How to Ditch Microsoft Office for OpenOffice

The Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Powerpoint, Excel) is one of those applications that’s just everywhere. In the business world, as a student, and in general, it’s hard to get by without it. It’s expensive, bloated and full of enough vulnerabilities that it could potentially be a security risk. You might think you’re stuck with nothing else, but you’re not..

Introducing OpenOffice:

OpenOffice is the open source office suite designed to be used by Governments, Education, Businesses, Non-Profits and everyday average people. Originally developed as StarOffice, it was purchased by Sun in 1999 and released as open source under the LGPL in 2000.

Three revisions later brings us to version 3.0 which gives us a native Mac OS X version, the ability to handle the Office Open XML documents and improved support for macros. As someone who used to use version 2.0 a few years back, I can easily say it’s also a major improvement from what it used to be.

What can you do with OpenOffice?

OpenOffice is a suite of six applications:

Writer – Writer is the word processing application of OpenOffice. It will open and save in both OpenOffice’s Open Document format and Microsoft’s proprietary .DOC format. In addition, it will export your document as a .PDF, and open Microsoft’s Office Open XML (.DOCX) format with no additional software required.

Calc – OpenOffice’s spreadsheet application, similar to Microsoft’s Excel. Includes the ability to export directly to .PDF and handles the Microsoft Excel .XLS file format.

Impress – A presentation program, like Keynote or PowerPoint. It can export to Flash format (.SWF), create .PDFs and open Microsoft Powerpoint .PPT files.

Base – Database management, like Microsoft Access. Base can handle a variety of database formats, from Access (JET), ODBC, PostgreSQL and MySQL. If you are really into databases, you can also enter in raw SQL code with Base.

Draw – Draw creates vector graphic images and diagrams, like Microsoft’s Visio or CorelDRAW. It can export to PDF but will not work with Microsoft Visio files.

Math – To create and edit mathematical formulae, Math is OpenOffice’s equivalent to Microsoft’s Equation Editor or MathType. You can then place these formulae inside other documents, (Writer, for example.) it will handle multiple fonts and export in .PDF format.

What can’t you do with OpenOffice?

OpenOffice isn’t the complete answer to Microsoft Office. You won’t be able to handle Microsoft Project files (Although I did find a solution here..), there is no equivalent to Publisher, Groove, Sharepoint or OneNote, and if you really need to open and save Visio files, you’ll need something else.

In addition, I found that while OpenOffice will open files in Microsoft’s Open XML format (.DOCX, .XLSX, .PPTX), it won’t save your document in those formats. NeoOffice will, however you will encounter “errors” in the document if you open them in Microsoft Office. Just click OK to have Office fix them and the document opens up fine.

Lastly, there is always the chance that the conversion from OpenOffice creating/saving a document to Microsoft Office opening the document could produce formatting errors. If your document is of a professional nature, please check your documents before sending them off.

Downloading and Installing:

OpenOffice has become extremely easy to install. Just download the .DMG file, open and drop it into your Applications folder. What is more difficult is choosing between the two OS X versions of OpenOffice: The official version or NeoOffice.

Download: OpenOffice.

Download: NeoOffice.

NeoOffice or OpenOffice?

The difference between NeoOffice and OpenOffice’s official OS X version is that while OpenOffice will be the latest code, NeoOffice takes advantage of OS X specific functions and features.

If there’s a choice, NeoOffice is way better. The OpenOffice port doesn’t use the MenuBar and everything is contained inside, which I find uncomfortable and takes some getting used to. NeoOffice seems to just run smoother and has come a long way from version 2.0 a few years back. In addition, NeoOffice will actually save files in the Microsoft Office Open XML format (.DOCX) while the OpenOffice version doesn’t even give you the option.

Note: The Office Open XML files that NeoOffice saves will throw Microsoft Office an error, and while it’s easily be fixed by letting Microsoft Word fix it, don’t send any professional documents this way.

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