Officeskills.org recently took the time to download and evaluate the Apache OpenOffice suite to determine if it is a viable solution for business, students, teachers and any other budget conscious people and organizations. Apache OpenOffice 4.1.1 is a free, open-source office suite used for creating documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Governments, not for profits and small businesses have been migrating towards using this software for years, yet few software training companies offer any formal training on OpenOffice.
Apache OpenOffice 4.1.1 comes with a full suite of products including Writer for word processing, Calc for spreadsheets, Impress for creating presentations, Base for database management, Math, an equation editor and Draw for creating graphics.
This review focused on Open Office Writer which is an excellent alternative to Microsoft Word if you are willing to forfeit the extra bells and whistles that come with Microsoft Office 2013 such as the Ribbon, Backstage view, Quick Access Toolbar and contextual tabs to name a few. If basic word processing functionality is all you need, you’ll find the ability to create, style, save and print business documents in Writer is much the same as Microsoft Word.
While this may change in the future, the current Writer interface resembles Microsoft Word 2003 so if you’ve never upgraded beyond this version of MS Office, you’ll feel right at home with OpenOffice Writer. This may seem like a step backwards but you need to keep in mind the reason why you use a word processing tool in the first place which is basically to create business documents such as letters, memos, agendas, reports, flyers and manuals. Writer provides you with all the features of a modern, fully equipped word processor without the fancy GUI interface.
The Writer interface is extremely intuitive and, even if you’re very comfortable using the Ribbon and GUI interface in Microsoft Word 2010 or 2013, you may find that the simplicity of using a menu and the standard and formatting toolbar is a familiar change and one that you may be willing to accept knowing that the open source software is a free solution.
Apache OpenOffice’s native file format is OpenDocument (.odt) but one of the main advantages of Writer is the ability to open and save documents in other software versions such as the Microsoft Word (.doc) and Microsoft Word 2003 (xml). This is very useful for sending files to people who are using Microsoft products. While you can open a read only or a copy of a Microsoft Word 2010 (.docx) document, the ability to save in that format (2007/2010/2013) version is currently not yet available. You can also export files to PDF very simply as well as export files to HTML, XHTML and XML. Standard keyboard shortcuts are also available.
The File Menu is where you can perform all the common file management tasks such as creating new files, open existing files, saving files and printing. The File Menu also provides access to Wizards for easily creating documents such as letters, faxes, agendas and minutes, or carrying out more advanced tasks such as mail merges. You can also download a variety of different templates for letters, resumes, memos and other common document types from the OpenOffice Extensions repository.
OpenOffice Writer provides all the other usual features you’d expect of a word processor including the ability to enter and edit text, use spell check, use a thesaurus, hyphenate text, use autocorrect, use find and replace, utilize built-in drawing tools and automatic generation of tables of contents and indexes. Writer also supports some important advanced features such as mail merge, change tracking ability during revisions and database integration, including a bibliography database.
Writer makes it easy to create and style a variety of different types of documents such as newsletters, brochures and reports by providing several page-layout methods, including frames, columns, and tables. You can also format your documents consistently and change the format with minimal effort by using styles. Similar to Microsoft Word, Writer offers several types of built-in styles including characters, paragraphs, pages, frames, and lists. It also comes with an extensive Help system and comprehensive online support.
Another excellent alternative to OpenOffice 4.1.1 is a product called LibreOffice 4.0. First introduced approximately 4 years ago by a not-for-profit organization called called The Document Project, LibreOffice is a slightly more updated version of the Apache OpenOffice 4.1.1. Essentially the software looks and operates identically to Apache OpenOffice except LibreOffice includes a large number of new characteristics well worth reviewing. Details of these new features are available on the Libreoffice website.
Both Apache OpenOffice 4.1.1 and LibreOffice 4.0 are distributed under the Open Source Initiative (OSI) approved Lesser General Public License (LGPL). More details and downloads are available on their respective websites