Business

Free software packages are available

Years ago, computer systems often included a software package for word processing, spreadsheets, databases and presentations. Those also were the days of $2,000 or $3,000 computer systems. Now that $300 to $400 computers are common, bundled software is not.

Adding a copy of Microsoft Office 2007 can cost $150 for the student edition or $300-$650 for a full version, office.microsoft.com. A viable and free alternative is OpenOffice.org, easily downloaded at its Web site.

Even professionals who have used Microsoft Office for years would be impressed by OpenOffice.org. Users adjust easily to the format. Dropdown menus, toolbars and task boxes are similar. The system includes five applications: writer (word processor), calc (spreadsheet), impress (presentation), draw (publication) and base (database). Microsoft does offer several other applications that OpenOffice.org does not, but the five that are available at no charge expertly cover a great amount of processing.

Sun Microsystems supports and distributes OpenOffice.org. The name OpenOffice is registered to another entity. Originally created as StarOffice, StarDivision sold its product to Sun Microsystems in 1999. Sun Microsystems made the product available as open source in 2001. As open source, individuals can freely report issues or offer suggestions for future updates. OpenOffice.org is available in dozens of languages. It has been very highly rated by various professional organizations. Wikipedia has an informative list of reviews on its OpenOffice Web page.

Another informative site is LinuxPlanet.com, where there is a tutorial on transferring files between OpenOffice.org and MS Office. Eric Geier’s article Sept. 22 presents several suggestions to streamline the use of OpenOffice.org in conjunction with MS Office. He states that headers, footers and mailmerges can prove troublesome when files are transferred. He provides tips to work around these issues.

One important detail to remember when using OpenOffice.org is saving a file. The key is to select the right suffix when the document is saved. For example, by saving a writer document as “word.doc” the document can be sent to a user with MS Office, and it can be opened, edited, printed and saved again as a Word document. If it is saved as an OpenOffice.org file, it can be opened only if the user has OpenOffice.org installed on their computer. OpenOffice.org does have the ability to open MS documents without adaptation.

OpenOffice.org provides a valuable service in our shop when we have a customer who has files created in MS Office, but no longer has a copy of that software. When a computer wears out, many times the documents can be salvaged, but the software is legally registered to that machine, and unless there are disks for re-installation of MS Office, a new copy must be purchased. OpenOffice.org can open those document files.

Last week, we discussed alternative operating systems, available at no charge on line. Today we have presented a free software package available for home or business purposes. Perhaps the future of personal computing is not only as a weatlthy, self-perpetuating industry, but as an avenue for support and service to individuals in business and at home.

Patty Harshbarger, co-owner of Computer Renaissance of Bradenton, can be reached at patty@cr-bradenton.com.;www.office.microsoft.com.

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