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November 21, 2003

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OpenOffice 1.1 -- A Complete Office/Productivity Software Suite

It's a free office suite for GNU-Linux, FreeBSD, MAC, MS-Windows, Unix, and more

Mike Angelo -- 21 November 2003 (C) -- Page 2

Article Index
Microsoft Office & OpenOffice Licensing Note

The applicable Microsoft greedy, end-user agreements (EULAs) taken together with Microsoft's horrible Product Activation system mean that With MS Office 2003 and its product family, you are restricted to installing Office 2003 on only one desktop computer and one laptop computer for each copy or license for MS Office 2003 that you buy from Microsoft.

OpenOffice is Open Source Software and thus not only free, but you may install it on as many machines as you like.

Microsoft Product Activation Note

OpenOffice does not require any product activation nonsense nor does it require product registration.

If there were no other reason to chose OpenOffice over MS Office XP or 2003, not having to put up with the Microsoft product activation mechanism would be more than reason enough to chose OpenOffice!

There are many reasons why Microsoft product activation is a bad thing. Discussion of all the bad and obnoxious things about Microsoft product activation is beyond the scope of today's article. However, a word of caution to anyone who is considering installing Microsoft Office XP or 2003 on a computer system.

The Microsoft product activation mechanism that Office XP and 2003 places on your system can shut down your MS Office applications until such time as Microsoft decides to let you use your own software that you bought and paid for. In other words, Microsoft, not you, ultimately is in control of your Office XP or 2003 applications.

There is something that you can do to counter the Microsoft product activation mechanism if it does shut down your Office XP or 2003 applications. Install OpenOffice on your computer before Microsoft can shut you down. Then you can access all your MS Office files on the computer even though the Microsoft product activation mechanism has shut down your Office XP or 2003 software

The product activation mechanism in MS Office 2003 is not likely to shut down your entire computer. However, it effectively can shut down MS Office 2003 and its component products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and so forth. The MS Office 2003 product activation mechanism, puts Microsoft and not you in control of your office and productivity software.

Fortunately, AbiWord and OpenOffice have MS Windows versions. So, when Microsoft's Office 2003 product activation scheme shuts you down, just open your MS Word documents in AbiWord or OpenOffice Writer, Excel documents in OpenOffice Calc, PowerPoint documents in Impress and so forth.

For more about why Linux is so much a better choice, please see our article Gaël Duval Tells Why Mandrake Linux Is Better Than MS Windows

To learn how to run MS Windows-based software and accessories in GNU-Linux, please see our article Crossover Office 2.1 Runs MS Windows Software on GNU-Linux Systems

OpenOffice v MS Office Money Matters

OpenOffice is not comparable to the Microsoft Office suite in price. OpenOffice is free. Simply download it from the Internet. OpenOffice CDs also are available for a very nominal cost. (Links in Resources section at the end of this article).

On the other hand, Microsoft Office is very pricey. For just MS Word 2003 alone, Microsoft's listed price is $229 (new, upgrade is $109). The Standard MS Office 2003 suite, which includes Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word, lists for $399 (new, upgrade is $239) on Microsoft's Web site. The full blown MS Office 2003 Professional suite lists for $499 (new, upgrade is $329) on Microsoft's Web site.

Additionally, MS Office and its component applications come with very consumer un-friendly licensing and the horrible Microsoft Product Activation mechanism. For those reasons we recommend OpenOffice 1.1 over MS Office 2003 or MS Office XP. Moreover, you can save lots of money by using OpenOffice 1.1 instead of MS Office 2003.

Please see the Licensing and Product Activation Notes in the right-hand sidebar.

It used to be that the saying "You get what you pay for" ranked up there with such indisputable truths as, "What goes up must come down," "Water is wet," and "I had to restart Windows today." But since OpenOffice.org is free, "you get what you pay for" is not only disputable, but down there with "the board of directors said the accounting practices were OK" and "hey, let's form an Internet startup."

OpenOffice.org, the open source product of Sun Microsystems' StarOffice, is a full-featured, remarkably good office suite. It matches Microsoft Office program for program, and goes a giant step further with a great graphics program, Draw. You get applications for working with documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, web sites, graphics, and databases--anywhere from Oracle to a simple text file. (OpenOffice.org 1.0 Resource Kit, p. xvii, Solveig Haughland and Floyd Jones, Prentice Hall. Link in Resourcessection at the end of this article.)

