Reviewed by: Jim Huddle CNE CNE5 CBS MCSE ES-RC, send e-mail
OpenOffice.org, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 95 or higher, Linux or Solaris (Intel/Sparc)
MSRP: Zip, nada, zilch - the time required to download it
Cool beans! Back in the stone age when I ran a BBS on a 386/25MHz computer and authenticated my users with Netware 3.11, I was a member of Fidonet. It was very active network and forum in the area I lived in and several of the System Operators (sysops) were in their very early twenties. The local message board for area sysops was a pretty busy place and one of the younger sysops was especially exuberant. Whenever something really neat would come up he would always refer to it as “cool beans”. He said he just liked the way it sounded. If he's downloaded OpenOffice I know what his reaction was after installing it - cool beans.
I've been a WordPerfect user for years. I used Word 3.0 for DOS and thought it was pretty good, but I became a true convert with WordPerfect 5.1. That was a great piece of software. Okay, 6.x for Windows sucked. There's no way around that, but later versions got it right. Word? Well, it was okay and all, but I didn't like the upgrade pricing and I've never seen a reason to leave WP. Until now, that is.
Founded in Germany in the 80s and later acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999, the StarOffice suite has been around for a bit. Version 5.2 was released in 2000. I tried it but found I didn't care for the whole desktop approach that version took. Sun has now released version 6.0, which takes the separate application approach, similar to both the WordPerfect Office and Microsoft Office suites. OpenOffice is the GNU Public License (GPL) version of the suite and is the foundation of StarOffice.
While Sun's StarOffice is available for US$75.95, the only cost for OpenOffice is the time it takes to download the compressed file and maybe $.75 for a CD to store it. While seventy five bucks is more than reasonable for an office suite, free is even harder to beat. The file you download for Windows is about 52MB. It runs about 71MB for Linux. Sorry, I'm not doing Solaris on either platform so I can't tell you it's size. Once the file is unzipped it can be installed directly.
The installation takes about the average time for an office suite. There were no installation problems under Windows or Linux. To give you an idea, I installed it on Win98 and 2000, Redhat 7.2 and Caldera 3.1. The default answers to the install queries worked fine.
There are a few different things about the suite that will catch you at first. Opening a second document opens another instance of Writer, the suite's word processor, instead of opening the document as a second file in the same instance of Writer. Another thing you notice is that the folks who named the applications seem to be minimalists. As I said, the word processor is named Writer, the spreadsheet is called Calc, the presentation program is called Impress. You get the idea.
File conversion support is pretty good, but support for WordPerfect formats is noticeably lacking. It does support Word and Excel through the 2000 versions as well RTF and several other formats. Graphics support is good in Writer, but I had to re-create some Quattro Pro to Excel charts once I pulled them into Calc. It's a small price to pay in my opinion.
I found the suite to be very stable. I converted all my constantly used docs and spreadsheets to the suite's native file format. My files required only very minimal correcting. StarOffice crashed once on a Win98 box, but I think that may have been due to some of the other stuff I had going at the time.
If you're a bit paranoid about learning a new suite, rest easy. When you open Writer or Calc they really look like the others guys' software. The icons for save, copy, cut, etc., are familiar and you won't have any problem navigating the features and functions. U.S. users may want to spend some time configuring the suite however as it defaults to metric measurements. If you're like me, you want your inches. It's easily done.
Just in case I've been a little vague, I really like this software. It's nicely featured, it's got a great licensing formula and it's free. If you want to get off the Corel or Microsoft merry-go-round, here's your chance. Cool Beans!
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