Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Open Office

open office

Everybody’s talking about the office suite for the next decade.  Microsoft Office 2010 is in beta.  Google is waging a vaporware offensive, trying to convince people that it is about to engage in some much needed alchemy with Google Docs.  Meanwhile, Open Office just plugs along.  Being just as free as Google Docs, and, at least, just about as good as the ever-bloating Microsoft Office suite.

I’m all about free, and I live in the cloud.  There are free and cloudy apps for just about everything.  But the choices for word processing applications are slim, which is odd given that today’s computers are the offspring of yesterday’s typewriters.  But fear not.  Here’s the bottom line on office suites, with an emphasis on word processors.

Google Docs

I have moved my email and calendaring activity to Google Apps, via the standard (e.g., free) version.  With Better Gmail 2, Gmail is a great, free and accessible email application.  Google Calendar is far superior to the calendar in Microsoft Outlook.  On the other hand, Google Docs, Google’s word processing app, is- to be kind- not ready for prime time.  Sure, it’s fine for a light home user who wants to write a letter every now and then.  But to try to use it for business purposes is to submit yourself to a digital hell.  Among the multitude of problems:  no tracked changes feature, which is an absolute must for business users; and formatting chaos when you upload a formatted Word document.  In sum, it’s a non-starter.  Google wants us to believe that this will all change.  In the meantime, though, we have work to do.

Microsoft Office

Microsoft has a deep and valuable franchise in the corporate world.  One that became a virtual, if not actual, monopoly when WordPerfect committed suicide at the hands of Novell and Corel.  IT managers know Word.  More importantly, secretaries and administrative personnel know Word.  To monkey around with the status quo on the corporate desktop is to move a whole lot of cheese.  In sum, inefficiency and rebellion would result.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is trying to open the door for a competitor.  No one- and I mean no one- in a corporate office wants the menu structure he or she has used for years to be replaced by some confusing ribbon or whatnot.  As Microsoft continues to force old dogs to learn new tricks, the remote odds of meaningful corporate word processing competition get less remote.  The name of the game in 2010 will be simple and easy.  Not bloated and complicated.

All of which favors the other alternatives.

In fact, for purely home users, I can’t think of a single reason to pay for Microsoft Office.  Fortunately for Microsoft, however, most home users require the ability to open, read and edit work-related documents from time to time.  Documents that were almost certainly created in Microsoft Word.  I certainly do, and that has complicated my effort to go completely free and cloudy for word processing.

Open Office

So I find myself uninterested in paying for Microsoft Office and unwilling to put myself through the agony of using Google Docs as my exclusive word processing app.  Until recently, Open Office was sort of like Bigfoot.  I’d heard of it.  Maybe I’d seen a purported picture or two, but I was still a little scared of it.  Recently, however, my dilemma caused me to read up a little more on it.  Then I took a deep breath, downloaded it, and gave it a spin.

And was pretty impressed.

It feels like a slightly stripped down version of Microsoft Word.  It opens Word documents without destroying them.  There is a way to show and review document revisions.  Shoot, it saves documents in Word format.  There’s even a plug-in that lets me open from and save to Google Docs.

All the votes aren’t in yet, but I’m about ready to call Open Office a winner.