Microsoft would love to have you make it richer. But you can be smarter than that.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Back-to-school software? Get it free with OpenOffice

Sept. 2, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   Wallets tend to open wider this time of year, during back-to-school time. But you (and your fairy godmother, if you know what I mean) don't have to spend anything for the kind of software you need for school work.
   The reining champ of all academic software is, of course, Microsoft Office. You can buy it for Windows and for Macs. But you can get just about all that stuff -- word processor, presentation graphics, spreadsheet and more -- without paying anything.
   The software I'm recommending is called OpenOffice. I've used it for years.
   OpenOffice can be downloaded for Windows and Linux computers from www.openoffice.org. For Macs, get the Mac version, called NeoOffice, from www.neooffice.org. (OpenOffice.org also has a Mac version, but it's not yet ready for prime time.)
   OpenOffice has nearly everything you'll find in the more expensive spread from Microsoft. It has:
   Writer, a word processor that works almost exactly like Microsoft Word.
   Impress, a presentation program that seems like a twin of Microsoft's PowerPoint.
   Math, a mathematical equation editor that's especially helpful for college work (just like a similar little program in Microsoft Office).
   Calc, a spreadsheet that works like Microsoft Excel in most ways.
   Draw, a graphics program for making diagrams.
   Base, a database program that's able to deal with common database formats, including those from Microsoft Access.
   Each program is able to work with Microsoft's native document formats. In other words, if you're told to submit a report in the Microsoft Word format, all you have to do is choose Word's ".DOC" format from the choices in a File menu. If someone sends you an Excel spreadsheet, double clicking the file will automatically open it in the OpenOffice Calc program.
   Even the OpenOffice presentation software, which you might consider less important than the other components, is a near-perfect match for Microsoft's PowerPoint. I've taught presentation graphics using both PowerPoint and Impress, and many of the students preferred Impress because it seemed easier to use and had the same functionality. (Impress also opens PowerPoint documents nicely.)