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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Corel WordPerfect Office X3 Standard Edition

Installing WordPerfect Office was like getting reacquainted with a really old flame. I used WordPerfect more than two decades ago when, as a DOS program, it enjoyed Microsoft-like domination of the word processing world.

Over the years, it has grown into a solid, full-featured suite ($299; other versions range from $99 to $399) that includes WordPerfect Mail, an Outlook-like e-mail client. I appreciated some of the suite's unique features, such as the way the word processor displays synonyms in a box in the tool bar as you type a word. It also can save documents in PDF format and has a grammar checker, which I missed in OpenOffice.

Corel WordPerfect Office includes a solid e-mail client. (.)
Remember Quattro Pro? It's still around. ()

However, the only significant compatibility problem I encountered in this whole exercise occurred when the Quattro Pro spreadsheet program converted dates in an Excel-compatible spreadsheet to 12 a.m., which rendered the spreadsheet worthless. Strangely, this only happened when the last program to save the spreadsheet was OpenOffice Calc.

OpenOffice Calc displayed the spreadsheet perfectly, as did all the other suites I looked at. And Quattro Pro read it perfectly when the same spreadsheet was saved by Excel. It's hard to know whether OpenOffice or WordPerfect Office was at fault for the incompatibiity between them, but on their own, each was completely compatible with Microsoft Excel -- which is the goal, after all.

With its many nice touches, I liked WordPerfect X3 better than Office 2003 and OpenOffice. But why spend $299 for an alternative to Microsoft Office 2003 when I could spend a lot less for one of the other alternatives that were almost as good?

I was starting to think maybe OpenOffice wasn't so bad.

OpenOffice 2.2

Disliking OpenOffice is like disliking somebody who gives up a lucrative career in law or medicine to help the underprivileged. This open-source suite is the work of a dedicated group of developers and is available for multiple platforms. And it's free.

Plus, it's almost as powerful as Microsoft Office. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it isn't. With the exception of Corel's WordPerfect X3 suite, the other suites had, say, 80% of the features that 80% of us use the most. In my book, that's good enough most of the time. But OpenOffice (along with the WordPerfect Suite) easily pushes those numbers to 95%.

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