Here at ProfHacker we talk a lot about Google Docs and other Google tools, myself included. But I also have two other office suites installed on my primary machine—Microsoft Office and OpenOffice. On my netbook, I only have OpenOffice. I’ve had some version or another of OpenOffice on at least one of my machines since 2000. Although I keep Microsoft Office around on the primary machine, I can certainly envision a time (perhaps with the next machine) when I don’t have it installed at all. Why? Simply put, there’s nothing that I do with an office suite that I can’t do with OpenOffice, and OpenOffice is free and open source.
- Base: for relational databases (coming from Microsoft land? You can import and work with Access databases in Base)
- Calc: for spreadsheets (coming from Microsoft land? You can import and work with Excel spreadsheets in Calc)
- Draw: for vector graphics
- Impress: for slide shows/presentations (coming from Microsoft land? You can import and work with PowerPoint presentations in Impress)
- Math: a mathematical equation editor
- Writer: for word processing (coming from Microsoft land? You can import and work with Word documents in Writer)
The user interfaces for all of the OpenOffice products look very similar to the interfaces one would see in Microsoft Office. As much as I love Google Docs (and I do), one of the issues I faced when implementing Google Docs in the classroom was the inability of most students to format or spellcheck their document because the tools weren’t in the same place and they couldn’t make the leap about how to go about looking for them (note that these are the students’ own problems, not Google’s, as far as I’m concerned). OpenOffice isn’t a clone of Microsoft Office, but it does look more like what people are used to seeing in desktop application.
The first image is of a new document started in OpenOffice Writer. The second image is of a slide in OpenOffice Impress—and as with PowerPoint you can import charts, graphs, and other objects from the rest of the office suite (and beyond). The third image is of a spreadsheet in OpenOffice Calc—this particular spreadsheet is my gradebook, saved in Microsoft Excel 2007 (XLSX format), imported perfectly (formulas and all) into Calc. The import/export options within the OpenOffice suite are numerous—it will often open files that Microsoft Office has issues with, for instance, which is helpful when students send papers saved in an antiquated word processing format.
I realize that academic pricing allows students (and teachers) to pick up Microsoft Office for less than a hundred bucks, and that Microsoft Office has some programs that OpenOffice does not. However, if you’re looking for an office suite that is free, open, and cross-platform, and gives you the ability to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, vector graphics, and databases, consider OpenOffice. Download it and try it out—especially if you’re facing the need to upgrade your office suite and you’d rather save that hundred (or a few hundred) bucks.