades to future Office releases.)

For more on Windows software discounts, see Scott Dunn’s April 12, 2007, Top Story.

Not everyone’s a fan of OpenOffice.org

There are plenty of reasons to like OpenOffice.org, not the least of which is the price — or lack thereof. Still, some people argue that you get what you pay for. Ken McLeod is among their number:
  • “Yes, there are free alternatives to Office, but

    “(1) OOo is nowhere near up to the standard of Office. It’s slow, buggy, and just plain ugly. (And, btw, I hate Office as a program due to the bloat and unintuitive interface in its most recent incarnation.)

    “(2) Online alternatives are sloooooooow even with a fast connection, particularly if you use any degree of complexity in a spreadsheet, etc. How like Earth people to find the worst possible way of doing something (for the user) and then make it sound like God’s gift to mankind.

    “(3) An overlooked alternative is WordPerfect Suite (Corel), which, while not free, is generally more competitively priced and is and always has been a better product than Office.”
Visit Corel’s site for more on WordPerfect Office, including a link to the trial download of the Standard Edition.

David Neeley recommends that OpenOffice.org users not standardize on Office file formats:
  • “I enjoyed Scott Spanbauer’s article on alternatives to MS Office. I disagree with one of his suggestions, however — that folks standardize on MS Office file formats in OpenOffice.org. …

    “I have many ebooks on my computer that were originally in MS .doc format; opening them in OpenOffice.org and saving them in Open Document Text (.odt — the OpenOffice.org default) resulted in saving about two-thirds of the disk space with no loss of content.

    “I’ve been using OpenOffice.org extensively for about three years now, both in Windows and Linux. Many of its capabilities surpass MS Office — for example, autonumbering works much better in OpenOffice.org and has been broken in every version of MS Office for at least a decade. (I worked for some years as a technical writer and had to wrestle with workarounds many times in MS Office).

    “Additionally, I haven’t had to deal with Access databases, but this article by Solveig Haugland explains how to connect Access databases with OpenOffice Base.

    “However, there are also many articles online involving the use of Base as a front end for more-powerful databases such as MySQL or PostGresQL. That gives even more power and flexibility.”
It’s nice to have choices, and there would appear to be plenty when it comes to productivity software. If only software developers could get that file-compatibility thing worked out!

Readers J.D., David, Jeri, Ken, and David will each receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of their choice for sending tips we printed. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

The Known Issues column brings you readers’ comments on our recent articles. Dennis O’Reilly is technical editor of WindowsSecrets.com.
= Paid content

All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2009-06-25: