Open Office 3.1 is an office suite that is similar in description to Microsoft Office. It has a word document application, a spreadsheet application, a drawing application, etc. The remarkable part of Open Office is that it is completely free. One must consider the advantages and disadvantages of the program before abandoning Microsoft's software though.The download size of Open Office is around 150MB. I have tested the Writer and Calc programs, which are the equivalent of Word and Excel from Microsoft. The Writer program is quite effective. It has all the standard tools that one expects from a word processor, such as a spelling and grammar tool, the ability to format your pages, etc., but it stands out in the number of formats it can translate and save in. In fact, you can save a Writer document in the Microsoft Word .doc format if you want.
Unfortunately, the program has a bigger problem with reading Microsoft Word 2007 files and requires even more work to decipher those documents according to online forums. I do not have the 2007 version of Microsoft Office, so I cannot comment personally on how easy or difficult it is to do. I have used Microsoft Word 2003 though, and I am able to read those files without any problem.
There are other limitations as well. I transferred a number of .wps (Microsoft Works file) word documents to my new computer that had Open Office installed. Open Office could not translate this particular format. Luckily, I found a forum on the Internet that provided a way for me to work around this by downloading certain programs, and I was able to recover my documents and use them in Open Office.
The Calc program works as efficiently as Excel does, but it too has problems with compatibility. I attempted to open an Excel Spreadsheet in the Calc program and print it out. The results were not satisfactory. I had to experiment with the margins several times to get the spreadsheets to print correctly since it was not automatically done.
In addition, several parts of the original spreadsheet, such as the title at the top of the document, did not show up in the spreadsheet in Calc. When I printed them out, the title would show up and conflict with other stuff on the sheet. Thankfully, I was able to see the document in Adobe Reader as a .pdf, view it in its entirety, and make the necessary adjustments. I then was able to print it out without any problems.
For the price, Open Office 3.1 is a very useful tool compared to Microsoft Office's $150.00 price tag and whose use is limited to 3 computers. If you are a struggling college student and do not have much money to spend on expensive software, Open Office may be a helpful alternative.
It does, however, require trial and error to get used to, and more importantly, there may be work necessary to translate certain files. Those who receive or use Microsoft Office 2007 files regularly may not want to abandon their copy of Microsoft Office until the developers of Open Office release a fully compatible version, which is very likely; I used Open Office 3.0 for the first few months of 2009 and an update to 3.1 was issued in May 2009.
I will update this article once I have tested the other programs more thoroughly.
Update On Sep 10, 2009: As of this writing (9/10/09), Open Office has released a new version, 3.1.1.
Also, for those who are wondering about how to translate Microsoft 2007 files, refer to these links for possibilities:
They may be a bit elaborate for novices, but you may find one that you are comfortable using.