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October 20, 2005

Top Ten Reasons to Start a Healthy New Relationship With OpenOffice.org


I'm not a raving crazy open source OpenOffice.org fanatic. Not quite, anyway.

I do like it quite a bit, though.  I've used it for six years, about the same amount of time I've used Word and Framemaker. I've trained people on it for the last three years and have written about it for five years.

So I know about the limitations, the cool stuff, the weird stuff, and the normal stuff.

And I think it's a far better choice then Microsoft Word.

(It's not always a better choice than Framemaker, but it was never meant to be. It's far more similar to Word. See my blog on whether OpenOffice.org is a good tool for techwriters and other book publishing professionals.)

I want anyone who's frustrated with Microsoft Office, who doesn't have the money for Microsoft Office, or who just wants the features of OpenOffice.org, to understand everything the program has to offer. With Sun in charge of marketing the program, the great aspects of the program are far less well known than they should be, and so many people are out there cursing the random bulleting in Word when they could be writing documents with a program that does exactly what they ask it to. (Always refreshing.)

So here are ten reasons for anyone out there to use OpenOffice.org. They're not presented in any particular order.

Price, Price, Price

You can read all the reports from Microsoft that you want but that doesn't change the fact that OpenOffice.org is absolutely free. All updates are free. Always will be. If you personally on your own computer decide to download OpenOffice.org for free instead of buying each new version of Microsoft Office, you're spending absolutely no money. If your department switches to OpenOffice.org at work, you're spending absolutely no money.

Add Linux to the mix and you're spending maybe $100, depending on your distro.

Microsoft Office costs more. Windows costs more.

If you purchase books and training, you're spending a flat one-time amount, and it's not going to be $500 a person unless you're buying some serious one-on-one tutoring. I trained 300 people for a client in Houston over three weeks, with each person attending two day-long classes, for a total cost to my client of $15,000. That's $50 a person. That's a good price.

Document conversion can take time and money too, but that's a one-time fee, too. And with the enhancements in OpenOffice.org to the compatibility with Microsoft Office ( http://www.openoffice.org/dev_docs/features/2.0/index.html), converting your Microsoft Office documents to OpenOffice.org is even easier.

And frankly, there's a bunch of learning that users need to do with each new version of Microsoft Office. That takes training money, or else users never get the training and might not learn the new version very well.

There Are More Important Things to Spend Money on the Office Suite Software

Think about the most important things in life.

Health. Love. Family. A roof over your head. Education. World peace.

The right or privileg of using office suite software you're familiar with, or even just having everyone using the same software, is not on the list. I challenge anyone out there to rank using Microsoft Office as one of the most important things in life.

Which leads one naturally to think about schools. Police stations. Libraries. City government. State government. Federal government. What do they spend money on? Some fairly important stuff. Much of the stuff from our earlier list. They pay teachers' salaries, police salaries, allocate money for healthcare, and a zillion other things. And of course, most of them use Microsoft Office. Not for free. Take all the money they spend on Microsoft Office, replace it with OpenOffice.org, and that frees up a lot of money for important things. I'm not sure how much but I don't think I'm out of line in saying hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Runs on Windows, Linux, Solaris, Mac, OS/2 and Other Operating Systems

You're not stuck with Windows when you use OpenOffice.org. If you're happy with Windows, then you can stay with Windows. If you're all about Linux, or Mac, or OS/2, or Solaris, then OpenOffice.org works the same way on those operating systems, too. Which makes sense, since your operating system shouldn't have so much control over what software you use.

Learning a New Program Isn't as Difficult as You Might Think

Think about writing a text document.

What do you do?

You type. You make things bold. You print.

There are only so many things you can do in a text document, and there aren't that many different ways to do them. The same applies to numbers in spreadsheets. You add, you subtract, you calculate the internal rate of return.

The point is, the differences between office suites aren't all that huge. Take a look at the main text toolbar for Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org.


Something else I've observed in training is that a lot of people never received training on Microsoft Office in the first place. They aren't working as efficiently or powerfully as they could with the office suite they currently use. So when you switch people to a new office suite like OpenOffice.org and give them a day or two of training, they're going to be working more efficiently with the new office suite than the old one.

