Many people have heard of OpenOffice.org, the free open source office suite which in one form or another is the most powerful competitor against Microsoft Office, the default option for most Windows users. There are things I don’t like about OpenOffice.org. For instance it’s a little slow at first start up and the interface looks a little dated alongside the likes of Apple’s iWork and even IBM’s Lotus Symphony, which is itself built on the OpenOffice.org codebase. In use OpenOffice.org is a highly capable office suite and through its support for the Open Document Format boasts compatibility with a wide range of other similar programs. It also supports an extremely wide range of languages and has a growing collection of extensions, including my favourite, which allows upload and import to and from Google Docs and Zoho Office. The big advantage for me though is that unlike MS Office I can run it on all my computers, giving me cross-platform access to my files at no cost. It will even run off a thumb drive, in case the computer in front of me doesn’t have it installed.
Unfortunately, despite these huge advantages, the ubiquity of MS Office means the biggest problem for any office suite contender is file compatibility with MS Office. In this respect OpenOffice.org is good, but a variant known as Go-OO is better. Go-OO is essentially the same as OpenOffice.org, but with added features, including support for Microsoft’s Excel VBA Macros, import of MS Works documents–a notorious dead zone for non-Microsoft software–and for Lotus Word Pro. It is also faster on my Mac than the ‘official’ OpenOffice.org release. A more complete list is available at the Go-OO website. I would be very surprised if this wasn’t the most flexible and compatible office suite available. In terms of document portability it leaves MS Office in the dust.
Many OpenOffice.org users are already using the Go-OO variant without realising it. It is the default office suite on many of the major desktop Linux distributions, including Debian, Ubuntu and openSUSE, and is the basis for NeoOffice on the Mac. If you downloaded OpenOffice.org from the main http://openoffice.org website though, you won’t be able to take advantage of these enhancements. I recommend going over to the Go-OO site and getting the enhanced version from there. It will cost you nothing at all, looks very similar to the original version, but makes the whole experience a lot better.