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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In practical terms, that means, for instance, far more flexible mail-merge capabilities and many more formatting options in the word processor than are found in the same module in most of the other suites. Do I need those features very often? No, but when I need them, I really need them. Plus, it comes with a database program, which not all versions of Office -- and few of the other alternatives -- include.

Of course, OpenOffice is missing niceties like the grammar checker and an e-mail client. Nor did it pamper me with little kindnesses. For instance, when saving a document for the first time, why can't it suggest a file name based on the first few words of the document, as Microsoft Office and WordPerfect Office do? That's a little thing, but little things add up.

OpenOffice Calc can do everything Excel can. ()
And OpenOffice Writer can do anything Word can. ()

Some will consider it a drawback that there's no phone support for OpenOffice. However, in fairness, most phone support these days is frustrating unless you like being on hold for hours and then speaking to people in faraway lands. Plus, if I really felt I needed support, I could have bought the commercial version, StarOffice ($69) from Sun Microsystems. StarOffice also has a few additional features such as clip art and more fonts acquired from third-party vendors.

As I mentioned, I did try out Microsoft Office 2007 and, if money were no object, that's what I'd probably choose. But money is always an object -- a major object. OpenOffice is missing the beauty of Office's new interface, and I suppose I can get by without an Outlook work-alike. And, yes, there are some irritations, such as the need to learn a slightly different set of keystrokes for some functions. Even after having used OpenOffice for a year, I still hadn't completely memorized those variations from the Microsoft norm.

But nobody -- and no office suite -- is perfect. My initial impulse is to pick a partner based on who turns me on the most. In the end, though, I made my decision on a more balanced basis of price, power and performance. And OpenOffice won my heart -- again -- on those three criteria.

I'm back.

Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac OS X and cross-platform network solutions. David Haskin is a freelance writer specializing in mobile, wireless and personal technology; he has been intimately involved with technology since the early 1980s.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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