OpenOffice.org Is Free, Runs on All Operating Systems, So Everyone Can Use It. No More Digital Divide

With many functions of jobhunting, schools, government, and other essential functions done using the computer, it's very important that everyone be able to complete these functions. When a government agency sends out information or requires submission of information using a Word document, that's unfair and an undue burden on someone who just needs a job or needs to pay taxes. Imagine that FEMA required that all applications for assistance had to be done in Word.

Anything that we are required to do or need to do must be doable without paying $500 for the tool. Especially when something as useful and powerful as OpenOffice.org is freely available now.

OpenOffice.org means equal opportunity. You can read Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files, and create them, as well.

Small File Sizes

This seems kind of trivial, after talking about universal access to required functions. But it's something to think about. OpenOffice.org file sizes are roughly 1/10th the size of their Microsoft Office counterparts. This isn't so much an issue for your own personal computer, but think about network servers, and about email files around. Having smaller file sizes is a tremendous advantage.

Great Drawing Tools

Drawing3dblue Anyone using Illustrator, or perhaps Photoshop should take a look at OpenOffice.org Draw (File > New > Draw), especially the new 2.0 version. The prefab shapes are amazing, there are precise controls for curve points, you can export to EPS, JPG and more, you can convert any item to a curve, polygon, bitmap, or 3D, there's curved text formatting like in Photoshop...the list goes on and on. I can spend an entire weekend just fiddling happily with Draw.

Take a look at this OpenOffice.org 1.x file; it's all done from scratch within the program. Here's a thumbnail of what's in it.(And by the way, speaking of small file sizes in the previous item, the file size is 14k.)


Download bowloffruit.sxd

Solid Styles for Formatting Text and Page Layout

Styles are how you make your document do what you want it to. Styles are things like the paragraph style Heading1 which is 18 points big, Helvetica, with 12 points of space below it. Or the bulleted list style DiamondBullet that has a black diamond for the bullet character, and has three tenths of an inch from the bullet to the text. Or a page style with a footer centered at the bottom of the document half an inch from the edge, a header at the right side of the top of the document, and a left margin of an inch and a half.

Create or modify the styles you need, apply them to the text as you need, and life will be good.


OpenOffice.org doesn't randomly create new bullet or other styles and apply them to your text, it doesn't take every style you've ever created and infiltrate them into your other documents, and it doesn't get all twitchy with the formatting the way Microsoft Word does. Microsoft Word drives me up the wall. I think it's a sign of the apocalypse that something this uncontrollable is used so widely.

If you've always used Microsoft Word, take a look at OpenOffice.org. Use the styles. (Format > Styles and Formatting.) See how free of cursing and hair-pulling-out life can be.

In OpenOffice.org 2.0, a Nice Presentation Tool

The 1.x version, I must admit, was serviceable but not sexy. The 2.0 version looks a lot like Microsoft Powerpoint, has a zillion effects, and makes everything a lot easier. Check it out if you've used 1.x and been disappointed.


OpenOffice.org Doesn't Randomly Decide to Do Stuff to Your Document

You can see my blog on how to easily configure OpenOffice.org to do what you want it to do, not the default stuff by default.You control it through Tools > Autocorrect.



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Wow! Solveig, where can I learn more about OpenOffice.org's graphic capabilities?

I agree with reason 7. The primary reason that I use Open Office is for the Draw program. It was extremely intuitive to learn and it has some great features.

I love the -Connector-. It allows me to have a line between two objects that stays attached as I move the items around. I use the Draw progam to create all of my UML diagrams.



>>> Solveig, where can I learn more about OpenOffice.org's graphic capabilities?

I would love to point you to a host of books on Draw's graphics features but...well, maybe someday. My self-serving answer is that I've got an Impress/Draw workbook at cafepress.com/getopenoffice and my OpenOffice.org book on Amazon goes into quite a bit of detail on Draw. Also check back for blogs in the future since doing cool stuff with Draw is one of my favorite features.

Any other readers know of a bunch of Draw resources?

~ Solveig


>>> I use the Draw progam to create all of my UML diagrams.

Excellent! I think that combining Draw with the gallery for prefab shapes is pretty powerful for UML and other diagrams. It's not MagicDraw or Rational Rose but it does provide a lot of value.
~ Solveig

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