Marzhill Musings

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OpenOffice.org || A real competitor to Office?

Published On: 2005-11-07 06:59:30
OpenOffice.org Is it a real competitor to Office? Well now that depends on how you define competitor. Lots of people define competitors to MS Office by the level of interoperability with Office. This has the effect of ruling out pretty much every non microsoft product out there. I'm going to take a slightly different look at the picture. The real question here is can OOo (eg. OpenOffice.org) do everything you need your office suite to do. This is a real world look at what you really need and whether OOo does it and does it well. So lets get on with the review shall we? The list of things your office suite needs to do can be summed up fairly easily. There is the basic functionality that the average home user or small business requires. Then there are the advanced features that the power users and task automaters want. And finally there are the enterprise class features that large organizations want. Here is my semi-detailed list.
  • Basic Functionality
    • Write and Format Text Documents
    • Create spreadsheets to track and analyze numbers
    • Create Presentations
    • Create and embed Diagrams and Illustrations
  • Advanced Features
    • Connect to Databases and use their data
    • Automate Standard and repeatable tasks
    • Creation and Use of Templates for common document look feel
    • Extend the functionality of the app with scripting and or plugins
  • Enterprise Class Features
    • Share and Publish Data
    • Enforce Document Standards
I hopethis will be a useful review that helps you determine if you can use OOo on your desktop at home or at work. OpenOffice.org Writer When you think about it word processing hasn't really had or needed much innovation since the first WYSIWIG editor came out. WordPerfect 5.1 pretty much had all the important formatting features all sewn up along with a lot of the power user features as well. In fact Word 97 was pretty much the top of the word processing evolutionary chain. As for Writer, it has all the elements needed to edit and create documents. You can format them just as easily as Word. You can integrate data from other sources. You can create complex documents and Layouts. So does Word, WordPerfect, and just about every other Word Processing app out there though too. How does a Word Processing program stand out in such a market? While Writer may not have anything earth shattering to offer it does have some pretty nice features to make the task of editing easier. Particularly when working on large complex documents. All the standard word processing features are there including spell checking, multiple fonts and sizes, positioning, lists, and tables. However, Writer does offer something not present in most of the other word processing applications, the Stylist and the Navigator. No doubt inspired by the XML underpinnings of the OpenDocument format, these two features help Writer stand out from the crowd. The Stylist makes using and keeping track of styles easier than ever. It harnesses the power and flexibility of CSS and brings it to the Word Processor. The concept is simple. You can create a library of styles for you document and edit them from a central location. All your headers, all your lists, even your paragraphs can be modified at once. If you change your text-body style in the stylist then every place in your document that uses the text-body style will change at the same time. You can edit them and keep track of them, all from one location. You can even use them again in later documents. This time saving feature comes in very handy and after a while you will wonder how you ever got along without it. The Navigator makes finding that paragraph you need to edit a little easier. It shows you the structure of your document. Need to find that section on grandma's pumpkin pie recipe? Find the subheading in the navigator. Need to find that section on the employee dress code in the company handbook? Look in the Navigator. Where is that chart of the companies quarterly earnings in your report? Yep you guessed it, look in the navigator. In fact, Writer has everything you need to write quality Documents for Home or Business. As far as sharing those documents with others, Writer has a number of options for you. You can export to PDF if preserving the formatting perfectly is your first concern and modifying it is of no concern. If you need them to be able to edit the documents that won't work quite so well though. For that purpose you can export and save the documents to most other common formats. Or you can choose door number three. Offer them OpenOffice to edit and save the documents themselves. It's free and you have every right to distribute it yourself. Burn them a CD and they can modify your document all they want. Trust me, Not using MS Office won't be a deal killer. Not if you provide a quality product and quality service. And for the Home User, there is absolutely no reason Writer won't work for you. OpenOffice.org Calc Calc is the spreadsheet element in the OOo suite. It gives you some serious number cruching power. All the standard functions to sum, analyze, and otherwise manipulate your numerical data is here. It even has everything you need to organize and display that data in all the standard and not so standard charts. Pie charts, bar charts, line charts, and even snazzy 3d charts are all here. The standard stuff all works exactly like spreadsheets have worked since Lotus 1-2-3 was on your local accountants computer. So just how does Calc stand out? OOo is all about sharing information. It's open source, so sharing information is no threat to it's business model. The DataSources panel puts it all at your fingertips. And the Datapilot Wizard walks you through it. Chances are, no matter what database you data is stored in (or you intend to store it in), OOo has a way to connect to it...