(Editor's Note: There are several different editions of Microsoft Office. The program for program comparison that Haughland and Jones seem to be making appears to be one with the Standard Edition of MS Office 2003.)

File Format Compatibilities

  • Microsoft Formats

Microsoft Office likely is the most widely-distributed office/productivity software suite. That means that lots of documents are created and saved in the collection of various MS Office file formats. That's no problem for OpenOffice users. OpenOffice seems to be able to read and to write files in all the various MS formats such as .doc, .dot, .xls, .xlw, .xlt, .pps, .ppt, .pot etc. According to the OpenOffice.org 1.0 Resource Kit, OpenOffice reads and writes more than 200 file formats.

  • PDFs

Unfortunately, one file format that OpenOffice does not read is the PDF (portable document format) format. However, OpenOffice can export PDF files.

A word of caution here if you use OpenOffice to create PDF files, make sure you also save your work in a file format that OpenOffice can read. That's because you will not be able to open your PDF files in OpenOffice. So, if you want to edit your PDF files at later times, you will need to have saved them in a file format that you can open in OpenOffice at later times.

Adobe's PDF format is an open specification. In an e-mail discussion, Adobe spokesperson John Cristofano told MozillaQuest Magazine: PDF is a published specification -- meaning it is publicly available for anyone to acquire; anyone who acquires the specification has the capability to create programs that read and/or write PDF files. Please see the Resources section at the end of this article for a link to the PDF specification.

Thus, there is no technological reason why OpenOffice 1.1 is not able to read PDFs. We asked the Sun people about this and they failed to explain meaningfully why StarOffice does not write PDFs. Rather they skirted around the question

In an e-mail discussion with Sun spokesperson Jill Berman about this, she responded: Since there are a number of free readers out there, and we haven't had any demand from our customers for reader functionality within StarOffice, this is probably not something in our future development plans. The whole point of PDF is having a read only file format, so people can freely exchange docs. Since StarOffice is mostly about content generation, if people need to exchange editable content, the XML file format available in StarOffice can cover everything outside of PDF.

On 9 November 2003, Sun spokesperson Vanessa Villacarlos in an e-mail discussion told MozillaQuest Magazine: StarOffice cannot read PDF files - you can open PDF files with Acrobat and cut [sic] and paste them into StarOffice files as a workaround but StarOffice does not support PDF read/import and SO's inability to read PDF is no different from postscript days where docs could be exported to .ps format but don't necessary provide "viewers" for the docs. There are many PDF and PS viewers in the market.

The suggestion of copying and pasting material from a PDF file opened in another application into OpenOffice/StarOffice is well-taken. However, what's the use of using OpenOffice/StarOffice instead of the application that is reading the PDFs?

Unfortunately, the Sun people do not seem to grasp the notion that word/document processor users might want to edit, add to, or otherwise modify PDF documents -- and therefore word processor applications, instantly Writer, need to be able to read as well as write PDFs.

It appears that there is no technological reason neither OpenOffice nor StarOffice can read/open PDFs. It appears it is a Sun strategy decision not to do that rather than a technological decision. Thus, it appears that if OpenOffice/StarOffice is going to be able to read/open PDFs, it will only happen if some open source coders volunteer to make it happen.

Nevertheless, if you are contemplating migrating from MS Office or any MS Office component products such as MS Word or MS Excel to OpenOffice, file migration should not be a problem. OpenOffice should be able to read your old MS Office files OK. Moreover, OpenOffice should be able to save files in the various MS Office formats so that folks and associates with whom you share files should have no problem working with those shared files.

As to PDF files, MS Office neither reads nor writes PDFs. So there, OpenOffice is one up on MS Office in that OpenOffice can at least save PDFs. Interestingly, there is an add on converter ($49) for MS Office from ScanSoft that allows MS Office to read PDFs.

So, file types do not seem to present any blockers when it comes to migrating from MS Office to OpenOffice or from any other mainstream office/productivity software for that matter.

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