Review roundup: Dumping Microsoft Office for an alternative suite

There are alternatives for both Mac and Windows -- even if you need Office compatibility

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Also, although much of Office's functionality is duplicated, the naming and location of some commands is different enough that I occasionally have trouble finding what I need. Fortunately, NeoOffice's extraordinarily thorough help documentation has helped ease the transition.

So, it's fully compatible with Office, full-featured (it doesn't have an e-mail client, but it does have a database) and free. What's not to like? NeoOffice is the clear alternative to Microsoft Office for the thrifty Mac user.

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Office alternatives: Windows

by David Haskin

Sometimes, it's not one big issue that causes a relationship to go sour but, rather, an accumulation of small irritations. I left Microsoft Office 2003 two years ago because of a few interface inconsistencies and a gnawing sense that there had to be something better. Plus, there was the Microsoft issue: I felt like I was dating Meadow Soprano. Office was beautiful and powerful, but I was uncomfortable with the family.

Fortunately, there are a lot of fish in the sea, most of which are available in downloadable trial versions. At the time, I switched to OpenOffice, which I initially liked quite a bit. It did virtually everything Microsoft Office did, plus it came with a database program, something that would have jacked up the price of Office even more. The OpenOffice family is a delight -- a dedicated group of open-source developers. And, of course, the price was right: free.

But soon, a few things began to rankle -- like the way it always started in WYSIWYG mode, even when loading a file I had most recently edited in Web mode. And the word processor's lack of a grammar checker. And ... well, there were a few more small things like that. I was ready to move on again. So once again, I went out looking for a new office suite.

As I began my search, I inventoried my requirements. At a minimum, I need a word processor, a spreadsheet and presentation program, all of which must be reliably compatible with Microsoft Office formats. An Outlook-like program would be a big plus. The whole package has to be less expensive than Office 2007, but it also must have the feel of being developed by professionals rather than just being a side project by some eager young programmers.

I tried out six contenders: E-Press ONE Special Edition, Celframe Office Pro, ThinkFree Office, GoBeProductive, Corel WordPerfect Office and OpenOffice. Did any of them have the right chemistry? Read on and see.

Open to anything

I started with suites that I either had not previously heard of or had not tried. Each had its attractions.

My favorite in this group was ONE Special Edition from E-Press Corp for $70. Its dizzying array of applications includes an Outlook workalike, a drawing program and utilities such a PDF editor and a backup application. Interestingly, it includes scaled-down "junior" versions of each of its major applications for faster, easier use with basic documents.

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ONE Special Edition includes an Outlook-like e-mail client (left). It also comes with lighter, faster "junior" versions of the major components. ()
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