Open source alternatives to Microsoft Office
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by Trevor Serrao
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Free office suite packages are threatening the market dominance of traditional software, and it's time to take advantage of them.
For example, Microsoft Office products have historically been so intertwined with PC use that the cost of a Microsoft Office license is often considered as part of the base cost for a new computer. Free alternatives exist and can provide the same, if not better, services as proprietary software.
OpenOffice.org and Google Docs are two of the most reputable free office suite packages. Both are compatible with other software file types, meaning you can begin writing a document at work in Microsoft Word and then continue working on it at home with OpenOffice or Google Docs. The differences between the two will help determine which is right for you.
Google Docs Pros:
- Mobile extension: It's pretty self-explanatory. Access your files from any internet-capable mobile device.
- Integrated cloud storage: This makes mobile access easier and facilitates collaborative version control.
Google Docs Cons:
- It cannot match some of Microsoft Office's advanced functionalities.
- Offline access is only attainable through a Chrome application.
- There's no monetary cost, but users "pay" for the software by implicitly allowing Google to access their personal data.
- It closely matches Microsoft Office's advanced capabilities, more so than Google Docs. If you find yourself pushing the limits of your office suite software, OpenOffice is probably the way to go.
- There's a wider variety of programs than Google Docs. In addition to the standard word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation programs, OpenOffice includes a database program, 3D illustrator, and mathematical equation editor.
- It's installed directly onto your PC, meaning you do not need internet access to use it.
- It's part of a very active open source community, so the support forums are helpful and updates come often.
- There's a steep learning curve for using the interface.
- Advanced formatting can be difficult, such as dividing a document into sections and then giving each section independent page numbers.
As with any new software, it may take some time to become comfortable with a new office suite. The great thing about it being free is if you try it and absolutely hate it, then simply delete it. There are no sunk costs to worry about. If you are serious about saving yourself some money next time you need a new office suite, then the time spent will be well worth it.
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