Try before you spend big money at home

Brenden Schaaf / April 29, 2009

Although most people have used the various flavors of Microsoft Office (including applications like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) for many years, chances are that few people need to spend money buying themselves this spendy software for use at home (and I don’t advocate using pirated or “borrowed” software).  Even though I do some very complex things using Microsoft Office (especially in Excel and Access) at work, I really don’t do much at home that is very complicated and I imagine that I’m not alone in this situation.  This makes having all the bells and whistles of the Microsoft product (which is a great product, by the way) a tad excessive at home.

msofficeBut if you don’t know any better, you feel like you have to have the latest version of Microsoft Office at home because that is what you use at work.  So you either skirt the system and pick up the relatively cheap Home & Student Edition (which prohibits commercial use so you technically can’t use it for work-related items) or you spend the big money buying one of the many flavors that gets you a couple programs you need at home along with several that you don’t (I should point out that some employers have arrangements with Microsoft  so that their employees can get Office 2007 for free or at a very low cost — if this is you then stop reading now and take advantage of that program!).  Or maybe you keep running Office 2000 or Office 2003 at home and you play the game where you convert file formats back and forth every time you want to send or move a file between home and work.

oooIt turns out that there is an option that many people don’t consider — using a free, open source office suite called  Commonly known as just OpenOffice, not only are there versions for Windows, but OpenOffice software is also available for Mac & Linux operating systems too.  The latest version of OpenOffice will even open the Micrsoft Office 2007 file formats like *.xlsx or *.docx that you can’t even use in Office 2003 without a installing the compatibility pack.  OpenOffice works and looks a lot like Office 2003 in my experience and once you get used to the slightly different looking icons you tend to forget that you are even using a different product.  See below for a screenshot of a sample Excel file that I opened in Calc, the spreadsheet application.

Excel file opened in Calc (click on image for larger view)
Excel file opened in Calc (click image to see larger)

In addition to Calc, the OpenOffice suite has a program that is comparable to MS Word called Writer, and one like PowerPoint that is called Impress along with some other software that I don’t find much use for at home (though I have used the formula writer a couple times for which there isn’t a Microsoft Office equivalent).

Now released in version 3.0.1, isn’t something that is buggy or in the process of being developed…of course upgrades are always being worked on, but I’ve never encountered an error in my use of the software over several years and I’ve never found a missing feature that I had to have (I have found a couple features that work differently than in MS Office but finding out how to do something is rarely an issue).  In fact, what got me to grab this software in the first place is that has long handled “saving as PDF” from Word/Excel documents and I used it only in that capacity quite a bit before I came upon other solutions that worked better.  So sometimes there are features in the software that the Microsoft product doesn’t have.

So consider downloading the suite at if you need office suite software at home.  You can save some money and have access to the latest and greatest version of the suite simply by downloading the updates as they become available online.  And if you don’t like it you can always go out and buy another office suite instead.

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