(out of the box) Oracle, Mysql, SqlServer, Access - OOo has inbuilt connectors for all of them ready to go. Few other spreadsheet applications have this degree of connectibility with this price tag. And it works out of the box. Now, no discussion of spreadsheet functionality, is complete without including the subject of macro's. I've known people who turned macro's into an artform. People who used them to automate so much of their job that they could do the work of 10 people without breaking a sweat. And Calc rises to the challenge. There is nothing Open Source programmers like better than being able to modify the software they use. And OpenOffice Basic puts that power at your fingertips. Whether you just like to use powerful spreadsheet functions or build full blown apps OpenOffice has the macro tools you need to get the job done. If you willing to put in the time to learn you can do anything with them. You won't find you are missing any functionality in this area. Documentation on the other hand can be a little difficult to understand. I and others plan to help with this, so I'm sure it won't be long before that problem is remedied. Will Calc fit your needs in a spreadsheet application? The answer is yes. It has all the functionality you require to process and analyze your data. As for sharing that data? You can of course export Calc documents to PDF should you care to, and save them to the standard formats. A better question to ask though is do you really want to share your data in spreadsheet form? Databases and reports are a much better solution than a spreadsheet. Very few people indeed need to share editable spreadsheets outside of their company or group. And if you do you can always choose door number three again. Nothing stops you from making OOo available to them for their own use. Again, not having Excel, is probably not going to be a deal breaker in your dealings with other people and companies. That, quality product and service aspect, is of much more importance. OpenOffice.org Base A database application was the one thing missing from previous releases of OpenOffice. OOo always had database integration from the ground up with the data-sources panel. And you could use that to generate reports and analyze database data. But no native database interface application was provided. Competing with the hugely popular Access in MS Office OpenOffice came up looking a bit weak. Enter Base, the OpenOffice database application. Base is much more than just a native Database application. It also is a fully functional portal to any database you want to use. you can generate reports, create forms, and edit modify or delete the information for any database you have. Base doesn't care what database you use it just gives you a friendly interface to the data. As far as what kind of functionality that interface provides you, it's pretty much all there. The best part of OOo's database integration is how pervasive it is. It's perfectly possible to do a database report in Writer with all the formatting power that gives you. You can process the data in Calc first, also with all the power that gives you. Base gives you everything you really need when dealing with your databases and the data in them. I don't think anyone will find they are missing functionality here. OpenOffice.org Impress Presentation Software, the app with a niche audience that everyone thinks they need. Personally I think presentation software is overused and misused perhaps 95% of the time. But for that other 5% it's a very handy tool. If your one of those people who use presentation software and actually need it, then Impress has all the tools you might need. It even has some features you might find very handy. That stylist I was talking about makes an appearance here, as well. It's just as handy in Impress as it is in writer. Impress has all the animations, transitions, effect, and formatting options you could possibly need. The same Data integration abilities available elsewhere are here too. You have drawing tools, and you can embed charts, tables, and other elements in your presentations. Presentation software at it's core is like word processing software. It just has to do a few things and there really isn't much innovating left to do. Impress fits your needs just fine in that regard. OpenOffice.org The Suite As a whole the OpenOffice Suite has every feature you might need in an office suite. Whether you need enterprise integration, or just a simple office suite for home use or somewhere in between OpenOffice can scale to your needs. And you certainly can't beat the price.

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