Open Source Software Comparison – Office Suites - TDR
Open source software is the term given to applications that are made available freely with their source code, allowing users and developers to modify and extend the program to their own requirements. A licensing agreement generally prohibits the software being sold, though the advantage of this is that it remains freely available to the public. Up until recent years, open source software was more associated with the Linux platform, but the successful porting of several applications has prompted more open source development tailored for Windows.
There are numerous well-known open source applications, such as Apache HTTP Server and Mozilla Firefox, which are arguably better than many of their expensive paid-for rivals. However, one of the most comprehensive open source projects currently available is OpenOffice, a fully featured office suite developed to run on a variety of different platforms.
The OpenOffice suite includes Writer, Impress, Math, Draw, Calc and Base, giving it the ability to handle anything from documents and spreadsheets to databases and presentations. In fact, OpenOffice has the ability to do almost anything you could do using the likes of Sun Star Office or Microsoft Office, neither of which are particularly cheap.
OpenOffice uses XML based file formats, allowing you to access documents from any OpenDocument compliant software. Alternatively, if you will be interchanging documents with those more familiar to Microsoft Office, you can save them to more popular formats such as .xls, .doc and so forth. You can also output documents in PDF format, without having to purchase additional software.
The best part about OpenOffice is that it is available for free, and is constantly undergoing modifications and improvements. Although it is not yet as powerful or established as Microsoft Office, it still has an awful lot to offer, whether you’re a casual home user or small business.
The drawback with open source software is the lack of dedicated technical support. Although the community and publishers are keen to help out if any problems arise, there is no guarantee that they can fix a specific problem. There are few technical support packages available for open source software, so if you are reliant on your office suite from a business point of view, there are risks involved. It cannot be doubted that you also lose a certain amount of usability as well as a number of features, which may or may not influence your decision.
However, the bottom line is cost. If you are a home user or small business, moving to a suite such as OpenOffice will no doubt save you a significant sum and still allow you to do the vast majority of day to day office tasks. With basic Microsoft Office licenses retailing at over $300 and the fully featured version over $400, it is easy to see why many are choosing the open source route.
If you can cope with fewer features and learning new software, there is no reason not to try something like OpenOffice, available from www.openoffice.org. However, if you are a business and rely on support and comprehensive feature lists, it is quite possible that open source solutions are still not quite up to the task, and you may be better sticking with what you’ve got already.